2011 Lexus GX 460 Expert Review:Autoblog
Despite the rise of the crossover, there's still a market for traditional SUVs. Moreover, some buyers don't want to sacrifice luxury to get the capability that a full-frame, truck-based sport utility offers. Lexus makes the GX 460 for consumers who want a blend of opulence and a sure-footed, full-frame, locking-transfer-case 4x4 architecture that's not afraid to pull a substantial trailer and won't roar loudly enough to cause permanent hearing damage.
While the Lexus RX grabs the hearts of buyers looking for an L-Finesse crossover, the GX 460 is an alternative choice if you're considering an LR4 or Range Rover Sport, the most direct competitors in terms of architecture and market segment. Taking price and mission into account, a disparate field of rivals ranges from the BMW X5 and Audi Q7 to the GMC Yukon Denali or even the Ford Expedition King Ranch. The GX 460s footprint and price puts it in between larger crossovers and even bigger SUVs, perhaps an awkward place to be, but sales goals are modest.
So does the GX 460's tinge of uniqueness help it stand out from the herd? Have the changes made since being knocked for potential instability been effective?
Continue reading Review: 2011 Lexus GX 460...
Photos copyright ©2011 Dan Roth / AOL
The GX 460 is styled with common Lexus features. Swept headlamps and a wide-slat grille is ugly to some and nondescript to others. Prominent blocky wheelarches are meant to convey ruggedness, though the effect can be heavy-handed on the relatively short wheelbase that the GX 460 shares with the Toyota 4Runner. Not likely to win any beauty contests, the GX 460's styling doesn't leave a lasting impression, though it's instantly identifiable as a Lexus.
Saying the GX is a Lexus on the outside means the styling is tame and blends easily into the background. The Lexus-ness means a lot more when talking about the interior. High quality materials and excellent assembly quality are on display everywhere, though the metallized plastic on the center stack looks more Scion than Lexus. Padded and stitched leather covers the door panels and even the dashboard. It looks and feels finely crafted and sends the right messages to the rugged luxo-roader set.
Shiny Bubinga wood accents on the door panels, dashboard and steering wheel are richly toned, and perforated leather facilitates ventilated and heated power-adjustable front seats. Outboard second-row seats are also heated, and Lexus makes much of its available upgrade to semi-aniline leather without saying much about why it's better. For the record, semi-aniline leather is dyed all the way through and treated with a protective topcoat, versus plebian pigment-slathered hides. The GX 460's seats could be upholstered in fetid banana leaves and they'd still be all-day comfortable.
There's not much in the GX 460 interior that feels cheap. Indeed, most switchgear feels fluid-damped, and nearly everything around you is padded or soft-touch. With the button-heavy center stack, steering wheel and console, there's a whole lotta touchin' goin' on, too.
Standard GXs make do with a 4.5-inch LCD, but ours had a big, bright eight-inch unit. There's some over-reliance on the non-tactile touchscreen interface, which can be maddening to figure out. There are also plenty of buttons. Hard switches for the three-zone climate control, seat heaters, transfer case and audio system pepper the center stack and console. Still more controls populate the steering wheel, where drivers can adjust the audio system, engage the voice-recognition system in casual conversation and twiddle through the information displayed between the trademark Optitron gauges in the instrument panel. Look up, and there are a few more buttons for the large moonroof and traction control, and don't forget the eight buttons that flank that big LCD, giving you climate, audio and navigation menus. Finding what you want sometimes takes a few seconds of reading.
There are nice ergonomic touches, like sliding and reclining second row seats and a third row that's power folding. There's less interior space in this latest generation GX, down by at least 17 cubic feet to 130. It wasn't capacious before, and it's less so now, though it's mostly a problem for third-seat riders and the cargo space that disappears when the last row is in use. A 120-volt outlet in the cargo area is a smart inclusion, considering the lifestyle-of-doing-stuff the GX is intended to support. Second-row controls for heated seats and climate are part of the three-zone system that's included with the Premium equipment level. An optional Mark Levinson audio system is there for the audiophile taking, though we found little to complain about with the sound of the Premium model's standard audio setup. Families will likely be interested in the rear seat entertainment system, too.
The utility role may be wrapped in luxury, but the 4.6-liter V8 can tow 6,500 pounds, though its 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque are more V6-like figures these days. The engine is smooth and well-isolated from the cabin in typical Lexus fashion, though it makes its presence known if you're booting it. There's significant weight for the powertrain to deal with, and speed is not the priority in the GX, though it's got enough oomph to please its customers. The automatic transmission has six speeds and is nearly undiscernable in its operation. Things change when you ask for a downshift, however. The exceptionally smooth transmission hesitates for what seems like an eternity, meaning instead of a simple one-gear kickdown, you've by then mashed the pedal to the floor to avoid being crushed by overtaking traffic. Fuel economy stands at 15 miles per gallon in the city city, 20 mpg on the highway, and Lexus specifies premium fuel. Our combined driving returned 17.8 mpg, which is right on the bubble, and better than we expected, though filling the 23-gallon fuel tank is not a bargain purchase.
The 5,305-pound curb weight is perched atop a fully-independent Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which self-adjusts the stabilizer bars for more suspension travel off-road and good manners on pavement. Premium trim GX 460s get a self-adjusting rear air suspension as standard fitment, too. The driving experience has hints of truck flavor, with some head toss and high-waisted body motion. A longer wheelbase might smooth out some of the hobby-horse motions, but the GX 460 isn't trying to be a crossover, and movements are controlled and the frame is strong and jiggle-free. Steering feedback isn't something we even need to discuss, other than to say the level of power assist is just right and there's no slop to the GXs reactions.
The burrs have been studiously buffed off the GX 460's driving experience. Controls operate with an uncanny smoothness that's astounding when you stop to consider how hard it is to pull off. Steering, accelerator and brake reveal no nasty surprises, and the powertrain does its best to avoid detection. It's too bad that, in being unobtrusive, the engine doesn't generate the power or torque we now expect from modern V8s, and the automatic transmission's avoidance of kickdowns mars an otherwise serene driving experience. Despite the lack of performance verve from the otherwise delightful engine and transmission, the acceleration is plenty more than most owners will require. There's real off-road capability here, too, and no matter where you're going, the interior has that serene Lexus atmosphere. And just as importantly considering the recent round of negative press, at no time did the GX 460 ever get crossed up or feel unstable.
Granted, we weren't trying the evasive maneuvering that got Lexus in trouble with Consumer Reports in the first place, but neither did the GX display any bad tendencies. In snow, standard stability control steps in early and effectively to provide the maximum safety net.
It's hard as a car guy to admit that you like a Lexus, but the 2011 GX 460 has a lot going for it. It's luxurious without being sterile, and the nicely-trimmed cabin feels more expensive than the price of entry. In a class of expensive competitors, the GX commands more money than many, but the cabin makes you feel rewarded for your expenditure. The most annoying traits are the reliance on the touchscreen for even every day controls, and a tailgate that swings open to the right instead of opening like a hatch. The less than practical rear door reveals the veritable lack of storage space when all three rows of seats are in use, as well.
The GX 460 does have a lot of competition above, below and beside it with luxury crossovers and SUVs to fend off, and it may not stack up on paper. With impeccable build quality inside and out, luxurious materials, and a brand reputation for reliability and dealers that coddle, it's a different story on the road. Or off it, for that matter.
Photos copyright ©2011 Dan Roth / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Ready for rugged terrain and luxurious everyday use.
The Lexus GX 460 is an all-purpose luxury SUV ready for the most rugged of weekend adventures. The GX 460 is designed to hold up to regular use over rugged terrain. The Lexus GX shares the its basic platform with the Toyota 4Runner, renowned for its off-road capability.
The Lexus GX 460 was all-new for 2010, and it enters 2011 essentially unchanged. Compared to the previous-generation GX 470, the current GX 460 is more powerful, gets better mileage, and has upgraded safety and packaging features.
The Lexus GX comes standard with a 4.6-liter V8, hence the GX 460 designation, and a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The GX seats seven. Inside is a luxurious cabin trimmed with wood and leather and equipped with heated and ventilated seats, 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 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. It's very comfortable in town and a great setup in the backcountry.
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, and it's ideal for secure travel during heavy rains and on icy roads, or on dirt/gravel surfaces.
For 2011, all Lexus vehicles are equipped with new Smart Stop Technology, which automatically reduces engine power when the brake pedal and the accelerator pedal are applied simultaneously under certain driving conditions.
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.
The 2011 Lexus GX 460 ($52,345) comes with leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, wood and leather trim, 10-way power heated front seats with memory, split 40/20/40 reclining second-row seats, split 50/50 folding third-row bench seat, AM/FM/6CD audio with nine speakers and USB/iPod connectivity, XM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth, 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 ($57,140) upgrades with tri-zone air conditioning, automatic HID projector-beam headlights; cargo tonneau; Adaptive Front Lighting System; electrochromic, power-retracting outside 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). On the Premium model, 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. A less comprehensive Wide View Monitor package ($2,220) is offered on both models.
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.
The Lexus GX is a traditional SUV, though it's slightly lower in stance than the previous-generation (pre-2010) GX models.
The front of the GX 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, the cargo door opens to the side, and its window can be opened separately, allowing two ways to access the luggage compartment. The rear door 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 trim levels getting telltale chrome trim around the back edge of the window glass and along the bottom of the doors.
The Lexus GX seats up to seven passengers and comes with three rows of seating.
The front row is spacious, with storage bins and pockets located overhead, in the center console, and side door pockets. The front seats are 10-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 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 available Navigation system, an eight-inch touchscreen display is used, allowing for control of navigation, 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 driver can check for obstructions using three different views around the GX, generated by two separate wide-angle cameras that display images of what's behind the vehicle whenever reverse is selected.
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 less accommodating.
Third-row access 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. For smaller passengers or short trips, the rear seats will be adequate; for adults, they will be cramped and uncomfortable.
The third-row 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 a 6CD changer with MP3 capability, integrated XM radio and streaming audio via Bluetooth is standard. The optional Mark Levinson audio system is for audiophiles and uses 17 speakers, powered by 330 watts with less than 0.1 percent total harmonic 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. The Mark Levinson system has 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.
A well-insulated cabin helps the audio system sound its best. With the audio system shut off, the cabin is quiet and we found it easy to speak using a low tone of voice.
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.
On the highway, we found the Lexus 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 6-speed transmission has a tall overdrive gear and the gears keep the engine right in the heart of the powerband.
New for 2010, the 4.6-liter V8 allows for taller, more efficient gearing. It delivers more power than the 4.7-liter unit it replaced, and a 13 percent improvement in mileage. With the narrower ratios of a 6-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 says the GX 460 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds 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.
On the highway, it's ride is long-legged and effortless. In traffic, however, the GX feels more like the truck-based SUV designed for off-road use 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 the thick anti-sway bars 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 quite good for a vehicle of this size, height and weight. Body roll is well controlled by the same stout anti-sway bars, 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, its additional 2.57:1 gear reduction 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.
The 2011 Lexus GX 460 offers excellent over rugged terrain. It's a traditional SUV, built on the same truck-based architecture as the rugged Toyota 4Runner, with a suspension and drive system designed for rough terrain. Inside it's luxurious. On the road it's quiet. While not as soft and smooth on bumpy roads as a car-based crossover SUV, such as the Lexus RX, the GX is no buckboard on the highway. The 4.6-liter V8 generates plenty of power and the GX is loaded with safety features.
John Stewart filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Lexus GX near Del Mar, California.
Lexus GX 460 ($52,345); Premium ($57,140).
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 ($57,140).
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