Lexus GX 470
The Lexus GX 470 that won our test last year remains largely unchanged for '04, with one major exception: the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System. This computer-controlled setup gives the GX the ability to soften its roll stiffness in uneven terrain. It operates by using hydraulic cylinders that are attached to each side of each antiroll bar and linked by a pressure-sensing hydraulic valve. During cornering, when both the front and rear cylinders on one side are compressed, the antiroll bars stay active and reduce body roll. However, when uneven terrain is encountered and only one cylinder is compressed, the antiroll bars disengage. And when one wheel deflects upwards, the system puts downward pressure on the other wheels. This dramatically increases the amount of articulation available from the GX's suspension.
The rest of the Lexus is mostly the same as it was last year. Powering it is the same 4.7L
V-8 that produces 235 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission and two-speed transfer case. Suspension consists of an independent front suspension and a five-link solid rear with coils. The interior of the Lexus also remains largely unchanged.
What We Liked
As you might expect, the Lexus is an extremely plush highway cruiser. Once the pavement gets twisty, the driver can adjust the three-way suspension setting to "firm," and attack the corners. While the Lexus couldn't keep up with its German counterparts on the twisty mountain roads, it was still a competent handler.
The interior of the Lexus was also the favorite of our judges. It is comfortable and extremely quiet. Along with that, it offers a good amount of room for a vehicle that is not massive in size. The dash is also laid out nicely, and the HVAC and navigation systems are relatively easy to use.
The Lexus shined on the trail. Judging from the mail we received, many of you thought we were nuts last year when we praised the Lexus's four-wheeling abilities. It's based on the 4Runner, remember, which has always been a competent trail performer. Since we liked the Lexus last year, it is no surprise that we liked it even better this year, since it has greater articulation. Sure, at first some of us thought the KDSS system was a gimmick. But then we ramped the GX and found that increased articulation was notable and, on a 20-degree ramp, provided a 519 RTI, compared to an RTI score of 428 on a GX 470 without KDSS. This increased articulation is readily apparent on the trail, where the flex of the rear suspension helps the Lexus stay planted on the ground so that it can find traction. Also helping on the trail was a well-working traction control system that would engage with a minimum of wheelspin. With the most flex and a traction control system that worked well, the Lexus cruised to an easy victory in our important trail scoring section.
This Lexus also had a strong mechanical foundation. The 4.7L isn't the strongest engine in this bunch, but did provide good acceleration and power. A five-speed automatic transmission provides smooth shifts at the right moments. Its brakes produce some of the shortest stopping distances we have seen from an SUV, and its steering is precise and provides a great feel for the road.
What We Didn't Like
Every one of our judges wished the Lexus came without running boards. They were low and easy to damage, and sometimes hampered the GX's progress on the trail. Some of our judges also thought that the Lexus provided a bumpy and jarring ride while in the dunes.
While some of the vehicles were very strong in certain aspects of our test, the Lexus GX 470 consistently performed well in all categories of our testing. It was also the best on the trail and this helped it to gather the most points to make it our choice for Four Wheeler of the Year.
Check It Out If:
You are looking for a well-balanced SUV that is capable on the trail.
Avoid It If:
You don't want to put up with infidels who refuse to believe that it's as effective as it really is.
The Short Version
Winnah, and still champeen! It's understated, subtle, comfortable and very effective. What more could you want?