2011 Lexus GX Review

2011 Lexus GX - Off-road in comfort with the Lexus GX 460.


The Lexus GX is a luxury sport utility marketed between the popular, five-passenger RX 350 and super-sized LX 470 (based on the equally large Toyota Land Cruiser). Introduced in the 2002 calendar year as the GX 470, the off-road capable, three-row vehicle received a second-generation makeover in the 2010 model year as well as an updated name, GX 460 reflecting a more powerful, yet comparatively fuel friendly 4.6-liter, V-8 engine.

Parent company Toyota has earned decent marks for building a range of quality, off-road products including the mid-size 4Runner, aforementioned Land Cruiser and diminutive FJ Cruiser.

Two trims return from 2010, Base and Premium. Little changes from 2010 save for a pedal over ride where engine power is automatically reduced if both brake and accelerator pedals are pushed simultaneously. Many interior comforts come standard, although an in-dash navigation system (one of the more user-friendly in the business) is optional in both trims while a rear entertainment system is a Premium trim option.

The five-door GX 460, built from a truck-like, body-on-frame architecture and permanent four-wheel drive, can go off-road, tow a boat up to 6,500 pounds, while incorporating a well-mannered, smooth-riding, on-road presence.

All this off-road capability combined with Lexus' refined pedigree comes at a price. Our Premium tester checked in at $57,140. Options included a $2,670 pre-collision system (radar cruise control, lane departure alert), $3,930 navigation/audio package and $64 cargo net for a $64,679 bottom line with $875 delivery charge. A base GX starts at $53,045. Premium trim adds heated second row outer seats, high-intensity discharge headlamps and adaptive front lights among other nuances.  By comparison, the off-road capable V-8-powered Land Rover Range Rover Sport starts at $59,645.

The sole powertrain, a full-friendly 4.6-liter, 32-valve V-8 produces 301 horsepower and 329 lb.-ft of low-end torque.  It's mated with a newer, fuel efficient six-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission generating an improved 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. Premium, 91-octane fuel is needed to fill the large 23-gallon tank. The first-generation engine (2003-2009) produced 263 horsepower, and 323 torque, with lower fuel economy (14 mpg city, 18 mpg highway). Land Rover's Range Rover Sport's 5.0-liter V-8 produces 375 horses while delivering 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway.

While Toyota's industry-leading gas-electric hybrid technology exists for the smaller RX, GX is void of this technology for the moment.

Full-time, four-wheel drive (also known as permanent four-wheel-drive) with electronically-controlled transfer case comes standard. All wheels get power all the time rather than two-wheel drive designs where either front or rear wheel receive power. The 'four-low' setting (conventional ALL-wheel-drive vehicles are minus this setting) makes GX 460 ready for off-road trails.

The GX 460 is a seven seater with 10-way power-lumbar-supportive front buckets, both heated and ventilated. Second row Premium seats are heated (optional in Base). The aisle into the two-seat third row (with all-too-thin cushion and back padding) is narrow, although second-row 40/20/40-split seats manually slide on a floor track.  The last row is best left for the most agile adult, pre-teens or tweens. Chevrolet's on-road intended Traverse crossover (as well as Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia bunk mates) provide easier entry into a more comfortable third row.

When not in use, each side of the 50/50-split third row powers flat independently with the push of buttons found in the cargo area or near the second-row entrance. A removable, narrow, retracting cargo pull -cover mount can then slip into place (although it needs to stow elsewhere when not in use). Tire tools are stored in a narrow compartment inside the hatch door (along with a first-aid kit). The full-size spare stows under the vehicle.

A half-dozen folks (four of whom qualify for AARP discounts) piled comfortably into the GX for a picnic-with-the-cousins event, including 18-month-old Cara the wonder niece and her car seat. Traveling west to Elgin over the Fox River and through Busse Woods (not necessarily in that order) to a gathering of Grandma's Kin we went.  Cousin Kathy (who long, long ago qualified for AARP citizenship) played hostess.

Good-sized windows minimize driver blind spots while seat height provides a good command of the road.   The GX smartly includes grab handles on both A-pillars and the ceiling.  These, coupled with standard side running boards made entry easy even for a trip-tested Octogenarian who ride shotgun.  A recently-tested Cadillac Escalade neglected driver's side grab handles.  Head and leg room remain generous in rows one and two, but tight the far back row.

While considered a mid-sized vehicle, GX skews towards the larger end of the spectrum.  The ruggedly handsome exterior tilts towards the conservative side although a small spoiler rests atop the rear door.  The latch opens two ways: the window flips open for quick trips into the cargo region while the entire door, hinged at the right, swings open with a refrigerator door motion. Be aware of the shock-absorber-type element along the bottom that may interfere if loading larger cargo. Both window and door include 'damper stays' allowing both to independently remain open without suddenly shutting on their own. Squarish side-view mirrors, large for a mid-size vehicle, include secondary blinker bands. Mirrors tilt down when the transmission shifts into reverse. Attractive headlight housing includes an 'eagle beak profile' flanking a tri-bar chrome Lexus grille.

Inside, cherry wood accents grace the steering wheel, doors, dash and lower center console. Power mirrors monitor from a square template along the dashboard's far left side.  To the steering column's right is a start button that sparks the engine to life when pushed and the brake pedal depressed. The four-spoke steering wheel (heated in Premium trims) includes a square, cruise control appendage extension at approximately 5 o'clock in addition to secondary radio controls.  The instrument panel, with two large circular gauges and a center rectangular digital window with graphics and display, includes smaller fuel and temperature gauges along the top.

Surrounding the optional in-dash navigation window are large-sized buttons detailing audio (90 days of XM Satellite radio free) and climate functions workable through the touch screen. A sliding cover, between leather front buckets, reveals a USB port and 12-volt outlet for portable electronics. Bluetooth wireless audio is built-in as is hands-free cellular phone connections. Premium models include independent back seat air conditioning controls. The steering column included both power tilt and telescoping functions (tilt function was noticeably absent on the Escalade). Side doors need to swing out a bit further for better ease of entry and exit, especially into row three.

Downhill and hill start assist control come standard as well as other safety nuances including front seat mounted side air bags, front knee air bags, second row outboard seat mounted side air bags, curtain air bags for all three rows, anti-lock brakes, stability control, brake assist and active traction control. Also standard is a one year subscription to Safety Connect, a satellite communication systems not dissimilar to GM's OnStar, where with the push of a SOS button, occupants are connected to a 24-hour manned center.

When thinking off-road durability and luxury, the perennial Land Rover's Range Rover usually comes to mind, but for all-around civility, GX has an edge. If roaming northern Africa and the Sahara, stick with Range Rover.  For upper Midwest off-road adventures and on-road comfort, GX 460 may be the better choice. The GX's 52-48 front-to-back weight distribution provides excellent balance and our Premium's adaptive variable suspension and automatic load leveling provided a smoother-than-expected experience.

2011 Lexus GX 460 At a glance

Price as tested: $64,679

Engine: 4.6-liter, 32-valve V-8

Horsepower:  301

Fuel economy: 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway

Overall length: 189.2 inches

Overall width: 74.2 inches

Wheelbase: 109.8 inches

Curb weight:  5,340 pounds

Assembly: Tahara, Japan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.