Review and photos by
Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
Seven-seat luxury crossovers aren’t hard to come by, and there’s certainly no dearth of SUVs built for off-roading. What’s more difficult to find is a mid-sized truck that combines all three attributes: seating for seven, luxurious appointments and running gear suitable for tackling logs and rocks and things.
If those are your requirements for a new vehicle, you have exactly two choices: the Land Rover LR4 and this vehicle, the 2010 Lexus GX 460. That there aren’t more vehicles like these is evidence that vehicle manufacturers know that most high-end crossovers are mostly used for city duty. Lexus could have easily created an upsized version of its popular car-based RX crossover, but instead decided that the GX, which has been around since 2004, could be a more unique vehicle by using truck underpinnings and a more serious four-wheel drive system.
The GX has been redesigned for 2010, with new styling and a 4.6-litre V8 engine to replace the first-generation’s 4.7-litre motor. Despite being smaller in displacement, the new powerplant is more powerful, making 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque, increases of 38 hp and six lb-ft. It’s also more efficient, with ratings of 14.1/9.8 L/100 km (city/highway), versus the old engine’s 15.3/11.4 L/100 km figures. A six-speed automatic transmission is also new, taking the place of last year’s five-speed. (For the record, the LR4 is also new for 2010, with updated looks and a 5.0-litre V8 (borrowed from Jaguar) that makes an even more impressive 375 hp and 375 lb-ft. Its third row of seats are an option, while the GX’s are standard.)
This truck is based directly on the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado that’s sold on just about every continent but North America. Its closest relations in Toyota’s line-up here are the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser, with which the GX shares platform components and running gear. The GX’s body-on-frame construction and solid rear axle suspension make it even more unique among mid-sized luxury SUVs – the Land Rover LR4 uses what that company calls Integrated Body Frame construction (something in between body-on-frame and unit body) and all-independent suspension for better on-road performance, and most others are full unit body vehicles.
The GX’s four-wheel drive system operates all the time, distributing the engine’s power 40/60, front/rear. A centre differential changes that to 30/70 during turns to enhance stability and tracking through corners, and if the rear wheels spin, power is split 50/50 front to rear.
As well as low-range gearing (activated via an electronic switch on the centre console), the GX also uses the Toyota/Lexus Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which, Lexus says, benefits the truck’s performance both on and off the road by varying the amount of roll stiffness generated by the stabilizer bars. On paved surfaces, the bars’ effective stiffness can be increased to reduce body roll, and they can be disengaged completely to allow maximum suspension articulation in tricky off-road situations. Another standard feature is an indicator in the gauge cluster that shows which way the front wheels are turned: handy, says Lexus, for when tackling tortuous terrain, or simply navigating a tight parking lot.
If that’s not enough, the Ultra Premium model includes (among other things) a fleet of four-wheeling enhancements like a four-camera around-view and multi-terrain monitor that lets the driver see what’s around the vehicle (both in the bush and parking lots); off-road package with off-road guidance; Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain Select.
I didn’t get to test the GX in an off-road setting, but I spent lots of time piloting it on paved surfaces where, anecdotally at least, luxury SUVs are more frequently found.
The soft suspension lends the GX a very comfortable ride, one more like that of a luxury sedan than a body-on-frame truck. The KDSS setup is welcome for its roll control intervention, as the truck leans noticeably even in corners taken at moderate speeds. That and the very light steering are not unexpected, though; what’s more surprising is how the truck’s nose dives under hard braking. That’s another side effect of the soft ride, and a disconcerting one.
The brake pedal is soft, and the brakes themselves can be grabby at low speeds. The throttle has a very gentle tip-in, a good thing in off-road situations where big throttle applications can lead to a bad ending. A driver-selectable “eco” mode softens throttle response even more; this is designed to save fuel, but it can make the GX frustrating to drive on the highway, where you have to go pretty deep into the throttle’s travel to get meaningful acceleration for passing manoeuvres.
Shortly after the GX went on sale, Consumer Reports labelled it with the dreaded “Don’t Buy” label after its testers managed to get the truck fully sideways on a handling course before the stability control system cut in. Toyota issued a recall and fix (a software update), which prompted the magazine to rescind its original evaluation.
Three-hundred horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque sounds like a lot – nay, it is a lot – of juice, but put head-to-head with the GX’s 2,326 kg (5,305 lb) curb weight, it’s really only enough to provide decent performance. Still, those in the market for a truck with luxury goodies, rather than a luxury vehicle that just happens to be a truck, will probably appreciate this one’s 2,948 kg (6,500 lb) towing capacity.
Surprisingly (I thought), my tester averaged 14.1 L/100 in town, but only managed 11.2 on a leisurely back roads drive to the campground.
Perhaps more important to many shoppers in this segment is the level of comfort found inside, and there’s lots of it here, from the heated and cooled front seats to the leather and wood-trimmed steering wheel. Second-row riders get treated to almost as much comfort as those up front, with their own automatic climate control and heated seats for the two outboard positions.
The GX is a seven-seater by the seatbelt count, but while the third row offers useful headroom for adults of average height, legroom is kid-friendly only. The rearmost seats stow electrically, controlled via buttons inside the tailgate or duplicate controls just inside the right-hand rear door. The seatback angle also gets a power adjustment.
With all three rows of seats in place, cargo space is next to useless. Lexus claims a cargo capacity of 1,832 litres, which I assume is with the second row seats in place (the specs don’t say one way or the other). The second row folds not-quite-flat and created, in my case, more than enough space for a weekend’s worth of camping gear for two people.
What’s not obvious from the photos is how high the rear bumper is; if it alone isn’t high enough to make loading bulky cargo a serious workout, check out what you see when the tailgate is opened: the interior floor is another eight or nine inches (I didn’t measure it) above the bumper.
I’ve never understood the appeal of a swing-out tailgate over a regular top-hinged door. Getting anything out requires the extra motion of taking a couple of steps back to get around the open door, which is never welcome when you’re carrying something heavy.
The GX 460 is offered in two models: Premium and Ultra Premium. The Premium model’s is $68,500 and its standard feature list includes auto-levelling Xenon headlights with automatic high-beam feature; front and rear clearance sonar and back-up monitor; 17-speaker stereo; hard drive-based navigation system and 10 airbags (driver and passenger front, seat-mounted side airbags in the first and second row seats, driver and front passenger knee airbags and head curtain airbags for all three rows of seats).
Where you’ll find the real goodies, though, is in the $77,500 Ultra Premium model. Here, Lexus adds active safety stuff like pre-collision system with driver monitor camera, lane departure alert and dynamic radar cruise control. There’s also a dual-screen rear-seat DVD entertainment system, heated steering wheel, heated second row seats and an auto-levelling rear air suspension, plus the off-road extras mentioned earlier on.
For drivers looking for a high-tech warehouse on wheels, the Ultra-Premium package seems like a pretty good deal. As the GX’s only direct competitor on all fronts, the Land Rover LR4 beats the Lexus on price, with a fully-loaded MSRP of $75,540, though it lacks in airbags and the GX’s active safety items. Beyond that, you can have a capable four-wheeler or a luxurious seven-seat SUV in a mid-sized package, but not in the same vehicle. The GX 460’s off-road hardware is what makes this truck unique; it’s too bad many buyers will never use it.
Pricing: 2010 Lexus GX 460
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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