Originally an answer to the luxury SUV craze from the early 2000s, the GX hasn't changed all that much since its introduction more than a decade ago. It's a big SUV with plenty of space and crammed with just about all the luxuriousness Lexus could fit into a 12-year-old vehicle, but, more importantly, it still has the chops to go places many vehicles in its segment wouldn't dare venture. And just for good measure, Lexus tacked on its new signature spindle grille in what has to be its most pronounced appearance yet.
I've had a chance to drive most of the latest Lexus products (including the IS, ES and GS) to see just how competitive Toyota's luxury arm has gotten in recent years, but after spending a week with the 2014 GX 460, it's refreshing that, for now, Lexus has resisted the urge to follow some of its rivals in replacing rugged, body-on-frame SUVs with softer, car-based crossovers.
- Slotted in between the popular RX crossover and the fullsize LX 570, the GX 460 is positioned in somewhat of an odd segment. On one end sit luxury crossovers like the Infiniti QX60, Mercedes GL-Class and Audi Q7, ready to tackle the daily driving and maybe some occasional gravel roads, while on the other end, the GX and Land Rover LR4 are more traditional SUVs with the ability to go a little deeper into the wilderness.
- In reality, off-road excursions in the GX will likely be very rare, and as such, my off-roading time in the GX was limited to driving on the fine sand beaches of north Florida, which did little to slow down the GX with the low range engaged and the center differential locked. Even with the big wheels, plastic fascias and integrated running boards, the GX still has decent ground clearance, as well as good approach and departure angles, not to mention an adjustable air suspension. This isn't to say the GX can tackle the Rubicon Trail or anything, but it is surely a more competent off-road vehicle than most other midsize and fullsize utility vehicles currently out there. Like the 4Runner, there's even a Crawl Control feature available, but it wasn't equipped on this tester.
- I had already expected the GX to be able to handle itself in messy situations, but where it really surprised me was on-road. For as big, bulky and rugged as this SUV is, it delivered a smooth, Lexus-spec ride. Speed bumps and expansion joints do little to upset the GX's balance, and the luxurious interior makes the GX feel like an excellent long-distance hauler... with the exception being its fuel economy.
- Drive the GX like a Prius and you might hit the EPA fuel economy estimates of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, but get the GX in a hurry and you'll notice the pinch in your wallet. During my week with it, I saw an average of just 15.1 mpg in combined driving. Full-time four-wheel drive doesn't help either, which is why the GX is aimed at buyers who are leaning more toward the off-road capability rather than everyday practicality.
- Sure, you'd be wrong to expect stellar fuel economy from a big, rugged SUV, but the one area that really disappointed me about the GX 460 was the 460 part. Toyota's 4.6-liter V8 produces just 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque, and most of the time feels like it's struggling to motivate the 5,340-pounds SUV.
- As aged as the GX's powertrain feels, its cabin doesn't do much to modernize the SUV either. Being an older platform, Lexus has left out modern technology like its Remote Touch Control and its configurable gauge cluster, but the 2014 enhancements do include a new eight-inch touchscreen display and trailer-sway control as standard equipment. And the toggle controls for the suspension and four-wheel drive are a nice touch, too. There's plenty of luxury to be found inside the GX, especially when factoring in the top Luxury trim level used for this Quick Spin, which included features like soft semi-aniline leather, heated and cooled front seats, heated outboard second row seats and the power folding split third row seat to name a few. Speaking of the third row, I was able to fit into the rearmost seats, but I doubt I'd want to spend too much time back there. There is plenty of room for the front and middle-row occupants, though.
- Visually, the easiest way to tell the 2014 GX apart from previous second-gen models is the front-end styling. The gaping maw that Lexus calls a spindle grille received the bulk of the attention in conversation, but the rest of the design isn't all that different from the original GX that debuted in 2002. This includes the tall stance, vertical taillights (now LED units) and the side-hinged tailgate. Like the grille, the new fascia attempts to mimic the more aggressive design language that Lexus has adopted recently, and it does so with angled parking/fog light bezels toward the bottom and reshaped headlights that now house LED daytime running lights.
- For the most part, Lexus seems content with the GX soldiering on in this now-niche SUV role, but it may have made its midsize utility vehicle a little more enticing for buyers – the starting MSRP of the 2014 GX has been lowered by $5,000 compared to the 2013 model. The GX now starts at $49,085, but the GX 460 Luxury is a steep jump up to $60,715. This tester rang in at $63,658 including the 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, and, all in, you're looking at close to $70,000 for a completely fully loaded GX.
- Factoring in the pricing, fuel economy and ruggedness, it's hard to imagine there's much of a market for such a big, go-almost-anywhere SUV these days, but the GX is still trucking along with relatively minor, albeit effective, improvements for 2014. Sadly, as body-on-frame SUVs seem to be going in the same direction as carburetors and pop-up headlights, I fear that a next-gen GX could become something closer to the three-row QX60 rather than a global off-roader like the LR4.