2016 Lexus GX 460: A Luxury SUV You Can Take Off-Road

wheel-to-wheel updated

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Look up “Lexus GX 460″ in your automotive encyclopedia, and you’ll probably see a picture of one parked in front of Neiman Marcus. Or, maybe, a wintry scene in front of a five-star resort in Aspen. The GX 460 is a bona-fide luxury SUV, one of the best-selling of its breed.

Look up “Toyota Land Cruiser Prado” in that same encyclopedia, and you’ll either see one blasting over the dunes in Abu Dhabi or you’ll see one emblazoned with “UN” decals.

But despite the vastly different home environments of these two SUVs, they’re actually the same thing underneath. The Lexus GX 460 might be swathed in acres of fragrant semi-aniline leather and glossy wood trim, but at its core it is a hugely capable off road vehicle designed for the most demanding situations on earth.

Overkill? You betcha. But what’s wrong with having a little extra capability? Not much, as we found out during an extended review of the Lexus GX 460.

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior

Lexus applied its beak design treatment (which it officially calls the “spindle grille“) to its GX 460 in 2014, replacing a rather unremarkable design that debuted with this model for the 2010 model year. While in principle we applaud Lexus for making its big ‘ute stand out on the road, the GX is butt-ugly from some angles.

Viewed from the side, the snout juts out like a proboscis monkey. Straight on, there’s more of a Gillette razor approach to things. From the rear, the GX, like most Toyota SUVs (Lexus is Toyota’s luxury brand), is a little haphazard in its detailing, but overall it’s less remarkable.

That said, there are some positive traits. The multi-projector HID headlamps look positively upmarket, as do the tasteful hints of chrome. We just think that the GX’s Land Cruiser Prado kissin’ cousin got off better in the looks department — and that’s not really a huge compliment.

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ You won’t lose it in a parking lot.

+ There are some really interesting details like the front grille, headlamps, and tail lamps.

+ Attractive alloy wheels almost look like they’re from a car, and not an SUV.

– You won’t lose it in a parking lot.

– Sexy the GX 460 is not.

– While Lexus’s spindle grille works in some models, maybe the brand’s SUVs need their own design language.

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain

If the GX 460 is outlandish to behold, its powertrain is remarkably conservative. Spec sheet warriors won’t be impressed: The 460 in the GX’s nameplate denotes the size of its V8 engine — 4.6 liters. With 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque on tap, it’s not one of the more impressive among its competitive set (think the Mercedes-Benz GL450 with 362 horsepower and the Land Rover Range Rover Sport with 340 ponies under hood). Moreover, its six-speed automatic gearbox is down two gears versus those rivals.

Yet there’s something to be said about the GX 460’s relative simplicity: It gets the job done exceptionally well. The big V8 tugs away with only a mild growl entering the cabin, while the automatic transmission shifts almost imperceptibly.

With standard four-wheel drive (including an off road-oriented low range transfer case), the GX 460 proved not surprisingly to be an adept mountain goat when called upon. Our loaded-up tester also included an otherwise optional height-adjustable air suspension that offered more ground clearance for boulder-strewn paths and a lowered “access” mode that helped those of shorter inseam climb aboard. In addition, goodies like an off road-oriented traction control system and a “crawl control” that kept the big SUV moving along slowly further its pavement-free potential.

One feature that bridges the gap between off and on road capability is the GX 460’s standard Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System — or KDSS. In a nutshell, the GX 460 has enormous anti-roll bars underneath it that help it stay remarkably flat on winding, curving roads. The system automatically detects when more wheel travel is needed, however, and it then disconnects the anti-roll bars — a boon for keeping all four wheels on the ground off road. The system is seamless in its operation, yet it bestows upon the GX 460 flat, drama-free handling on the road.

To say that a pair of Jeepers in Wranglers with big lift kits were shocked to see us amble down a “high clearance” unpaved road is an understatement. This is a Lexus that can get dirty, if you so choose.

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ Smooth V8 doesn’t wow on the spec sheet, but delivers wonderfully.

+ Trick Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System is useful both on and off pavement.

+ Enough off road features to delight even the most hardened Jeep or Land Rover driver.

– Fuel economy is rated at a so-so 15 MPG in the city and 20 MPG on the highway. 

– You won’t win a drag race, even though there’s ample power on tap.

– Some drivers may be confused by the bevy of off road switches in the center console. Read the manual!

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior

The GX 460’s trucky roots show through more in its interior than its exterior, but that’s the price you’ll pay for its capability. For instance, that high ground clearance means that there’s a big step to get inside even with the standard running boards. Once you’re inside, you’ll find a vertical dashboard and a windshield that’s close in — features that help with off road visibility but also give the GX its blocky shape outside.

While most of the GX’s controls are easy to sort out at a glance, it is chock full of buttons and knobs. The gearhead in us loves not having to dig through menus just to adjust the temperature or to tune the radio, but the GX definitely bucks a general trend toward having touchscreens handle everything. That said, there’s still a big, high-resolution touchscreen on board that operates the largely user-friendly navigation system.

Big chair-like seats envelope the front passengers. Rear seat riders get decent head and leg room and, on our model, a pair of screens mounted to the rear of the front headrests. A third row stows in the GX’s cargo floor, but is best reserved for kids or short distance riding. The third row is standard and probably popular, but we’d like to see it become an optional extra to open up more cargo space for those only interested in a five-seater.

On the materials front, the GX is mostly top-notch, but there’s some hard plastic below the knee line — like the glovebox door and map pockets in the front doors.

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ Trucky but in a good way, we think.

+ Enough features and doo-dads to keep everyone entertained.

+ Commanding driving position and terrific visibility.

– Slightly dated design compromised by the GX 460’s truck roots.

– Third row isn’t as punishing as in some smaller SUVs, but it’s definitely steerage class.

– Some materials are a little eyebrow-raising given the GX 460’s price point.

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

The GX 460 debuted in 2010, and while its 2014 update gave it a new look on life, it’s feeling a little dated on the tech front. For instance, the screen between the gauges is a mere two-color unit rather than a glossy full-spectrum display. And there’s the navigation interface, which works well but feels a little clunky.

Safety-wise, the GX 460 features the expected roster of airbags and the availability of a $4,340 “driver support package” that adds goodies like active cruise control that keeps the vehicle a set distance from the car in front, a collision avoidance system that will automatically apply the brakes if you’re a little slow in doing so in order to lessen the severity of a wreck, and a lane departure system that tugs the big SUV back into place should you stray a bit.

It’s all nice safety tech, but it’s also what we’d expect to see these days on a nearly $70,000 SUV.

Tech/safety pros and cons

+ Driver support package adds a host of worthwhile safety upgrades.

+ Intuitive navigation system and effective voice commands.

+ Automatic collision notification alerts the authorities if any of the 10 standard airbags have been deployed.

– Shows its age in some ways.

– Driver support package is expensive, which may turn off some buyers.

– No standout safety features (although, conversely, nothing’s really “missing” either).

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

With its big tires, tall sidewalls, and gentle demeanor, the GX 460 is more of a wafter than a sports car. Its big sidewalls swallow rough terrain with aplomb. When the road turns twisty, the GX’s steering is accurate and direct, aided no doubt by the trick KDSS suspension underneath. A peek underneath will reveal enormous anti-roll bars that seem more like something we’d expect on a sporty car. That same setup also allows the suspension to droop or compress at low speeds. We found far more off road capability in the GX than we were willing to test out.

In addition, this big bruiser is a quiet highway companion, its relaxed demeanor readily apparent. Little wind rush or road rumble penetrates the cabin, reminding you why Lexus remains the refinement leader even after all these years.

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Conclusion

At nearly $70,000 as-tested, the GX 460 will no doubt offer some shoppers sticker shock — but if you’ve been looking at rivals like the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, you’ll find that the Lexus actually comes in fully loaded about where those two European rivals start.

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

Andrew Ganz/Autos Cheat Sheet

That makes the GX 460 a compelling enough value for us to overlook some of its demerits, like its dated cabin and its, uh, unique look. If you’re smitten with the GX 460’s snout, you’ll be rewarded with its gentle demeanor. You’ll like it even more should you choose to venture down the road less traveled.

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