Try not to be distracted by the 2020 Lexus GX460’s gaping maw. It’s new and a bit harsh on the eyes, what with its angry looking LED headlights and an enlarged spindle grille big enough to inhale small children and pets. The grille is the first thing you notice, but the GX’s real substance lies in the ruggedness behind its gaudy front end, which gives it a significant degree of versatility for a mid-size luxury SUV.
In this case, rugged also equates to old-school SUV tech: body-on-frame construction, solid rear axle, substantial off-road capability, and a naturally aspirated V-8. Even by the auto industry’s slow-drip progression, this Lexus is a relic. It doesn’t even have auto three-blink turn signals. Loosely based on the similarly well-aged Toyota 4Runner, as well as the Toyota Prado that the manufacturer sells in other markets, the GX was last overhauled during Obama’s first term, but its roots stretch back to the early 2000s when it was called the GX470. Yet, like the 4Runner, the GX continues to sell well. It may not move in triple-digit volumes like its Toyota sibling, but the 25,945 GXs that Lexus sold last year amount to one of the model’s higher annual tallies.
A Simple Brute
The GX460’s mechanicals remain entirely familiar. A longitudinally mounted 4.6-liter V-8 continues to send 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. A capable all-wheel-drive system features a two-speed, low-range transfer case and a Torsen limited-slip center differential, which channels 60 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels by default yet can shuffle torque fore and aft depending on the terrain and available traction. Our test vehicle weighed a hefty 5266 pounds and lumbered to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. That’s adequate but not quick. Given how hard you have to poke the V-8 for it to reach its 3500-rpm torque peak, the GX460 always feels a bit sluggish on the move.
We averaged 15 mpg and returned only 20 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test. That latter figure is 1 mpg better than its EPA estimate but is still well below what most newer mid-size utes manage. Conversely, the GX460’s 6500-pound towing capacity is respectable for its class.
Straight-line performance and fuel efficiency matter less when tackling off-road terrain, which the GX does quite well. Lexus’s standard Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which works by linking cylinders that couple two-piece anti-rolls at each axle. By using hydraulic pressure, the halves of the anti-roll bar can operate independently of each other, allowing them to be fully locked to minimize body roll. Off-road, the bars decouple to allow more wheel articulation at the vehicle’s corners to help keep all four wheels on the ground. Adaptive dampers with Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings are optional, as are a host of electronic off-road driver aids. Spring for the new $1570 Off-Road package on top-end Luxury models, and you’ll get Crawl Control (low-speed off-road cruise control), a Multi-Terrain Select system for configuring the chassis and drivetrain for various surfaces, additional cameras for seeing around the vehicle on the trail, a transmission cooler, and a skid plate under the fuel tank.
Travel limitations meant we weren’t able to exercise our test vehicle in the woods. But we’ve tackled local trails with the GX before, and its off-road capabilities are far greater than what most suburban drivers will be comfortable exploiting. Most shoppers will care more that this Lexus is impressively quiet inside at speed and that it rides smoothly over all but the worst pavement and largest bumps. Those can buck the GX vertically more than we’d like. Its steering action is slow and devoid of feel. Grip levels are modest. Forget about 23-inch wheels and sticky summer rubber; the biggest rollers you can get on the GX are 19-inchers (18s are standard). On its 265/55R-19 Dunlop Grandtrek AT23 all-season tires, our test vehicle gripped the skidpad at just 0.76 g and needed a lengthy 188 feet to stop from 70 mph.
Passing for Modern
The Toyota 4Runner exhibits many of the same rugged qualities as the GX460, albeit with only a 4.0-liter V-6 under its hood. But this Lexus further separates itself by being a convincing luxury SUV. Some of its trim pieces look dated and lack a high-quality finish, and the layout of the center console may be a mess of toggles for adjusting the chassis. But its ambiance feels rich, its leather upholstery is soft to the touch, and the Lexus Safety System+ suite of driver aids—adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and lane-departure alerts, automatic high-beam headlights, and automated forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection—is now standard.
There’s also a third row of seats that fold out of the rear cargo floor, but they’re only suitable for small children, and they compromise the GX’s already limited storage space compared to many newer three-row SUVs. This Lexus earns bonus points for having a rear window that can be opened separately for easy stowing of smaller items in back. It then loses those points because of its unusual side-hinged rear cargo door that lacks power assistance and is awkward to use at the curb.
Given the day-to-day shortcomings that are inherent in the Lexus GX460’s old-school design, it makes a better impression at the base model’s $54,025 starting price than at the $65,290 needed for a Luxury model like our test car. Add an upgraded stereo, dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system, the Off-Road package, and more, and its as-tested price rises to $72,330. Whether you prefer your SUV to feel like a truck or a lifted station wagon will determine how well the GX460 will work for you. This aging Lexus is most certainly a truck, with a lofty seating position and some rough edges to its road manners. But look past its exaggerated frontal area, and it maintains an impressive bandwidth of capabilities. Just don’t let the kids get too close to its grille.
Source: Reviews - aranddriver.com