Review: 2010 Lexus GX 460

Underneath its luxury trappings, the Lexus GX 460 is really a rugged 'ute. But did a stability control-related safety scare unfairly dent its reputation?

On the market for less than a year, Lexus' luxo-laden GX 460 SUV already has a bad reputation.

Deserved? Not at all, as we found out.

As Toyota Motor Corporation's latest whipping boy, the GX 460 was recently given the dreaded DO NOT BUY!!!! DEATH IMMINENT!!!! SATAN CREATED THIS VEHICLE!!!! tag (or something along those lines) by a leading consumer reporting magazine over concerns that the top-heavy, off road-oriented SUV's stability control could - ghasp - lose grip if the 'ute was pushed hard through a corner and then over-corrected.

The Japanese automaker, now known for its lightning-quick responses after its drawn-out floormat-cum-gas pedal debacle, issued a sales halt until all GXs were corrected by its engineers.

What is it?
Our test GX 460 was loaned to us by the automaker just before Chicken Little started cackling - but we managed to survive our week-long evaluation.

Based heavily on the smaller of Toyota's two global Land Cruisers, the GX 460 is sold overseas in most of its major markets as the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. You've probably seen the GX's less-hedonistic brothers serving duty in extreme locales swathed in fleet white with large UN badging on the side. If we were SUVs and not auto writers, we know which badge we'd rather have slapped on our noses at Toyota's Tahara, Japan, assembly plant. One SUV prowls Rodeo Drive, the other watches over Baghdad's Airport Road.

The GX shares its frame and basic running gear - but not its powertrain - with Toyota's redesigned 2010 4Runner.

The GX 460 replaces last year's GX 470, and despite its "subtract 10" nomenclature, it actually boasts a more powerful V8 than before. Still very much a rugged body-on-frame SUV, the GX 460 is among the world's most competent rock crawlers. Not that the target demographic will know or care.

What's it up against?
The GX 460 primarily does battle with the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, Land Rover LR4, Infiniti QX56 and Cadillac Escalade.

Any breakthroughs?
Offering most of Lexus' latest safety and convenience advances, the GX 460 is hardly lacking in features. A simpler control arrangement belies its sophistication.

Off roaders will inevitably be impressed with the two-speed transfer case with a Torsen locking center differential, low-speed crawl control, an adjustable rear air suspension and an innovative Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that increases wheel articulation and provides a more stable ride and flatter handling over all types of terrain. The outgoing model's traditional transfer case lever was chucked in favor of a series of toggle switches that are less likely to befuddle most buyers.

How does it look?
While we love style of the GX's big brother - the LX 570 - we can't help but think that the smaller of the two tries to blend too many styling themes with limited success.

The GX certainly won't be mistaken for a wimpy crossover thanks to its pronounced flared fenders, tall tires and upright greenhouse. It features terrific approach and departure angles, running boards that look like they could be easily removed for off road use and the kind of roof line that hides a tremendously cavernous cargo bay. As devoted fans of utilitarian, er, 'utes, we appreciate the GX's core simplicity and genuine usefulness.

Despite its tony badge and swanky touches, we know that it would not be unhappy navigating the far reaches of our planet.

Yet it doesn't convey the upscale language of its European rivals, instead looking too much like the tarted up Toyota that, frankly, it is. The look reminds us more of Toyota 4Runners of yore than of the kind of 'ute that might be parked in the front row of the valet line.

And on the inside?
Offered in three available interior shades, the GX 460 features much more exclusive-feeling inner trappings than before. Our tester was swathed in an earth-toned "Ecru" shade that, with a darker dash topper and silt-colored seats and leather trim, felt much warmer and more inviting than any Lexus SUV before it.

The dashboard is short up top, a necessity given the upright windshield, and it gives the interior the aura of the original Lexus LX 450 (a thinly disguised Toyota Land Cruiser sold here from 1997 to 1998) - but that's no bad thing for this trucky 'ute. Blocky shapes and lots of switches and buttons are appropriate here where they might seem a little too superfluous on some less rugged rivals.

We found the chair-like seats to be exceptionally comfortable and we relished the upscale leather and "Auburn Bubing" wood interior trim. Lexus delicately wrapped the lower dash and door panels with a rich, leather-like, French-stitched material, although it was slightly at odds with the excessive use of silver-toned plastic trim. Better than most synthetic-masquerading-as-steel, it nonetheless didn't quite match the rest of the interior.

Our tester featured Lexus' optional Mark Levinson audio and navigation package. At $3,930, the package is not the cheapest way to get tunes and directions, but it must be among the best. Boasting 17 speakers, the 7.1 channel audio system certainly ranks among the best MG has ever sampled.

The second row of seats actually proved the best place in the house for aural delight; with plenty of room to stretch out and a particularly comfortable center armrest, we found good long distance comfort for four passengers. The GX offers a pair of seats for the third row that conveinently flop into the cargo floor at the press of a button. Hardly roomy by any stretch, they are nonetheless sufficient for children. When stowed, they reveal a cavernous cargo area accessible by a cargo door that opens in the wrong direction for North Americans. Oh well.

But does it go?
For 2010, Lexus tossed the existing 4.7-liter V8 aside for a smaller 4.6-liter version of parent company Toyota's latest V8. In this application, it cranks out 301 horsepower and and 329 lb-ft. of torque, although it lacks the direct injection seen in the automaker's GS 460 sedan.

In the GX 460, the V8 is mated to a six-speed automatic with a manual shift gate. Aside from a comfortably lazy initial throttle tip-in - to prevent off roaders from accidentally burying the vehicle over loose terrain - the V8 and automatic combination provided brisk, strong acceleration from any speed. The torque peaks at a reasonable 3,500 rpm and seems fairly evenly spread out throughout the rev range. Ever-so-smooth, the V8 only intrudes into the cabin with a refined growl at higher rpms.

Unlike most of its crossover rivals, the GX 460 is capable of towing more than a dinghy. Lexus rates the 'ute at 6,500 lbs., although we didn't have the opportunity to test that figure.

We briefly took our GX 460 on a challenging off road course and found it to be an impressive performer held back only by its road-oriented Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires. With the center differential locked in low range, the GX easily climbed over tough obstacles and only struggled lightly over a muddy, rutted road. Fitted with off road tires, we imagine the GX would be among the most capable SUVs offered in North America.

But the real test came on dry pavement. Anxious to test out that consumer publication's report, we pushed the GX hard through a twisty road. Like the Infiniti QX56, the GX utilizes a sophisticated suspension system that relies on the vehicle's body lean to adjust the sway bars. Although it won't be confused with a sports car, the GX corners with aplomb and limited lean despite its 5,305 lbs. curb weight. Certainly we wouldn't choose to push the GX more than its limits, but we found no adverse handling effects, nor did we think that the stability control system was too late to intervene during emergency cornering.

Simply put: Keep in mind that the GX is a top-heavy SUV and not a sports sedan and it handles admirably.

It even provides a cossetting ride. Unlike the outgoing GX, which rode softly but ultimately lacked control, the 2010's three-mode adjustable suspension provides it with a choice between firm, normal and sport settings, all of which gave a stately and planted feel akin to a Range Rover.

For what it's worth, fuel economy is up - to 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. We recorded a spot-on 17 mpg in mixed driving, although we never coaxed a full 20 mpg out of the GX 460 on a road trip.

Why you would buy it:
You're looking for a traditional SUV that can get you to your favorite hiking, camping or skiing spot in utmost comfort and luxury. Or, you are freshly returned from a UN mission and you feel a little too relaxed in quiet suburbia. Order a white GX and visit your local graphics shop.
Why you wouldn't:
You think SUVs should carve corners like a sports car.

MG's bottom line
For most luxury buyers, Lexus' RX crossover is probably a better bet - or even an Acura MDX for those who need more space.

But for well-heeled buyers who want the ability to tow a boat or climb up a rocky grade with confidence, the latest Lexus GX delivers even better than before. More appropriately luxurious than the outgoing model, the latest GX strikes us as something of a bargain in its segment. Get past the wonky, melted looks and you'll find one of the most well-engineered 'utes on the planet.

2010 Lexus GX 460 Premium base price, $56,765. As tested, $62,854.
Wide-view monitor, $720; Navigation/Mark Levinson package, $3,930; Intuitive Parking Assist, $500; Cargo net, $64; Destination, $875.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.

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