2010 Lexus GX 460 Expert Review:Autoblog
The 2002 Lexus GX 470 was little more than a Toyota 4Runner with a healthy dollop of Lexus luxury on top, but at the time, it didn't have to be anything more than that. It seemed just about every automaker that had an SUV in the stable was introducing an uplevel version to capitalize on American consumers' insatiable appetite for luxury sport-utes, so why not Toyota? Lexus had already adopted the full-size Land Cruiser, so it made sense to bring along the 4Runner for the slightly less well-heeled.
Although it didn't set the charts on fire, the GX won over enough people that Lexus has continued churning it out virtually unchanged until now. In fact, the company easily moved every 2009 model it made. Still, even the best vehicles need to be updated from time to time, and with an all-new 2010 4Runner hitting dealers, it was time for this Lexus to undergo a similar overhaul. But the state of the economy, environment and the changing luxury SUV market itself meant that the Japanese automaker needed to rethink a few things for its sophomore endeavor. And it has.
We spent time on and off road in San Diego County during our stint with the new 2010 Lexus GX 460, and what we have learned was quite surprising. Despite the market's shift toward crossovers, the GX is still body-on-frame and has a V8, full-time four-wheel drive and takes up just as much space as the previous generation model. It still looks like a truck, drives like a truck and handles like a truck. But is that such a bad thing? Is there still a place for this type of vehicle... or is it simply an anachronism from a once-thriving, but now rapidly vanishing market? Follow the jump to see what we discovered.
Photos copyright ©2009 Frank Filipponio / Weblogs, Inc.
As you might expect from a new Lexus, there is enough technology inside this LuxUte to choke a horse. The 2010 GX 460 features a boatload of safety features like active front headrests that move up to support your head in certain types of accidents, a newly available Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS) that follows steering inputs through curves, high intensity discharge (HID) headlights, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA) that boosts braking when the system determines it's needed, a class-leading ten standard airbags, an optional Pre-Collision System (PCS) that includes Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and an optional Driver Attention Monitor and Lane Departure Alert (LDA).
The first order of business is to address the look of this new Lexus. Although it's nearly identical to the recently released European Land Cruiser, a few details separate it from its Stateside counterpart, and although it shares its platform with the 2010 4Runner, it actually looks more like the big brother USDM Land Cruiser and Lexus LX 570. Specifically, those rear wheel arches that dominate half of its profile prove that the new GX is still designed to captivate bigger-is-better truck lovers. No sissy RX crossover curves for this bad boy. It's a truck and doesn't want anyone to forget it.
The all-new body rides on a second-generation frame essentially unchanged in its dimensions. The wheelbase is identical, but the length goes up by an inch, the width increases by 0.2 inches and while ground clearance stays the same, the overall height is down a couple of inches due to the revised roof rails. The streamlined roof rack is part of an overall effort to clean-up the design – a brief that also includes the relocation of the rear hatch's lock, handle and wiper into recessed, hidden positions. Love it or hate it, it's definitely a rugged looking vehicle, even if we think it looks like it could have debuted in 2000 just as easily as 2010.
Although the rear door is still a left-opening swing gate, Lexus has added a convenient flip-up function for the rear glass to make it much easier to toss a few items in or lift lighter objects out. The fact that this second-generation luxury SUV still lacks a proper swing up rear hatch seems inexcusable, but Toyota execs were quick to point out that the mechanism works quite well for most needs and that the move to top hinges would change weight distribution, complexity and cost. We'd guess that if every other manufacturer out there can make it work, Toyota should be able to as well.
The changes to the interior are probably less controversial. Lexus has adopted a fresh color palette as well as new wood for the doors and dash. It definitely looks cleaner and more modern, with a particularly tidy center stack that features a sliding panel to cover some auxiliary controls for the stereo. With an announced base price of $51,970 and $56,765 for the Premium edition, you'd expect a ton of standard features inside, and Lexus doesn't disappoint.
The standard dash setup has a 4.2-inch display screen, while nav-equipped cars get a bright eight-inch unit. That screen also displays images from the front, side and rear cameras for off-roading, backing up and parking. It also shows the helpful parking guidelines in cars with the optional Intuitive Parking Assist.
The center console is roomy and features split adjustable armrests, standard USB/iPod ports, as well as suspension settings and crawl control switches on vehicles so-equipped. The standard stereo system sounds good enough but doesn't hold a candle to the optional 17-speaker, 7.1-channel Mark Levinson system in one of our testers. We'd definitely pop for it along with the rear seat entertainment system that puts screens behind each front seat headrest.
The front chairs are comfortable and supportive, and feature standard heating and ventilation. The second row now has a 60/40 split with the smaller passenger side seat incorporating a new flip and slide feature to allow better access to the now-standard third row. Somehow Lexus managed to improve legroom for both the second and third row, despite the fact that most other interior dimensions are slightly smaller.
The third row is one of the biggest changes for this second-gen GX. It's not the most comfortable place to sit during a long drive, but should be fine for children or even adults on short runs. A switch on the rear hatch folds the rear thrones into the floor, and while overall cargo volume is down slightly, we doubt that small amount will be missed for the added convenience of this wünder-bench.
That last feature is not new in the industry, but it's pretty slick nonetheless. It uses two small cameras mounted up front to detect lane departures and another steering column-mounted camera that reads the driver's face. An alert is sounded if the system detects that the driver isn't looking straight ahead for a few seconds and an object appears in the road ahead. If the system anticipates a collision it will alter the steering ratio in anticipation of sharp steering inputs and will also pre-tighten the seat belts. We didn't get a chance to test anything but the dynamic cruise control, which we barely felt kick in to back off our speed a bit as we started to gain on a slower-moving car ahead.
We can't wait to dive into these features more thoroughly in our upcoming full review. One area worth delving into now though is the mechanicals. As the name implies, the 2010 GX 460 now features a slightly smaller 4.6-liter V8 from the Tundra pickup. In this application it puts out a robust 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque. That's up nearly 40 HP over the outgoing 4.7-liter V8, yet this new GX gets 13 percent better fuel economy at 15/20 MPG. Still not exactly Prius-rivaling numbers, but respectable for a 5,300-pound luxury SUV that can seat seven, tow 6,500 pounds and sprint from 0-60 in a couple of ticks less than eight seconds.
The engine feels strong on the road and the new six-speed transmission makes the most of that power. The cabin is quiet even when matting the throttle to the floor, and over the course of a 30-minute run down a blissfully traffic-free Southern California freeway, we never had to raise our voices to be heard. It's sedan quiet and nearly sedan smooth. When we finally reached our exit and transitioned onto twisty side roads, we were surprised by the lack of body roll – it's there, but doesn't compromise the ride or handling – so it simply drives like any other Lexus. That is until we reached our destination – The Vessels Ranch, home to championship-winning racehorses for 60 years.
We had been given a route book and some basic instructions. These were the only GX SUVs in the country and they would be needed at the upcoming LA Auto Show – intact. As such we needed to take it easy and be mindful of the running boards and expensive 18-inch wheels. Imagine our surprise then when our route through the ranch took us from gravel roads to rutted paths between the corrals, to steep and dusty hills through the surrounding avocado orchards. Not exactly rock crawling at Moab, but a lot more rugged than we expected.
That's when we started to appreciate the "real truck" ingredients underneath this GX – Torsen center differential, front independent coil-spring suspension, rear live-axle with four-link suspension featuring coil springs on base models and pneumatic cylinder air suspension on Premium trim vehicles, and the new electronically controlled transfer case, which loses the shift lever in favor of a button on the console. Our Premium tester even had the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which is now standard on all 2010 GX 460 models. The system allows greater wheel travel by essentially disconnecting the anti-roll bars in off-road situations. Back on tarmac, KDSS reattaches the bars hydraulically, reducing body roll and improving handling. It's an amazing bit of tech.
The ranch route gave us a chance to try out the adjustable suspension settings, full-time four-wheel drive, crawl control feature and even the front and side wide-view cameras. The GX handled everything we threw at it with so much aplomb that we suddenly realized what this vehicle is all about. Folks who have owned or driven Toyota 4Runners or Land Cruisers or their LX or GX brethren know that these things can handle trails. Sure, a Jeep Wrangler or Hummer H2/3 can tackle even more rugged terrain, but we're guessing the GX would be good enough or better for the average buyer's off-roading needs. The fact that not many people will need to ford a stream or tackle a mud bog – let alone drop hay bales around their hilly 2,000 acre ranch – doesn't negate the value of the GX 460.
It may seem antiquated to those who would never consider going anywhere that isn't covered in concrete or asphalt. For those who do, they don't have to give up their luxury car ride and amenities, nor do they have to settle for a full-size SUV that takes up more space and costs more to own and operate. It's definitely a shrinking market, but Lexus is convinced it will be able to maintain its 25 percent market share – it only needs to find 14,000 buyers to meet that goal.
The 2010 Lexus GX 460 is trucky and proud of it. It feels sturdy and gives its owner the confidence to tackle almost any situation. Add in the typical array of Lexus amenities and safety features and you'll also have confidence that you and your family will be comfortable and safe along the way, wherever the trail may take you.
Photos copyright ©2009 Frank Filipponio / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
All-new, built for adventure.
The Lexus GX 460 is all-new for 2010. Designed to be an all-purpose luxury SUV, the 2010 GX 460 can handle everything an active family can throw at it, including weekday chores and weekend adventures. Compared to the previous-generation GX 470, the new 2010 GX 460 is more powerful, gets better mileage, and has upgraded safety and packaging features.
The GX 460 shares the same basic platform as the Toyota 4Runner, and like the 4Runner, is built to be strong enough to hold up to regular use on unpaved roadways. The 2010 Lexus GX comes standard with a new 4.6-liter V8, six-speed automatic transmission, seven-passenger seating, plus a host of luxury features the 4Runner does not offer.
The GX comes loaded with wood and leather interior trim, heated/ventilated seating, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a power moonroof, multimedia entertainment and other amenities. Like other luxury SUVs, there is a carefully crafted interior lighting scheme, programmable preferences for a variety of features, and the use of powered equipment that goes well beyond windows, seats and mirrors.
With body-on-frame construction and low range gearing, the GX 460 is far more rugged and powerful than the Lexus RX crossover. Unlike the RX, the GX offers excellent off-road capability. Recreational capabilities are quite good. The new GX can tow up to 6500 pounds with optional hitch, and it is equipped with specialized enhancements to make off-road driving safe and easy.
The GX comes standard with a full-time four-wheel-drive system with locking center differential and low-range gearing. It's a system that requires little or no input from the driver; ideal for secure travel during heavy rains and on icy roads, or on dirt/gravel surfaces.
The GX 460 competes with the Land Rover LR4, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GL 450, and Audi Q7. Like the European offerings, the GX requires 91-octane Premium unleaded fuel. In the end, the GX 460 is a heavily built, V8-powered, luxury SUV with many features once reserved for the top-of-the-line Lexus SUV, the LX 570. Buyers who don't need the off-road capability or seven-passenger seating might be happier with the RX350, with its better ride and easier handling. And those who really want the most from a rugged, trail-oriented mid-size SUV should shop the V6-powered Toyota 4Runner, especially if towing heavier loads is not a requirement. That said, the GX has a distinctly Lexus flavor, combining the very latest luxury features with remarkable quality and capabilities.
The 2010 Lexus GX 460 ($51,970) comes with leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, wood and leather trim, 10-way power heated front seats with memory, split 60/40 reclining second-row seats, split 50/50 folding third-row bench seat, AM/FM/6CD audio with nine speakers, rearview camera, power moonroof, power windows, power locks, cruise control, 12-volt power outlet, remote keyless entry, anti-theft alarm, intermittent rear wiper, 18-inch aluminum wheels.
The GX 460 Premium model ($56,765) upgrades with tri-zone air conditioning, automatic HID projector-beam headlights, auto-tone control audio, cargo tonneau, Adaptive Front Lighting System, auto tilt-down mirrors, heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, and the Adaptive Variable Suspension.
Options include the Navigation System ($1,990) or the Mark Levinson Navigation audio package ($3,930). The Wide View Monitor system ($3,170) includes the pre-collision system, Driver Attention Monitor, Lane Departure Alert, Intelligent High-Beam Headlamps, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and crawl control; parts of the package can be purchased separately.
Safety features that come standard on all models include advanced frontal airbags, side curtain airbags, three-point seatbelts in all positions, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Control, tire pressure monitor system.
Overall, the new 2010 Lexus GX is about 2.5 inches lower, 1 inch longer overall and just a quarter-inch wider that the previous-generation model. The new lower profile and sleeker styling yield a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.35, very clean for an SUV of such ample size.
The GX 460's front is dominated by a four-slot grill and compound headlamps that use separate projector lenses for low beam and Halogen lighting for the high beams, with LED turn signals in the side-view mirrors. Fog lamps are mounted separately in the lower front bumper area.
At the rear, a new side-opening rear door has been designed, and the rear door window can be opened separately, allowing two ways to access the luggage compartment. The rear door, no longer a hatch, swings outward when released by pressing a hidden door handle located to the left of the license plate. The taillights use a cluster of LED elements to generate their glow. The rear wiper is mounted under the rear spoiler, leaving the back window free of obstruction.
Exterior trim differs very slightly between Base and Premium grades, with Premium GX 460s getting telltale chrome trim around the back edge of the window glass and along the bottom of the doors.
The 2010 Lexus GX is configured as a three-row, seven-passenger interior, designed with comfort and versatility in mind.
The front row is spacious, with storage bins and pockets located overhead, in the center console, and side door pockets. The front seats are eight-way power adjustable, both heated and cooled. The four-spoke steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and automatically tilts away when the Power button is pushed to shut the GX off. Between the two front seats are adjustable armrests.
The standard center stack is designed around a 4.2-inch pushbutton display that shows trip and environment data, such as temperature, cruise range, fuel consumption, climate control settings, and so on. With the Navigation system, an eight-inch touchscreen display is used, allowing for control of the Nav functions, audio, climate and phone.
Controls are nicely designed and integrated, with conspicuously high-quality wood and leather materials used throughout. Redundant switches for cruise control, audio and navigation are mounted in the steering wheel.
With the wide-view monitor, the safety backup camera becomes a camera system. The driver can check for obstructions using three different views around the GX, generated by two separate wide-angle cameras.
Second-row seating is reasonably roomy and versatile, allowing for either three passengers or two passengers with a center armrest/cupholder and overhead reading lamps. The second-row bench is split 40/20/40. The outside seats are full-size seats with available heat/cool capability. The center seat is somewhat less accommodating.
Access to the rear third-row seats is from the passenger side, where the second-row seat moves forward to allow walk-in access to the third row. We found the process a bit tricky, and the rearmost seats are not long on legroom, but for smaller passengers or short trips, the rear seats will be adequate.
The rear seats can be commanded to fold flat at the push of a button, converting the GX to a five-passenger SUV with enlarged storage. Most of the time, the third-row seats will be empty, so the power fold-flat feature on the GX is likely to be highly useful, freeing the driver from the hassle of reconfiguring the seating to accommodate changing loads.
A nine-speaker sound system that includes six-disc CD changer with MP3 capability, integrated XM radio and streaming audio via Bluetooth is standard. The optional Mark Levinson audio system is for audiophiles who demand very high performance. The system uses 17 speakers, powered by 330 watts with less than 0.1 percent total distortion, and can play DVDs or CDs in addition to files from outside sources. A rear-seat entertainment system, with remote control, is bundled with the Mark Levinson audio system as an option.
Our driving took place in San Diego, California, where our route took us past the Del Mar Racetrack and stretches of congested Highway 1, and onward to an off-road venue via Interstate15, which allowed an opportunity to let the GX stretch its legs at higher speeds.
On the highway the GX cruises quietly and efficiently, turning just 1500 rpm at 60 mph. At 2000 rpm, the speedometer was showing 79 mph, and the GX is still unstressed, riding along smoothly and quietly. The six-speed transmission has a taller overdrive gear than the previous five-speed automatic, and better gear selection throughout, so it plays a big part in the GX's ease of motion.
The new 4.6-liter V8 allows for taller, more efficient gearing. The new V8 delivers more power and a 13 percent improvement in mileage. With the narrower ratios of a six-speed automatic and the added power of the new V8, the GX 460 has a more responsive character when it comes to high-speed passing and full-power, on-ramp blasts. Lexus advises that the GX 460 has been reliably clocked at 7.8 seconds, 0-60 and will do a quarter-mile in 16.6 seconds. We did not take the GX out to the track, but based on our driving, we would have no reason to quibble with those numbers.
While its highway ride is long-legged and effortless, in traffic the GX feels more like the truck-based SUV that it is. Small roadway repairs and heavily textured surfaces create a light jiggle that can be detected at around-town speeds. This we attribute to relatively low-profile 60-series tires on 18-inch wheels, and rather thick anti-swaybars used to control the GX in corners. However, bigger impacts like potholes and speed bumps are readily swallowed up by the GX suspension, which is capable of absorbing the larger irregularities of unimproved roadways. Our route took us across a series of speed bumps, where we quickly noticed the faster we hit them, the better it felt.
The four-wheel disc brake system responds well to light pressure at the top of the pedal, which is how this family wagon would normally be driven. All-out stopping power is consistent with a vehicle designed tow up to 6500 pounds, when truly powerful brakes are a requirement. While there is some front-end dive upon very hard braking, more than the average sedan, given the nature of the vehicle, we'd consider front-to-rear suspension compression well controlled.
Cornering is actually quite good for a vehicle of this size, height and weight. Body roll is well controlled by the same stout swaybars, allowing the GX to track through corners predictably without need for correction, and the stiffer wheel and tire combination works to enhance stability. Lexus has gone to electric steering, which has had a reputation for relatively numb feedback characteristics, but this is not a sports car, and the packaging advantages include significant mileage gains. This newest version of electric steering seems more thoughtfully tuned, with a better range of power assist, leading to a nice turn-in feel and stable tracking through sweepers. The GX is not the kind of vehicle we'd be inspired to toss into corners, but the suspension travel is not so long as to create wobbles. We wouldn't call it nimble, but in ordinary use the GX is easy to drive and quite painless to operate.
The GX is always in four-wheel drive, a mode that was completely transparent to us as we drove. There is no sense of torque steer, and no scuffing or binding up during full-lock, low-speed maneuvering that might occur with part-time 4x4 systems. The use of a torque-sensing center differential allows the GX to continuously adjust power distribution from wheel to wheel as traction permits. Traction is further enhanced with the electronic traction system Lexus calls A-TRAC, so wheel slip is quickly controlled on surfaces like wet grass or slippery pavement. There was nothing extremely challenging about the weather or the dirt roads we addressed during our off-road driving, but the hills and service roads of the Vessels Ranch were enough to get the GX thoroughly dusty.
Finding a level spot, we actuated low range using a small lever just below the shifter, and saw that it nicked in and out of 4-Lo immediately. It's necessary to enter Neutral to access low range, but short of that, 2.56:1 gearing is available practically on-the-fly. Because of the gearing, and the adoption of KDSS, the Lexus GX 460 is one of the very few mid-size SUVs with genuine off-road capability.
KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) is a remarkable electronically controlled system that unhinges one end of the anti-sway bars that would normally limit wheel travel. Limiting wheel travel is a good thing on pavement, but off-road, the opposite is desirable. KDSS offers a way to have the best of both worlds. It works automatically, without driver intervention, any time a wheel is lifted off the terrain while the vehicle is in low range. We've tested the system in the past on the Toyota Land Cruiser, and found it dramatically improves a vehicle's ability to avoid getting stuck while crossing highly irregular terrain.
Lexus Enform is the latest in Lexus telematic systems, and it comes standard on the GX. Enform is a subscription-based live-operator assist system that enables real-time assistance without having to fuss with navigation programming. To test it, we pushed the button, an operator picked up and downloaded directions to our lunch destination. We felt guilty asking a live operator to direct us to a burger joint, but it is nice to know that someone is standing by 24/7. Enform is optional, bundled with Navigation. Another system, Safety Connect, is standard on the GX and provides automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, emergency assistance and enhanced roadside assistance.
As the miles rolled on in the quiet cabin, it was easy to speak at it using a low tone of voice, and the sound system provided clean, accurate sound reproduction. This is not surprising: the Mark Levinson system has 17 speakers and enough clean power to allow for listening at very high volumes with practically no distortion. We didn't have a back seat passenger during our drive, but we did listen from the back seat later on, and sure enough, the sound is just as good in the back seat as the front. It's an option that, while on the pricy side, will truly be appreciated by those who love their music.
The all-new Lexus GX 460 is improved in every way versus the previous generation GX 470. It's faster, quieter, more powerful, gets better mileage and has the latest safety and off-road driving features. But we suspect Lexus buyers will choose it based on the Lexus reputation for exceptional attention to build quality more than any other reason.
John Stewart filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Lexus GX near Del Mar, California.
Lexus GX 460 ($51,970); Premium ($56,765).
Options As Tested
Wideview Front and Side Monitor/Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Crawl Control ($2,220); Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package ($3,930); Intuitive Park Assist ($500).
Lexus GX 460 Premium ($56,765).
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