Lexus GX 470
The new-for-'03 Lexus GX 470 shares mechanicals with the new 4Runner. However, true to the Lexus name, the GX 470 is crammed with a host of luxury features and other refinements to make it worthy of its Lexus badge. Automatic climate control, leather seating and trim, a premium audio system with a six-disc in-dash CD changer, steering-wheel audio controls, a memory system for the driver's seat, steering-wheel position and outside mirrors, along with heated front seats and an overhead console with integrated HomeLink transmitter all come as standard equipment. A wide array of luxury options are available for those looking for even more.
Powering the GX 470 is the same iForce 4.7L V-8 that is available on the 4Runner. Also carried over from the 4Runner is the traction-control system, Downhill Assist Control system, Hill-start Assist Control system and Vehicle Skid Control system, along with the other electronic systems off of the 4Runner. There is one system that's unique to the GX 470--its Adaptive Variable Suspension damping. This system enhances ride quality and handling by continuously changing each wheel's shock-absorber damping rate in response to road conditions, vehicle speed and driver steering and brake inputs.
What we liked
Since we were big fans of the 4.7L V-8 found under the hood of the 4Runner, it should come as no surprise we liked the same engine in the Lexus. With 235 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque on tap, it is able to move the GX 470 with authority. The same mechanical aspects of the 4Runner that ranked at the top also ranked high on the Lexus. The GX 470 shared the same awesome brakes as the 4Runner and its precise and nicely weighted rack-and-pinion steering setup. Also scoring at the top was its five-speed automatic transmission, also shared with the 4Runner. However the Lexus surpassed the 4Runner's impressive pavement manners. Its ride on the highway was silky smooth, and it would easily gobble up irregularities without any jarring of the occupants. This great ride transferred to the trail. Another nice feature is that the GX 470's shock values are adjustable from within the cockpit. This came in handy once twisty pavement was encountered, as the shocks could be set to a firm mode, resulting in impressive handling.
Another area where the Lexus was superior to the 4Runner, and in fact everything else, was its interior. The GX 470's interior was easily the favorite of the bunch. Comfort and luxury were abundant as its leather seats offered plenty of support and adjustment. The inside of the GX470 was a very quiet place to spend time.
What we didn't like
Just like the 4Runner, the Lexus was low to the ground and this was an issue on the trail. Adding insult to injury were the GX 470's running boards, which exacerbated clearance issues. In fact, by the end of the test the running boards had seen more than their share of geolithic modification. At least they remained on the vehicle. That doesn't always happen.
Another gripe was the traction-control system. As with the 4Runner, engaging this requires far too much wheelspin. This is especially an issue on slow-speed technical sections of the trail, where wheelspin never is welcomed.
Check It Out If:
You've got to have a ride that is the most capable, and the most comfortable.
Avoid It If:
The idea of tearing up the running boards on a $53,000 SUV gives you the willies.
The Short Version:
Wears the dash panel the 4Runner should have. Electronically adjustable suspension. Air-adjustable rear ride height. Almost too nice to wheel in--almost. Exemplary fit and finish.
The Final Verdict
This year's Four Wheeler of the Year was a slugfest that resulted in a close finish in which every point counted. So how did the Lexus GX 470 wind up winning in this field of heavy hitters? Well, the Four Wheeler of the Year competition tests a vehicle over a wide range of categories. What wins is a vehicle that is well-balanced and can do a wide variety of tasks well. The GX 470 handled every task we threw at it with ease. That's why it was voted Four Wheeler of the Year for 2003.