Still The Most Trailable Midsize Luxo-Rig?
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.