On the heels of the new Lexus TX three-row SUV, comes the redesigned GX 550 – another three-row mid-size SUV. But unlike the TX, this one is designed to go off the beaten path. Even though you might not think of Lexus as an off-roading brand, the GX 550 aims to change that.
It all started more than 20 years ago when Lexus introduced the first GX 470 as a body-on-frame vehicle, combining luxury with off-road functionality. Since 2002, it hasn’t changed much. In fact, the 2024 GX 550, which starts at more than $80,000, is only the third-generation version.
“Body-on-frame vehicles have some great advantages. They have better durability, better reliability, better towing capacity,” said Paul Williamsen, product education manager at Lexus College, an internal program for Lexus in the U.S., ahead of the on- and off-road drive in Tucson, Ariz. “But they’re more expensive to re-engineer because you have to re-engineer the frame and the body together.”
The changes for 2024 are significant and include a boxy, bold and Land Rover-esque exterior design. Under the hood, Lexus dumped the last generation’s V8 engine and replaced it with a 3.4-litre twin-turbo V6 that produces more torque and power than the previous V8, yet returns lower fuel consumption. It delivers 349 horsepower, up 48, and 479 lb-ft of torque, an extra 150. Mated to the engine is an all-new 10-speed automatic transmission with a two-speed transfer case with a lockable limited-slip centre differential and four-wheel-drive. A hybrid is expected to join the family later – but there’s no details on the powertrain or arrival date. Towing capacity has also jumped to up to 9,063 pounds.
Available in six trims, including the first-ever Overtrail and Overtrail+ grades, specifically designed for off-road adventures, the GX rides on the same body-on frame platform as Lexus’s top-of-the-line flagship SUV, the LX 600. On the road, we drove a Luxury trim with three-rows of seats and an Overtrail model, available with only two rows of seats, in the desert on a makeshift obstacle course. By far, the Overtrail is more fun and impressive. It adds extras including 18-inch alloy wheels with 33-inch all-terrain tires, multi-terrain monitor and panoramic view monitors, an aluminum skid plate, an off-road turned adaptive suspension system with five drive modes and a crawl-control feature.
Changing modes is easy, too; all controls are concentrated near the gear shifter so it’s less distracting. The Overtrail has a higher ground clearance as well as 26-degree approach, 24-degree breakover and 21-degree departure angles. Driving gingerly in 4 low through deep mud ruts and valleys, along 30-degree dirt banks and descending down steep embankments or crawling up sharp hills, the vehicle is stable, balanced and remains comfortable at all times. While it doesn’t have an underbody camera, it does have a special off-road trail view to see under the vehicle and where the tires are going to be, which is helpful when you’re climbing uphill and there’s nothing in your view but the sky.
And along narrow desert trails, it drives smoothly and remains quiet in the cabin. It’s capable and confident. Likewise on the road, the Luxury trim doesn’t feel like you’re driving a bus or a body-on-frame truck. It feels more like the car-based Lexus TX SUV. It’s nimble, responsive and quiet. And the Sport+ drive setting adds a dynamic and sporty feel.
The new GX comes at a time when Toyota’s luxury arm is experiencing record sales in Canada. “2023 was the best ever year for Lexus in Canada in terms of sales. Overall we sold 31,199 Lexus vehicles across the country,” said Martin Gilbert, director at Lexus Canada. “In 2023 for the first time ever, Lexus outsold Mercedes-Benz and BMW in Canada. This is an important milestone for us.”
The last-generation GX had a record year in 2023, but the numbers were small. Only 625 GXs were sold in 2023. Lexus aims to double that in 2024 and set “a new benchmark for GX” said Gilbert. Assembled at the Tahara plant in Japan, prices for the 2024 Lexus GX 550 start at $83,500 and top out at $105,850.
2024 Lexus GX 550
- Base price: $83,500 (plus $3,326 for freight, pre-delivery inspection, air conditioning charge and maximum dealer fees, plus tax and other fees)
- Engine: 3.4-litre twin-turbo V6 produces 349 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque
- Transmission/Drive: 10-speed automatic / four-wheel drive
- Fuel consumption (litres per 100 kilometres): 15.3 city, 11.2 highway
- Alternatives: Land Rover Discovery, Genesis GV80, Cadillac XT6, Infiniti QX60, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Volvo XC90
Say goodbye to its sleek design of the past – this one is rugged, boxy, bold and brash – resembling a Land Rover more than a Lexus. Overtrail and Overtrail+ grades come in cool, exclusive two-tone paint schemes with black roofs.
Everything is new on the GX – nothing is carried over from its past. A 14-inch touchscreen display, a 12.3-inch digital gauge display, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and several USB-C ports are standard. It seats five, six or seven passengers, depending on the trim, comfortably.
An off-roading powerhouse with pleasant on-road manners, it feels more like a Lexus TX than a body-on-frame SUV. Quiet inside the cabin, too.
Impressively equipped with technology Lexus Safety System+ 3.0, an suite of active safety equipment such as Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection – designed to help detect a vehicle, pedestrian or cyclist and provide an audio/visual forward collision warning under certain conditions.
With three-row models, there’s 292 litres when all seats are in use. Drop the third row and there’s 1,138 litres. A power rear lift door includes a flip-up rear hatch to access cargo quickly.
A luxurious, rugged, no-nonsense SUV with seating for up to seven and go-anywhere capability that can tackle any terrain.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.