Although the luxury SUV segment has gradually migrated to unibody platforms and limited off-road capability, the GX remains true to its heritage. After years of SUVs evolving from truck-based platforms into tall station wagons, the limited resurgence of real SUVs from other brands demonstrates that Lexus product planners understand that some premium SUV customers need serious 4WD technology.
The 2020 GX lineup consists of two models: GX 460 ($53,000) and Luxury ($64,265). For 2021, Lexus added a midlevel Premium variant ($56,340) to fill the substantial price gap between the entry and Luxury models. For 2021 the GX 460 base price rises to $53,250, and the Luxury trim increases to $64,515. Our test vehicle was a 2020 GX 460 Luxury, equipped with the Mark Levinson audio system ($1,145), Off Road Package ($1,570), rear entertainment system ($1,985), Sport Design Package ($2,020), door edge guards ($140), carpeted cargo mat ($105), and cargo net ($75). The total including the $1,025 delivery fee added up to $72,330.
Significant standard or optional equipment in the test vehicle includes leather seats, power heated and ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, triple-zone climate control, power tilt/telescoping steering column, moonroof, illuminated running boards, 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, 19-in. dia. alloy wheels, navigation, and 8-in. infotainment touchscreen display. Active safety technologies such a pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert, and panoramic rearview backup camera are standard.
A 4.6L V-8 coupled to a 6-speed automatic sends power to all four wheels via a full-time 4WD system. The all-aluminum 1UR-FE V-8 is capped by dual-overhead cams and variable valve-timing (VVT-i). Port fuel-injection enables the V-8 to develop 301-hp @ 5,500 RPM and 329 lb.-ft. @ 3,500 RPM. The 6-speed automatic is geared for overdrive fifth (0.716:1) and sixth (0.586:1) ratios. The 4WD system and 2-speed transfer case (2.566:1 low gear ratio) drives a 3.909:1 axle ratio. A TORSEN(R) limited-slip center differential is electronically lockable to control front/rear torque split. According to EPA estimates, the GX 460 is rated ad 15/20 MPG (city/hwy.); we averaged 15-19 MPG is mixed urban and highway driving. Lexus claims that the GX accelerates from 0-60 MPH in 7.8 seconds on to an electronically-limited top speed of 110 MPH.
To enhance both off-road capability and on-road ride comfort, the GX 460 Luxury is fitted with the Lexus KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System), adaptive variable suspension, auto-leveling rear suspension and adjustable height control. The front suspension consists of double-wishbones, coil springs, dampers and a stabilizer bar. At the rear is a 4-link solid axle, pneumatic cylinder assembly, and hydraulic KDSS damping. A power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system is geared for 3.0 turns lock-to-lock. Brakes are vented discs at both axles: 13.3-in. dia. rotors (front) and 12.3-in. dia. rotors (rear). The Sport design Package adds 19-in. alloy wheels and Dunlop Grand Trek AT28 265/55R19 tires. Standard fitment are 18-in. alloy wheels with Bridgestone or Michelin tires. A full-size spare, mounted underneath the rear cargo area, is standard. Curb weight for the GX 460 Luxury is a substantial 5,198 lbs. Max. towing capacity is rated at 6,500 lbs.
The GX interior design combines premium materials and superb build quality. Matte aluminum on the dash, door panels and steering wheel contrasts with the dark gray interior trim and bold Rioja Red semi-aniline leather seats. The gauge cluster consists of an analog speedometer and tachometer, along with smaller coolant temperature and fuel level indicators. A configurable display in the cluster shows vehicle status information. The wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio, cruise, and phone controls integrated on the spokes. The GX touchscreen infotainment display had adjacent buttons for direct access to frequently used settings. All settings for the dual-zone climate control panel are via buttons surrounding the display. Lexus still includes a CD player as standard equipment. Next to the shift lever are rocker switches to adjust suspension damping, vehicle height (low, normal, high), low speed crawl control, and 4WD modes.
The front seats are exceptionally comfortable, but provide limited lateral support. Both front seats have 10-way power adjustability. Front headroom is adequate for occupants up to 6 ft. tall. The second-row captain's chairs have decent lateral support, along with generous legroom. Rear headroom is also acceptable for 6 ft. tall occupants. As expected, the third-row seats are best suited for children; both headroom and legroom are limited for adults. The third-row seats are motorized to fold completely flat, and also have two recline positions. Instead of a rear hatch, the GX has a side-hinged door latched at the driver's side. Although convenient for curb-side loading in right-hand drive countries such as Japan, the hinged door is not ideal for left-hand drive markets like the US.
As expected for a luxury SUV weighing over 2.5 tons, Lexus engineers tuned the GX for a compliant ride. The air suspension and KDSS damping system perform admirably to maintain stability at 80-85 MPH, and effectively control the solid rear axle over bumpy roads. Moderate understeer around curves, accompanied by significant body roll confirms that the GX must be driven with a steady hand. Steering accuracy is better than average for SUVs in this class, likely due to the relatively low-profile tires, but most road surface textures are filtered out. Braking performance is especially critical for a heavy SUV, but the all-disc brakes proved up to the task, slowing down the GX from 80 MPH with no discernible fade. Excellent pedal feel and progressive actuation contributed to the superb braking performance.
Although the peak horsepower rating is unimpressive, torque is more relevant for an SUV powerplant, and the V-8 delivers immediate thrust at low and midrange RPM. However, throttle response is too abrupt: it was difficult to launch smoothly from a stop no matter how gently we pressed the gas pedal. The 6-speed automatic shifts seamlessly through the gears, but since sixth gear is a deep overdrive ratio, accelerating above above 80 MPH prompts a downshift into fifth gear. The gated shifter enables manual gear selection, but we rarely needed to do so. Road, tire and engine noise are mostly muted at 80 MPH, but the large exterior sideview mirrors contribute to some audible wind hiss near the front windows. Despite its off-road competence, the GX makes few compromises as a long-distance tourer.
The GX is equipped with all the drivetrain technology needed for off-road and foul weather adventures. Most customers are unlikely to venture beyond gravel roads in this Lexus, but its 4WD capability ensures that the GX will not leave its owner mired in snow or mud-covered roads. All that capability comes at a steep price in the GX 460 Luxury, but the base GX 460 or the new 2021 Premium trim are probably superior values. For anyone looking for a premium SUV with unsurpassed all-terrain and foul weather capability, the GX should be on your list.