By Derek Price
Like chicken and waffles, some things that aren’t meant to be together still turn out to make a perfect pair.
That’s certainly the case with the Lexus GX 460, a vehicle designed with serious off-roading in mind that still manages to deliver a silky smooth feel on pavement.
In some ways, the GX feels like a dinosaur, a hulking creature from another era when body-on-frame SUVs ruled the world. Most of those SUVs got killed off by an asteroid called awful gas mileage, but the current GX manages to survive despite its 15-mpg rating for city driving.
Its survival skills are helped by the upscale market Lexus is targeting: people who won’t be bothered by prices at the gas pump. With a starting price around $52,000, it’s loaded to the gills with luxury features, a truly off-road-capable 4×4 system and V8 power.
What sets the GX apart from most luxury SUVs is that off-pavement capability. I’ve driven it on trails and hills — something I bet most Lexus buyers never actually do — and came away impressed at just how well it navigates rocky, rutted paths and easily finds traction where lesser vehicles struggle.
Electronic crawl control makes it easy to descend steep hills. A Torsen limited-slip differential, ample ground clearance, electronic locking capability and a low-speed transfer case give you all the same goodies you usually find on a built-for-the-trails Jeep, just with a Lexus level of luxury.
On pavement, which is where I encounter the vast majority of GXs, it still manages to impress. While not quite as buttery as luxury models that don’t share its off-road-capable underpinnings, it’s nonetheless beautifully composed and quiet. The same body-on-frame design that makes it hold up to abusive terrain also helps it feel heavy, stable and solid on the highway.
While the GX has managed to look reasonably contemporary on the outside, with its gigantic Lexus family grille up front, it looks less so on the inside. That’s more a criticism of its style, not its substance, as the materials and construction are both top-notch. Its cabin just doesn’t look as sleek and space-age as some of the cars and crossover that fall within its shadow in a modern Lexus showroom.
I’m actually a bigger fan of the digital toys in the GX than I am in some of its more newly redesigned siblings, including the wild-looking LC coupe. The SUV’s familiar, more traditional button layout makes it easier to operate.
It still offers a high-tech feel, though, with a customizable screen that can show three different features simultaneously. You could set it up to show a navigation map, audio information and the weather, for example.
The most unusual thing about the GX’s layout is its rear cargo door. The entire door swings sideways, unlike most SUVs and crossovers that have a lift gate that opens up toward the sky. Otherwise, it’s a fairly straightforward cabin with three rows of seating, providing reasonable room for seven and decent cargo space.
It offers a suite of safety features that are unsurprising in this class of vehicle, including radar cruise control, lane departure alert and blind spot monitors, along with one that’s a bit more unusual: Driver Attention Monitor.
This system uses a camera to watch the driver’s face. If the driver shows signs of inattention, like not facing forward when a collision seems imminent, it will sound a warning alarm and — if there’s still no response — gently apply the brakes automatically.
Pricing starts at $51,680 for the base model, $55,225 for the Premium level with upgraded trim, or $62,980 for the Luxury line with its adjustable suspension and enhanced technology package.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2017 Lexus GX 460 Luxury ($62,980). Options: Dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system ($1,970), sport design package ($1,625), driver support package ($4,340), carpet cargo mat ($105). Price as tested (including $975 destination charge): $71,995
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 192.1 in.
Width: 74.2 in.
Height: 74.2 in.
Engine: 4.6-liter V8 (301 hp, 329 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 18 highway
Why buy it?
It’s designed with off-road ability in mind, yet it still feels smooth, silent and very solid on pavement. It’s a truly capable SUV in a world where that’s becoming rare.