In the 1990s, if you were were sick of station wagons and didn’t want a minivan, you bought a truck-based SUV. There are many more car-based alternatives now, along with correspondingly fewer old-school SUVs. The Lexus GX 460 is one of the last ones standing, and it makes a solid case for itself, with a few caveats.
Based on the ever-popular Toyota 4Runner, the GX series adds a V8 engine behind the controversial “spindle” (not “angry alien”?) Lexus grille. The most you’d pay for a base 4Runner would be around $45K, while the GX 460 starts at $50K. Then there’s the GX 460 Premium at $54K and the tested GX 460 Luxury at $61K. That range puts it in line with car-based crossovers like the Acura MDX and Audi Q7. The GMC Yukon Denali starts at the top of that range, while other luxury full-frame SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade start in the $70K range.
Sales for the GX aren’t bad. The first month of 2015 saw it selling about the same as the short-wheelbase Escalade and just about double the Q7’s rate. So while the GX demands the compromises one must make to live with a truck-based SUV, there exists a healthy swath of buyers who are will to make them.
The benefit of a truck-based platform is superior off-road ability, and this GX tester came with plenty of helpers. Part of the $4,340 Driver Support Package is CRAWL Control for controlled traverses of steep hills. The Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) adjusts ride height, and it included the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System which is shared with the 4Runner.
Here in California, I drove this GX in mild sunny days while my Boston counterparts at BestRide.com HQ might have found a use for something like the GX as they braved 2015’s snow assault.
But of course, the easy urban and suburban driving this GX tester experienced mirrors the conditions in which most Lexus drivers find themselves. It is difficult to imagine such an upscale vehicle being subject to paint-scratching brambles and gashing rocks – especially when many GXs will be leased, with penalties for damage upon return – so it is relevant to limit this tester to paved roads, to see how it stacks up in the daily grind.
The 460 in the GX’s name refers to the 4.6-liter V8 that produces 301 horsepower. That sounds like a lot, until you hear that the GX Luxury is rated by Lexus to be about 5,200 pounds. That’s a lot of metal to move, but this engine didn’t break a sweat, with clean takeoffs and confident passing. It revved with the usual Lexus smoothness. Transmission is a six-speed automatic that gave shifts that were clean and distinct.
Handling is the aspect you’ll want to consider with any truck-based SUV, and the GX tester was no exception to the rule that big and heavy trucks can feel cumbersome. The GX had lots of body roll. Although adjusting the suspension to Sport mode tightened things up, you never lose the feeling that you’re piloting something massive. Some will like that feeling, and some won’t. Few will like the wide 41.4-inch turning circle, which was unwelcome in the city.
Inside, there’s the usual Lexus luxury and attention to detail. The GX’s tall height and big windows gave it a refreshingly open feeling. Seats were comfortable, and their heating and cooling features were standard with the Luxury trim.
Sometimes folks buy fancy SUVs to impress others, and the GX doesn’t disappoint. The silvery trim picks up light without being gaudy, and the passenger faces a plank of wood.
Those center-console rocker switches are a pleasure to activate, with a wonderfully damped action. They feel like a truly premium touch, and the bank of them was interesting to riders.
In back, the space the frame takes up below is felt by a seat that ends up close to the high floor, leaving the thighs of taller passenger with less support than they’d find in a typical sedan. There’s till enough room for six-footers, though.
The third row is for kiddies…
…and both sides expand and flatten with buttons placed on the right rear well, or the left D-pillar.
Shame that even after years of the GX being sold in the US, Lexus still has not seen fit to switch the rear door hinges to open away from the curb. And the wide swing of the door is a hassle in tight parking spots. The 4Runner’s hatch door makes a lot more sense.
I’d ask the same question to GX buyers that I ask all full-frame SUV shoppers: Do you need this much truck? If you don’t, then I’d point you to the many excellent all-wheel drive crossovers that are far more tractable as daily drivers.
But if you do need it, then the GX isn’t a bad choice. Aside from the cumbersome handling and inconvenient rear door (and 15 mpg EPA city), the GX is well-sorted. You’d just have to determine if you need all of it.
2015 Lexus GX 460 Luxury
Base Price: $60,715
Price as Tested: $65,980
Driver Support Package w/Mark Levinson Audio: $4,340
Pre-Collision System With Driver Attention Monitor
Dynamic Radar Cruise Control
Lane Departure Alert (LDA)
Intelligent High-Beam Headlamps
Wide View Front And Side Monitor
Destination Charge: $925
Array of electronic off-road helpers
Rear door swings toward the curb
Alarming front-end styling