2004 Lexus GX 470
2004 Lexus GX 470 Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Lexus luxury with amazing off-road capability.
The Lexus GX 470 bucks the trend. Most luxury SUVs nowadays are based on cars. They are essentially high-riding, all-wheel-drive alternatives to luxury station wagons and are usually built on front-wheel-drive unit-body sedan platforms. The GX 470, on the other hand, is based on traditional truck engineering concepts. It uses body-on-frame construction, a rear-wheel-drive chassis layout, a rugged four-wheel-drive system, and a live rear axle.
Granted, the GX 470 rides smoothly and coddles its occupants in Lexus luxury. Yet it also offers incredibly good off-road capability that rivals the best from Jeep and Land Rover. That's not surprising because the Lexus GX 470 shares most of its engineering with the Toyota 4Runner, a newly redesigned SUV that offers truly impressive off-road prowess. If you want an authentic luxury SUV, this is an excellent choice.
The GX 470 benefits from a powerful 4.7-liter V8 and a five-speed automatic that are responsive, smooth and quiet. It's equipped with the latest in off-road technology, including a suspension and drivetrain that gives it the ability to go virtually anywhere. But it's also prepared very well for on-road driving, where most of us spend most of our time. Its brakes are excellent and it's equipped with Vehicle Skid Control, a sophisticated system designed to help the driver maintain control in slippery corners. Inside, the GX 470 is roomy and quiet, swathed in leather and birdseye maple. It is a Lexus, so everything is where it's supposed to be; the switchgear and other controls are a study in ergonomic excellence.
Lexus launched the GX 470 as a new nameplate for 2003. Advanced safety features have been added for 2004, including roll-sensing curtain airbags designed to deploy in a severe tilt angle, roll, or lateral G force (side impact). Also for 2004 new is an optional electro-hydraulic suspension system designed to improve control and comfort on road and off road.
The Lexus GX 470 ($45,075) is positioned in the luxury-utility vehicle market segment, with a single model strategy augmented by major options and option packages. That's marketing jargon meaning this baby comes loaded with expensive equipment and features, yet you can add even more stuff.
More than 20 premium features come standard, from glass moonroof to illuminated running boards. Among them: leather upholstery, power seats, power mirrors, power windows, a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated seats, rain-sensing wipers, automatic dual climate control, Homelink, a 115V AC power outlet in the cargo area, AM/FM/cassette/6-disc CD changer with 11 speakers, rear seat audio system with remote control and headphones, roof rack. The 4.7-liter V8 with a five-speed automatic transmission (rather than a four-speed automatic) are standard. Also standard: anti-lock brakes, traction control, Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), Torsen limited-slip differential, and the Adaptive Variable Suspension with adjustable height control. GX 470 rides on 265/65HR17 tires wrapped around 17-inch alloy wheels.
Options include a third-row seat with rear air conditioning ($2,030); Navigation system bundled with a Mark Levinson premium audio system ($2,700); a rear-seat entertainment system with two headphones ($1,560). A tow hitch receiver ($50) is optional. The new Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, an option on late-2004 models, uses electronically controlled hydraulic cylinders to help vary the degree of sway resistance provided by the front and rear stabilizer bars.
Standard passive-safety equipment includes dual multi-stage frontal airbags and side airbags for the front and second-row seats. Roll-sensing curtain airbags are being added to late 2004 models (curtain airbags are used on early 2004 models). A new tire pressure monitoring system is being added as well. Three-point seatbelts are provided for each seating position, and the front belts are equipped with pretensioners and force limiters to help minimize injuries from the belts themselves in an impact.
The Lexus GX 470 is a big, brawny vehicle. It doesn't look big on the outside, however, especially without the optional roof rack. Massive headlamps and high-mounted, complex tail lamps adorn its corners, yet a minimum of decoration and its overall shape result in a nice and simple appearance.
The body shell is the same five-door design as a Toyota 4Runner, with a Lexus-style grille and lamps. The GX 470 has a peaky hood and grille combination, and nicely integrated body-colored bumpers, fender flares and side moldings.
The interior of the GX 470 is trimmed in rich leather and bird's-eye maple. It's roomy and comfortable with large, commodious seats and lots of elbow room. The quality of materials is excellent. Tall side windows afford a good view out, making for an airy cabin.
One of the beauties of driving any Lexus product is that everything is where it's supposed to be, and everything is clearly labeled. All of the gauges and instruments are large and easy to read, with simple graphics shared by other Lexus products. Switchgear and other controls are large, straightforward, elegantly designed and easy to operate.
Even something as complex as a navigation system has been reduced to everyday equipment in the GX 470 because it was designed so well. The optional navigation system in late-2004 models comes with a rear backup camera that gives the driver a view of what's behind the vehicle, automatically projecting a color image on the navigation system's seven-inch LCD screen when reverse gear is engaged. That can help the driver avoid backing over obstacles, such as a tricycle left in the driveway.
The optional Mark Levinson audio system turns the GX 470 into a concert hall on wheels. And the optional DVD rear-seat entertainment system turns it into a mobile theater for up to six passengers. The DVD entertainment system uses a high-resolution thin film transistor LCD screen that lowers from the headliner; it can even display what's being displayed on the dashboard navigation screen.
The second row is roomy and comfortable and it's easy to get in and out. This is a space-efficient vehicle. A family of four with a big dog will feel right at home. The second-row bench folds down and is split 60/40 for versatility.
Order the optional third row and the GX 470 can seat eight. The third row is suitable for children, but it's pretty hopeless for adults. Available rear air conditioning brings improved heating and cooling comfort to third-row passengers and dogs.
Split 50/50, the third-row seats can be folded up out of the way or removed and stored. What starts as a 13 cubic-foot cargo bay can be expanded in steps by folding or removing seats up to more than 77 cubic feet with the lightweight rear seats removed and the second row folded. That's not a lot of cargo space in the world of SUVs, however. By comparison, a Mercedes M-Class offers 81 cubic feet, while the BMW X5, worst in the class, offers a maximum of just 54 cubic feet. Also, the GX 470's cargo door opens from the left side; that's awkward, forcing you to walk around it when unloading curbside at the airport.
The Lexus GX 470 is a smooth, comfortable SUV for everyday driving with some of the best off-road capability available in a stock vehicle. Its array of onboard electronics is unrivalled in this segment at this price, and all systems work in concert to make this machine come alive, whatever the driving conditions.
The 4.7-liter V8 delivers world-class smoothness and quietness. At highway cruising speeds, the V8 is barely audible. It delivers good power with strong torque for towing, 235 horsepower and 320 pounds-feet of torque. As heavy as it is, the GX 470 is no slouch in the performance department, capable of full-throttle sprints from 0 to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, with a nice V-8 intake roar to go with it. If you're towing anything up to its limit of 5000 pounds, this truck will handle it with ease. The bad news is that, even if you try hard, you'll probably never achieve 20 miles per gallon. The V8 is shared with the Lexus LX 470 and is optional with the Toyota 4Runner.
Lexus fits the GX with its newly developed five-speed automatic transmission, which offers quicker response and better gearing than a traditional four-speed automatic. Like the engine, the transmission is very smooth.
The GX 470 handles impressively well for a body-on-frame truck with a live rear axle. Like most SUVs, it feels heavy and ponderous with its big tires. The newly developed power steering system features different-ratio gears on the outer ends of the steering rack than in the middle, making steering quick and light in parking situations, but smoother and heavier on the highway, so the truck never feels over-assisted and never feels darty. As a result, the GX 470 feels very stable at high speeds.
Its adaptive variable suspension continuously changes the shock absorber damping at each wheel individually in response to road surface conditions, speed, and steering and braking inputs from the driver. Four driver-selectable settings are available to tailor the system to driver preferences, mood, or driving situations. You might want the softest setting for a bumpy boulevard, switching to a firmer setting for driving quickly down a winding rural road. The system automatically increases shock absorber stiffness in transitional maneuvers. It also reduces dive under hard braking and squat under hard acceleration. The rear air suspension can raise rear ride height in rugged terrain or lower the rear end when loading cargo. Overall, the ride is remarkably refined for a truck with a live rear axle. The ride quality is fairly smooth. Road vibration and pavement undulations get through, but they are damped. We found the Comfort setting produced a cushy feel, but not a magic carpet ride. You can still feel the suspension reacting to bumps. Switching all the way to the Sport setting makes the bumps feel more pronounced, but it still filters out most road vibration, not harsh, but not really comfortable on rough pavement.
The new Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System provides more sway stiffness when needed for crisp handling response, less sway resistance when cornering, more comfort over bumpy roads, and even disengages the stabilizer bars for some off-highway driving conditions. With the stabilizer bars disengaged, the suspension gains more travel and articulation to help handle obstacles. Lexus claims this optional system has been proven in World Rally Championship competition, which is another way of saying it's no gimmick.
The brakes are superb. They have a nice feel and are easy to modulate for smooth stops in everyday driving. The brake rotors are large and all four discs are ventilated for long life and fade-free performance (most trucks use ventilated discs only on the front wheels). Add to that the latest in brake technology: Anti-lock brakes (ABS) help the driver maintain control of the steering in a panic stop. Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) distributes the proper brake force between front and rear wheels to achieve.
Lexus and Toyota together offer more different kinds of sport-utility vehicles than any other manufacturer. Though based on the 4Runner, the GX 470 offers a personality of its own. Within the Lexus family, the GX 470 fits between the popular car-based RX 330 and the ultra-capable truck-based LX 470. The GX 470 offers more space and power and off-road capability than the RX 330, though it isn't as smooth. The GX 470 is smaller and lighter and much less expensive than the Land Cruiser-based LX 470, but uses the same powerful engine and will fit in places the big LX won't. To some extent, the GX 470 competes with the BMW X5 4.4i and the Mercedes-Benz ML 500, but the Lexus is longer, wider, taller and lighter than either of those entries and offers more off-road capability.
The Lexus GX 470 is a good choice for buyers who want luxury, capability, quality and reliability. It's smooth and powerful on the road and can go virtually anywhere off road. It offers the high levels of quality and ergonomic excellence expected of a Lexus and carries its reputation for durability and reliability. It's roomy and comfortable and can carry up to eight people when equipped with the optional third-row seat.
Lexus GX470 ($45,075).
Options As Tested
third-row seat with rear air conditioner ($2,030); tow hitch receiver ($50); Navigation System with Mark Levinson Audio ($2,700); Rear Seat Entertainment System ($1,560).
Lexus GX 470 ($45,075).
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