It would be an understatement to say we were impressed when Lexus introduced the midsize GX 470 SUV for the 2003 model year. We were so awed, in fact, by its overall trail prowess (as well as its splendid highway manners) that we bestowed our annual Four Wheeler of the Year award upon it. A year later, the GX won the award a second time, thanks to its new-for-2004 Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System. To date, it's still the only vehicle to have won our award in consecutive years.
So when Lexus rolled out the second-generation GX a few months ago, we were giddy with anticipation. We were also concerned. You see, we can think of plenty of examples of once-capable factory 4x4s that were gradually neutered of any practical trail utility over the years via a series of pavement-oriented remodels and redesigns (see: Explorer, Ford). Would the latest Lexus follow the crossover trend, or would it retain the elegant ruggedness (or is that rugged elegance?) of the previous model?
Well, we spent a day test driving the new GX recently, and we can happily report that the latest Lexus is just as trailworthy as ever-perhaps even more so.
For starters, while the GX 460 has been refined for 2010, this is no crossover wannabe: The vehicle still uses the same body-on-frame architecture as the Toyota 4Runner and (overseas) Land Cruiser Prado, so while it may not quite have the crisp handling and cornering characteristics of a unitbody crossover, it's going to be much better suited to the kinds of rough terrain we frequently encounter-and a heckuva lot easier to modify as well. (Could a Project TraiLex 2.0 be in our future? We're mulling it over.)
Brand new for the 2010 model year is a 4.6L 32-valve aluminum V-8, which is slightly smaller in displacement than the old 4.7L, but which utilizes the latest variable-valve timing technology to squeeze out nearly 40 horsepower more than the first-gen powerplant: 301 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 329 lb-ft of torque at 3,500. A new six-speed sequential automatic backs the 4.6L, and four-wheel drive is still full-time with a two-speed transfer case and Torsen center diff-lock that distributes torque, front to rear, in a 40/60 split under normal driving conditions. Gone, however, is the manual-shift transfer-case lever, which has been replaced for 2010 by an electronic pushbutton. It works just as well, but we'll miss the ol' wood-knobbed shifter.
The GX's suspension is still an independent double-wishbone setup in front and a solid axle with mutilinks in the rear. There's no locking rear diff available as with the 4Runner, but the GX does come (standard now) with the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which uses hydraulic cylinders and a pressure-sensing valve to adjust the front and rear swaybar rates to provide greater (or lesser) degrees of roll and articulation, depending on the type of terrain. Also available as a Premium option is an adjustable airbag assist that provides load leveling and a three-position suspension height control. You can also take advantage of Adaptive Variable Suspension, which is a fancy name for the toggle that lets you tune the shocks three different ways on the fly.
Also available for 2010 is Toyota's Crawl Control, which uses a solenoid pack to provide an approximation of a "crawl gear." The system only works in low-range, is automatically disengaged when you apply braking or throttle, and has three vehicle speed settings, the highest of which is 3.7 mph. It's been described as "cruise control for the trail," and that's basically how it works: flip a switch, take your feet off the pedals, and steer the vehicle. Crawl Control will take care of the rest.
Now we know that plenty of old-timers will gripe about "taking the driver out of the equation," and while that's true to some extent, the things we like about the Crawl Control are (a) it's only there when you want it, and (b) we're delighted to see companies such as Lexus and Toyota still devoting resources and engineering dollars on technology that's specifically geared to the unique demands of off-pavement driving. For good measure, Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and Downhill Assist Control (DAC) are also on board to aid the 5,300-pound GX on steep inclines.
As you might expect, the GX is also crammed with all manner of safety and convenience features. You can get HID headlights as a factory option, and adaptive headlamps that swivel in corners. There are rain-sensing windshield wipers, and "intelligent" high-beams, and a radar-assisted cruise control, and bumper-mounted sonar, and a "lane-departure warning system," and cameras in the rear door, rear-view mirror and passenger-side mirror, the latter of which is a fisheye view to aid in parallel parking-or trail-spotting when driving solo. The Nav screen can even give you a split view looking forward and to the side simultaneously. Or you can simply turn everything off-like we did-and enjoy the GX's quiet cabin and luxurious street and trail manners.
Since its sibling 4Runner just won our Four Wheeler of the Year award for 2010, we'd wager that the new GX has got to be considered an early favorite to capture top honors next year. Stay tuned-we'll let you know what happens as soon as 2011 rolls around.
Peppy new V-8, adjustable shocks and kinetic swaybars, shake 'n' bake Crawl Control, still a body-on-frame.
Not much. With a swing-down tailgate, a rear locker, and a more aggressive tire, it'd be darn near perfect.
Still the gold standard in luxury SUVs that you can take on challenging trails.
Vehicle/model: 2010 Lexus GX 460
Base price: $51,970
Engine: 1UR-FE 32-valve DOHC 4.6L V-8
Max hp and torque (lb-ft): 301/329
Transmission(s): 6-spd automatic
Transfer case(s): Full-time 2-spd w/Torsen diff-lock
Low-range ratio: 2.556:1
Frame type: Steel ladder
Suspension, f/r: Double wishbone, coil springs, adjustable swaybar/solid axle, four-link, adjustable swaybar
Ring and pinion: 3.91:1
Max crawl ratio: 35.23:1
Steering: Electric power rack and pinion
Brakes, f/r: 13.3-in vented disc/12.3-in vented disc
Wheels (tested): 18x7.5 alloy
Tires (tested): 265/60R18 Michelin LTX2
Wheelbase (in): 109.8
Length (in): 189.2
Height (in): 74.2
Base curb weight (lb): 5,305
Max approach/departure angles (deg): 28/25
Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.1
GVWR (lb): 6,830
Max cargo volume (cu ft): 64.7
Max towing capacity (lb): 6,500
EPA mileage figures, city/hwy (mpg): 20/15
Fuel capacity (gal): 23