Mountain Wheels: Lexus GX 460 is highly off-road capable
You now have quite an array of SUVs to choose from on Lexus lots, but for those needing more room than the compact NX and refreshed RX but not quite ready to break the bank on the super-luxurious and large LX — the one that’s basically a Lexused-up version of the already outstanding Toyota Land Cruiser — the GX 460 certainly does a more-than-adequate job and is still a big destination for a high-end SUV purchaser. It’s a very classy, accurately off-road-capable machine that of course shines with all of the leathery glow you’ve come to expect from Lexuses big and small, and has room for up to seven passengers.
And accomplished it is, should you ever get the hankering to actually head into precipitous off-road territory. The large bank of twiddle-switches in the center console, controlling air suspension, crawl speed, a two-mode 4WD system and shock damping, easily sets the GX up for the handy ability to get in and out of deep holes, over rocks or safely traverse steep slopes. I gave this all a shot on a dirt-and-dips section that would have eaten most contemporary crossovers for lunch. Believe me, it’s got as much goat-inspired sturdiness as the somewhat similar Toyota 4Runner, plus eight inches of clearance. Lexus marketing continues to upsell the GX’s off-road resilience; that appears to be on the money.
There’s also a kinetic damping system to provide a smoother on-road ride, meaning that it’s also a reasonably confident and athletic handler on the highway, despite its size.
A 4.6-liter V-8 with variable valve timing also does an equally competent job of hauling all of that largesse around, with 21 or so MPG on the highway. And you get capable power, a maybe-just-a-little-underwhelming (by contemporary standards) 301 horsepower that’s ideal for those delicate but infrequent rock-crawling sessions, but a little tiny bit strained when heading over a very steep highway pass. GX is rated for a 6,500-pound trailer towing capacity, nonetheless.
Looks on the GX are perhaps a bit polarizing, as it does not quite have the soft features once enjoyed by the RX (now all wedged up and Combat Rock in its demeanor) nor the alarming bigness of the LX. There’s an oddly angular and face-heavy, 4Runner-esque nose that includes a spindle-shaped grill that’s gigantic but not as overwhelming as what’s found on the new RX and LX. That’s all matched with sharply crafted body lines, but it’s all pretty approachable.
Those addicted to luxury certainly get what they need, though the $60,715 base price for my conveniently Luxury-level GX is no longer quite the stratospheric number it once seemed to be. Perforated leather, ventilated and heated seating that’s as supportive as imaginable in a body-on-frame SUV — all prestigious, and also situated at a height to make entries and exits quite easy, with a little help from built-in A-pillar hand-holds on both sides of the cabin. Rear seats slide to allow more comfort and flexibility; the fold-away third-row seats completely disappear, providing more overall cargo room.
The classy interior treatment includes highlight-stitched doors, armrest and glove box leather patches, hardwood-style highlights and a smoked silver trim throughout. I would hope that the 2016 treatment for the Enform navigation and entertainment system might help avoid the total loss of live traffic information I suffered just as I really needed it; the optional, 17-speaker Mark Levinson stereo upgrade my GX featured helped make up for that occasional flakiness. And the luminescent instrument panel is bright but a little austere — one assumes that the black and white mid-cluster trip computer will also be on the list for an upgrade the next time around.
I did very much like the center stack control setup, with real buttons around the touchscreen to access the audio, navigation, climate and telephone control screens contained within. Why the Japanese do not feel it necessary to have an actual fan control outside of a touchscreen menu, I still will never understand.
The center console design is also quite bold, with manual shifting of the six-speed automatic transmission a helpful asset in controlling the 5,199-pound vehicle’s downhill speed.
The side-opening rear gate is a love-it-or-hate-it affectation, complete with safety kits built into the door; the top glass also opens independently, cracked by an aesthetically pleasant, hidden switch, with the air foil integrated into the top of that glass.
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