My absolute favorite vehicle segment is the mid-sized SUV. I like mine with a robust body structure (usually body-on-frame), good ground clearance and straightforward technology for all terrains. Throw in a healthy dose of luxury and premium features, and make it work for everyday on-road driving, and you’ve got an outline of my ideal vehicle. My personal ride is a 1994 Toyota 4Runner named “Moose,” and while he may lack in the premium area, he fits all of the rest of the bill nicely.
The Lexus GX 460 could be considered the premium evolution of Moose. Lexus is the luxury division of Toyota, after all, and the GX and 4Runner share a platform and a lot of details. For 2014, Lexus has given the GX a facelift and some packaging changes, so it’s time to take another drive in Moose’s uptown sibling. The 2014 Lexus GX 460 carries a base price of $49,085 ($55,674 as tested), with fuel economy estimates of 15 mpg city/20 highway, according to the EPA. All Lexus SUVs come with a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty and a 6-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty.
I last wrote about the GX in my 2013 Lexus GX 460 Test Drive and Review. The big change for GX this year comes to the front end, as the SUV gets the new corporate “spindle” grille to fit in with the rest of the Lexus lineup. For a very conservative company like Lexus, this qualifies as a radical design shift. It’s a good fit with the GX, introducing some angularity to the front end. The hourglass shaped grille always makes me think of a black widow spider’s identifying mark. It’s sexy and stylish, yet still elegant enough not to offend the Lexus faithful. Also included in the face lift, new LED daytime running lights and LED low beam headlamps (high beams are still Xenon) improve the GX’s lighting package. The Premium Package of options ($4,700) on my test vehicle also included LED foglamps.
GX is built in Tahara, Japan, which probably accounts for my one consistent complaint about its design: a right-hinged tailgate. For ideal convenience here in the US where we drive on the right and usually park with the curb on our right, a left-side hinge would be better. Many people won’t care at all – I’m picky.
Around the vehicle, things look pretty much the same as before. Lexus’ extremely high levels of fit and finish are on display in every detail – rich, lustrous paint; shiny, smooth chrome; tight tolerances and even panel gaps.
When I slip into the driver’s seat of a mid-size SUV, I feel at home. I’m not cramped like a sardine, and I don’t feel like I’m in an airplane hanger. Add the premium details that distinguish the GX, and I feel like I’m traveling in a modern office space. Lexus does seats really well, with great adjustability and firm support – not too firm, just not cushy. I really appreciate the view out of the GX’s windshield, as the low dash and flat hood lets me locate the corners of the vehicle easily for maneuverability. There’s real wood trim where you expect it, leather trim as part of the Premium Package, and simple, unfussy details. Lexus’s standard audio system is a good one, with an 8” color touchscreen display in the dash, 9 speakers and standard Bluetooth hands-free phone and streaming audio. This year, they’ve added a second USB port with iPod connectivity, which is handy. The Luxury model ($60,715) can be equipped with a Mark Levinson sound system, which is almost reason enough to step up to the high-zoot GX if you’re an audiophile.
GX’s second row is reasonably roomy and luxurious, too. Because GX’s design avoids rising shoulder lines, the view out of the windows in the second and third rows remains a good one, without the “cocoon” feeling that plagues some more radical designs. The third row is for kids or short rides (and passengers) only, as leg room is tight and the hip-to-floor distance will force long-legged folks to hug their knees.
Another long-standing criticism of the GX is the placement of the 8” touchscreen in the middle of the center stack, below the HVAC vents. Ideally, the information screen would reside at the top of the stack, so that drivers wouldn’t have to divert their attention far from the road or trail while in motion. Maybe in the next generation…
Even with its mid-size designation, GX is a hefty vehicle, weighing in at over two and a half tons (5,305 lbs). Still, that weight is beautifully managed by the suspension, and remains level and composed thanks to dual anti-sway bars. Body-on-frame construction (as opposed to unibody) contributes to a robust feel, and adds confidence during off-roading. GX’s four-wheel drive system is standard and full-time. Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC) make tricky terrain easier to conquer. For the really challenging stuff, you can engage low range and optional Crawl Control, which takes care of throttle and braking duties while you concentrate on steering. An electronic transfer case and a TORSEN torque-sensing limited slip center differential sends the power where it’s needed. 8.1” of ground clearance means that GX won’t be a serious rock crawler, but it can still manage some pretty gnarly conditions.
Under the hood, there’s a proven 4.6-liter V8 engine that cranks out 301 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque while burning 91-octane gasoline. Lexus claims 0-60 times of 7.8 seconds, which isn’t blazing fast, but feels like a hustle because of all the weight on the wheels. One of my favorite abilities of the GX is that it is super easy to park, thanks to short front and rear overhangs and great visibility in all directions. My test vehicle got an $800 blind spot monitoring system that further enhances safety with rear cross-traffic alert. $800 well-spent if you live in a crowded urban environment like I do.
I really like the GX. Always have, always will, I suspect. It delivers a great day-to-day driving experience, while always hinting at greater capability and possible adventures. The premium features of the interior and sophisticated technology available make every drive a pleasure, and great ergonomics make it comfortable and enjoyable, too. Returning to Moose after a week in the GX, the 4Runner felt a little crude and elemental.
There are several other excellent vehicles in GX’s class that are worthy of consideration. The Land Rover LR4 is highly capable off-road, probably better than the GX, and gives up little ground on the pavement. The BMW X5 has its fan base, as does the Mercedes-Benz GL-class. It’s possible to option up a Jeep Grand Cherokee to near-luxury levels, and the same goes for the latest Toyota 4Runner.
The Lexus GX stands alone at the top of the premium mid-size body-on-frame heap. Even if that feels like I’m parsing the definition to come to a conclusion, it’s still a very good answer to a very specific question.