A few years back we drove an old Toyota RAV4 loaner while our car was in the shop. The RAV had no power windows, just cranks, and a radio with six buttons, no screen. It felt refreshing and fun to drive.
So why not a little mild throwback design on cars and their features?
Lexus, of all folks, has kept its mid-size SUV, the GX460, cousin to the Toyota 4Runner, about the same for 10 years, which means it lacks a few frills that today’s SUVs have. Yet, at its heart it’s a beauteous beast that is fit to go off-roading like a Jeep or Land Rover, but feels as luxurious inside as the finest luxury sedan. Maybe Lexus is on to something.
What it means is that despite the GX460’s considerable $54,025 starting price, it hasn’t sky-rocketed past $60 grand like some of its competitors. Plus, it’s fairly simple to use and drive. Nothing wrong with that.
Start with Lexus’ solid 4.6-liter V8 that cranks 301 horsepower. Yes, it’s a V8, and it drinks like one. MPG ratings are only 15 mpg city and 19 mpg highway (I got 15.0 mpg in about 70% city and suburban driving). But the V8 is smooooth as is the 6-speed automatic tranny it’s mated with. Sure, a lot of SUVs have 8- and 9-speed trannies now, but they don’t feel any better than this. They do, however, offer better gas mileage.
The GX powers up to highway speeds in one silky romp and handling is on the light side, making it an easy vehicle to drive at fast or slow speeds. I actually thought the GX easier to park than some smaller SUVs I’ve driven.
While a tall vehicle with 8.1-inches of ground clearance if you want to muck around in mud and snow off-road, the old-school body-on-frame truck handles well. Thank Lexus’ Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System for that. It minimizes body lean and creates a better off-road ride. So many trucks bounce and rock over crumbling roads, but the GX is well planted without much jarring to passengers.
Then there’s the full-time 4WD system that is made for serious off-road excursions. It’s on all the time, hence that name. So the GX always has good grip, no matter the road, or slop. Coil springs and gas shocks up front and rear air springs and gas shocks absorb anything that comes their way. Plus sound deadening material keeps the interior extremely quiet.
By flipping a toggle on the console you can put the GX in high or low 4WD and another allows you to lock in more traction on steep inclines, mostly intended for extreme off-road conditions. Told you, this beast will truck in the muck.
Plus if you plan to tow a trailer with boat, snowmobiles or a camper, the Lexus is set to tow up to 6,500 lbs. with all of its V8 grunt.
Inside, the Atomic Silver (bright silver) test truck was an attractive tan faux leather interior with perforated seats that are heated and cooled, part of the $3,115 Premium package. More on that in a bit.
The dash is black on top with the tan about halfway up and something called gray sapele wood (African wood similar to Mahogany, but more abundant) trim along with aluminum trim bits. Doors are equally two-toned and there is satin silver on the door pulls and chrome door releases. The center stack is satin silver too while the console top is black.
Two power seat memory buttons are imbedded in the driver’s side armrest, an easy location to reach, and the seat also powers back and the power tilt/telescope wheel lifts up once the ignition is turned off for easier egress.
Lexus seats are always comfy, but these feel particularly soft, yet give good back support and modest hip support. That means the seat bottom is a little flatter than some, allowing a person to more easily slide from the seat when exiting the vehicle. Not a bad feature for senior drivers.
In back are heated captain’s chairs in the second row, again part of the Premium package. That means the tested GX only seats six. Standard is a bench that would boost seating to seven as there’s also a fold-down third row seat, meant only for children. A word on re-deploying the third row once it’s down. These are heavy seats and it’s awkward to get in the vehicle and raise the third row, with the backs and seat bottoms both requiring some effort to deploy.
I’d driven a higher-level GX in the past with power third row seats and that is much needed if you plan to use that row much. Maybe this should be part of the premium package.
As it is, that package includes 18-inch dark metallic alloy wheels, LED fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers, three-zone climate controls, windshield deicer, intuitive park assist, a navigation system, the wood trim, and all those heated/cooled seats.
Dash layout is excellent too with large buttons and easy-to-view gauges and good-sized infotainment screen. Overhead is a sunroof, but not a panoramic one.
Safety System Plus is standard on the GX, which means it comes with nearly everything you’d expect from parking sensors and blind-spot warning to rear cross-traffic alert, not to mention trailer sway control. Pre-collision with pedestrian detection is here, dynamic cruise control and intelligent high beam headlights.
There’s also lane departure warning, which beeps at you, but not an assist feature to help push the truck back into the center of the lane. I’d expect that on the next GX.
One other throwback feature, the rear hatch isn’t a hatch, but a tailgate that opens like a door, swinging to the passenger’s side of the vehicle. Seems like that should go the other way so you could unload at a curb more easily. Maybe when the redesign comes, as it must at some point.
While I’m on a nitpick, what’s the deal with this, and other luxury vehicles, still charging extra for a carpeted cargo mat, cargo net and such. Really, at these prices?
And what is that final price? For the test vehicle it was $57,880 after options. That’s right in the wheelhouse of most competitors. In fact, many start, or end, much higher. But then most of those have the latest gee-whiz gadgets and electronics, plus smaller turbocharged engines that get better fuel economy.
But not many would challenge the GX to an off-road challenge.
Hits: Old-school reliability and off-road ability, smooth powerful engine/tranny, comfy ride, easy handling, constant 4WD. Luxury interior, third row seat, heated captain’s chairs second row, heated/cooled front seats, soft leather-like seats, sunroof, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, big dash buttons, good safety equipment.
Misses: No heated steering wheel or wireless phone charger, lane departure is warning, not assist, small sunroof, third row seats nearly impossible to raise when down, rear hatch is a tailgate and opens like a door.
Made in: Japan
Engine: 4.6-liter V8, 301 horsepower
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 5,180 lbs.
Length: 192.1 in.
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Cargo: 64.7 cu.ft. (max.)
MPG: 15.0 (tested)
Base Price: $54,025 (includes delivery)
Headlamp washers, $100
Wood/leather trimmed steering wheel, $300
Carpeted cargo mat, $105
Door edge guards, $140
Cargo net, $75
Premium package (tilt-slide captain’s chairs, 18-inch dark metallic alloy wheels, LED fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers, windshield deicer, intuitive park assist, nav system, gray sapele wood trim, heated/cooled front seats, heated second row seats, 3-zone climate control system), $3,115
Test vehicle: $57,880
Sources: Lexus, kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage