By Derek Price
If you want to drive a dichotomy, this is your vehicle.
The Lexus GX exhibits not just split personalities but diametrically opposed ones.
It’s ostensibly built for serious off-road driving with high ground clearance, a sophisticated 4×4 system and pavement-crushing weight from its stout frame and solid body. Yet it’s also clearly designed for, and much more frequently encountered within, the parking lots of luxury shopping centers.
A bizarre option combination on my GX 460 tester sums it up perfectly.
One is the new-for-2020 Off-Road Package that’s a $1,570 upgrade on the Luxury model. It includes things you’d want on a serious trail-crawling SUV, including cameras to view the surrounding terrain, a transmission cooler, extra protection for the fuel tank, along with crawl-control and special traction settings for off-road driving.
The other is a $2,020 Sport Design package that includes 19-inch wheels, special styling touches and a lower grille surround up front.
Yes, you read that correctly. Lexus equipped this particular vehicle with extra off-road capability and, maddeningly, a lower front grille and giant wheels, perfect for destroying them on the trails.
While that combination makes zero logical sense to me, it does encapsulate the two extremes of what the GX is trying to do: look stylish and know that you could, if you really wanted, leave the luxury parking lot and drive straight into the Rocky Mountains.
The GX is a legitimate SUV built for actual performance, not just looking the part like today’s popular crossover vehicles. Thanks to its beefy frame and 301-horsepower V8 engine it can tow up to 6,500 pounds, and it has 8.1 inches of ground clearance for traveling over obstacles. Approach and departure angles of 21 and 23 degrees help it get past dips and hills like a mountain goat.
It also has the typical SUV downsides: a more truck-like, portly driving feel and poor gas mileage, rated at 15 mpg in city driving. Most drivers would be happier with the more comfortable and efficient RX crossover, which is why it sells in huge numbers, but you can do more with the GX if you need the capability.
The GX 460 does a good job masking its truck-like underpinnings under a layer of rich leather and upscale features, especially on the Luxury grade with its incredibly comfortable heated and cooled seats, power-folding third row and lighted running boards.
It also comes standard with the Lexus Safety System + this year. The no-extra-charge package includes radar cruise control, collision sensors that can detect and respond to both cars and pedestrians, lane departure alert and “intelligent” bright headlights.
After a minor update for 2020 that includes revised front styling, some parts of the GX still feel dated, including the overall cabin design and the infotainment system. The digital touchscreen doesn’t look as modern or respond as fast as more freshly designed Lexus products. Its Mark Levinson sound system upgrade and back-seat entertainment setup with two huge screens are both top-notch, though.
Pricing starts at $53,000 for the base GX or $65,410 for the Luxury model.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury ($64,265). Options: Mark Levinson surround sound ($1,145), off-road package ($1,570), dual screen rear entertainment system ($1,985), sport design package ($2,020). Price as tested (including $1,025 destination charge): $72,010
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: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 19 highway
Why buy it?
It’s highly stylish in the city and highly capable in the sticks. It has the look and comfort of a luxury vehicle for people who need the capability of a true SUV for off-roading or towing.