2005 Lexus GX 470 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Revised engine improves performance and efficiency.
The Lexus GX 470 gives its driver impressive off-road capability while providing a smooth ride on the pavement. Based on the newly redesigned Toyota 4Runner, the GX 470 can go just about anywhere. Yet its cabin is comfortable and luxurious.
The Lexus GX 470 gets a boost in performance for 2005 with a more powerful V8 engine. The 4.7-liter V8 offers a substantial increase in horsepower yet offers slightly better fuel economy and cleaner emissions. Now rated at 270 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, it's teamed with a five-speed automatic and together they deliver smooth, quiet, responsive performance.
The GX 470 is an authentic SUV with serious off-road capability based on traditional truck engineering concepts: body-on-frame construction, a rear-wheel-drive chassis layout, a rugged four-wheel-drive system, and a live rear axle. That doesn't mean outdated technology, however. The GX features a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a locking Torsen torque-sensing differential. Traction is automatically applied to the tires with the best grip. Downhill Assist Control helps the GX 470 get down slippery inclines. Meanwhile, Vehicle Stability Control helps the driver maintain control on slippery turns. As its name suggests, the GX 470 comes with a powerful 4.7-liter V8 engine.
Inside, the GX 470 is roomy and quiet, swathed in leather and bird's-eye maple. The switchgear is a study in ergonomic excellence and all controls are right where you expect them to be.
The 2005 model year brings subtle but important enhancements, including a new airbag system for the front passenger. The available navigation system has been updated with improved graphics and new functions. With the navigation system, you can now talk hands-free on a compatible cell phone and change the cabin temperature with a voice command. A new Sport model comes fitted with a dynamic suspension system and special interior and exterior trim.
The Lexus GX 470 ($45,775) comes loaded with luxury features, including leather trimmed 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, a glass moonroof, and illuminated running boards.
The 4.7-liter V8 and five-speed automatic are standard. Also standard: anti-lock brakes, traction control, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Torsen limited-slip differential, and Adaptive Variable Suspension with adjustable height control. GX 470 rides on 265/65HR17 tires on 17-inch alloy wheels.
Options include a third-row seat with rear air conditioning ($2,030); the navigation system bundled with a Mark Levinson premium audio system ($2,700); a rear-seat entertainment system with two headphones ($1,560); and a tow hitch receiver ($50). Bluetooth is an option on 2005 models, allowing the driver to wirelessly link cellular telephones to the GX for hands-free communication.
The new Sport model is equipped with the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which uses electronically controlled hydraulic cylinders to help vary the degree of sway resistance provided by the front and rear stabilizer bars. The Sport model is distinguished by special exterior trim, including wheels and roof rack finished in a dark graphite color, while the interior is highlighted by black bird's-eye maple wood and dark graphite metallic trim.
Standard passive-safety equipment includes dual-stage frontal airbags and side airbags for the front and second-row seats, and side curtain airbags designed to help provide head protection should the vehicle roll. Three-point seatbelts are provided for each seating position, and the front belts are equipped with pretensioners and force limiters to help minimize seatbelt-related injuries. A tire pressure monitoring system is standard.
The Lexus GX 470 is a big, brawny vehicle. It doesn't look big on the outside, but it does look tall. 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. Massive headlamps and high-mounted, complex tail lamps adorn its corners.
The interior of the GX 470 is trimmed in rich leather and bird's-eye maple. It's roomy and comfortable with large, comfortable 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.
The available Lexus navigation system works well and has been upgraded for 2005 for improved graphics. An available rear backup camera displays a view of what's directly behind the vehicle on the navigation system's seven-inch LCD screen when reverse 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 your video on the dashboard navigation screen when the vehicle is in Park.
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 on the market. 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, 270 horsepower and 330 pound-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 8.1 seconds, with a nice V8 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. For 2005, the V8 gets the company's VVT-i (variable-valve timing with intelligence) for improved efficiency and response at all engine speeds. VVT-i also helps the GX 470 run cleaner, earning the government's more stringent ULEV-II (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) rating for 2005. The GX 470 requires 91 octane (or higher) gasoline and rates an EPA-estimated City/Highway 15/19 mpg.
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 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 solid at high speeds.
Its adaptive variable suspension, which comes standard, 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 or situations. You might want to use the softest setting for a bumpy boulevard, then switch to a firm setting for driving 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. Road vibration and pavement undulations get through, but they are damped. We found the Comfort setting produced a cushy feel that's more comfortable, 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, making for a less comfortable ride, but it's more responsive when cornering.
The optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System provides more sway stiffness when needed for crisp handling response, more comfort over bumpy roads. The system even disengages the stabilizer bars for some off-highway driving conditions, allowing more suspension travel and articulation to help handle obstacles. Lexus claims the system has been proven in World Rally Championship competition, which is another way of saying it's not a fragile 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 disc.
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 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. Though based on the 4Runner, the GX 470 offers a personality of its own.
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 nearly 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.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw reports from Detroit; with Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.
Lexus GX470 ($45,775).
Options As Tested
third-row seat with rear air conditioner ($2,030); tow hitch receiver ($50); Navigation System with Mark Levinson Audio ($3,050); Rear Seat Entertainment System ($1,560).
Lexus GX 470 ($45,775).
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