Lexus GX460 — Sporting off-road credentials

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The luxury clad Lexus GX460 is a rugged off-road SUV in a mid-sized package, nearly 1,000 pounds lighter with comparable towing capacity and arguably more off-road capability than its larger, more expensive brother, the LX570.

The GX, which came to market a decade ago and was completely redesigned in 2010, gets a refreshening for 2014 with revised exterior styling including the new face-of-Lexus-grille, and on the inside a new very useable eight-inch touchscreen. Such advanced safety features as blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure alert, and adaptive cruise control are available as options.

The most obvious change to the competent off-roader is its face. The Lexus spindle grille now adorns all Lexus vehicles — love it or hate it — including the other two Lexus SUVs, the RX and LX. Not changed is the truck's big 8.1-inch ground clearance, a full-time four-wheel drive system including a low-range transfer case and a lockable Torsen torque-sensing center differential, and a full array of rugged off-road hardware such as the optional Crawl Control with five preset speeds that takes over both the accelerator and brake pedal leaving the driver to concentrate on steering.

If you drive a 2010 model GX460 you won't notice any difference in performance because the newest edition uses the competent 4.6-liter V-8 making 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque running through a six-speed automatic transmission. Carrying a rather hefty curb weight of 5,128 pounds, the V-8 can pull the GX from 0-to-60 mph in 7.4 seconds and through a quarter mile in 15.8 seconds at 89 mph. Few folks will quibble over the performance, but the Lexus is slower than such direct competitors as the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Land Rover LR4.

Gas mileage remains the same as it did when the 4.6-liter engine was first used in 2010 — 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 17 overall on premium gas.

Debatably most GX460s will live on-road in suburbia and we found that the GX did a good job of masking its off-road credentials with a comfortable ride rivaling most unibody crossovers. If you opt for the Luxury trim level, ride and handling can be tailored by selecting from among Normal, Sport or Comfort modes using the Adaptive Variable Suspension. The electronically controlled dampers do a good job adjusting to road surface conditions.

The cabin is attractive with easy-to-read gauges and displays. The new aforementioned 8-inch multimedia touchscreen can be segmented into as many as three areas making it possible to keep the audio information and the navigation map visible at the same time. Our well equipped base trim level test truck came with an attractive interior that included optional leather seating and wood trim. If you buy the base trim it now comes with leatherette upholstery (faux leather) that Lexus is using in place of the real thing. The real stuff still adorns the Luxury trim level as standard equipment.

Front seating proved comfortable and a satisfying driving position was easy to reach. As in most vehicles this size, third row seating should be reserved for kids only. The GX460 is an adequate cargo hauler with the second and third row seatbacks folded creating 64.7 cubic inches of space. With all seatbacks in place, luggage capacity is measured at 11.6 cubic feet. Loading may be hampered under certain curbside conditions because of the truck's ancient swing-out rear door. There is a lift-up rear glass feature, however, that makes it easy to toss in small objects without opening the door.

Lexus has covered vehicle safety with such standard equipment as antilock brakes, traction and stability control, hill descent and hill start assist, a full complement of 10 airbags, rearview camera, and Safety Connect emergency communications with automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle locator and emergency assist. Blind spot monitoring comes bundled in a package, but we think this indispensable feature should be standard equipment on all vehicles in this price range.

The GX460 comes in just two trim levels — base and Luxury — and Lexus has reduced the price of the base model for 2014 by $4,710 to $49,995 including destination charge. The 2013 model started at $54,705. Luxury takes the place of the Premium trim starting at $61,625. The 2013 Premium trim started at $59,500.

Our well-equipped base test vehicle with a $4,710 premium package that included leather seats and real mahogany wood trim, parking assist, heated second-row seats, tri-zone climate control, and voice-controlled navigation, came in at $55,505. The Luxury GX we drove with the optional Mark Levinson Premium Audio system and an extremely long list of standard equipment priced out at $62,939.

Base price: $49,885; as driven, $55,505
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8
Horsepower: 301 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 329 foot-pounds @ 3,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/3/2
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Length: 189.2 inches
Curb weight: 5,128 pounds
Turning circle: 41.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 11.6 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 64.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 23 gallons (premium)
EPA rating; 20 highway, 15 city
0-60: 7.4 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Land Rover LR4, Audi Q7, BMW X5

The Good
• Solid off-road credentials
• Excellent array of standard features
• Reduced price from 2013

The Bad
• Side-swinging cargo door

The Ugly
• Poor fuel economy