Our first sight of the 2020 Lexus GX is on a snow-covered forest trail deep in the Caledon hills north of Brampton, Ont. It sits there looking totally in its element – and yet completely out of place. A classic 4x4 truck with all the hardware for boondocks-bashing, but also a Lexus, slathered in leather, lacquered lumber and plush carpet.
Actually, it isn’t all hardcore. As I climb aboard, I notice the tires are stock all-seasons – no gnarly all-terrain rubber to handle the snow-cloaked terrain of the stillborn golf-course project that is Lexus’s temporary off-road course.
After a couple minutes of easy driving over gently rolling terrain, a small bluff rises on our left. It’s not very high, but it looks shockingly steep. Noting the tire tracks gouged into the soft, loose-dirt surface, I’m secretly relieved when we just drive on by. Imagine trying to scrabble up there on the GX’s street tires.
Or down it. Two more minutes of driving bring us back around to the top of the precipice. I know it’s there because the camera under the front bumper shows the plunge on the dashboard screen. All I can see through the windshield is sky. And my expert minder in the passenger seat wants me to keep going. Yeah, right.
Oh … he’s serious?
Of course, you can guess how this story ends. Our hosts already knew the GX 460 was up to the task, just as long as the journalist at the wheel conquered his fears and did nothing dumb. With the camera helping us align the GX with the fall line of the slope, the crawl control inched us down the treacherous surface, no pedal work required. In apparent defiance of physics and instinct, it didn’t slide, didn’t fall over. Point made.
The GX, with its body-on-frame construction, always was one of the few luxury sport-utility vehicles kitted out for serious bush-bashing: dual-range transfer case, lockable centre differential, skid plates, self-levelling suspension and 206 millimetres of ground clearance. For 2020, Lexus has lightly freshened the appearance and added more features while trimming the prices. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price now starts at $75,950.
On that 43-degree slope, we were less interested in the redesigned steering wheel, additional USB port and restyled LED exterior lighting than in the newly standard multi-terrain monitor with under-floor view, which helped us accurately aim the GX over the edge. That, along with the available multi-terrain select and five-stage crawl-control, which kept us shiny side up.
The latter two items are included in the executive package that, showing somewhat confused priorities, includes mostly off-road features … but also a rear-seat entertainment system and a front-console cool box. Keep the kids distracted in the back seat and they won’t notice you’re about to drive off the edge of a cliff, I guess.
In its usual habitat – the urban jungle and intercity highways – the GX shows its age. This generation of the GX dates back to 2009, and even that redesign used a carryover chassis (shared with the Toyota 4Runner) that dates back even further. But age can have its charms.
The powertrain dates it the most. The 4.6-litre V-8 is neither particularly potent (301 horsepower, good for zero-to-97 km/h in 7.8 seconds) nor especially refined or musical. But it gets the job done in a businesslike and (since there’s no turbo) linear manner. The transmission shifts seamlessly, though it’s slow to kick down even in sport mode, and six speeds is at least two fewer than state-of-the-art. Still, sixth is tall enough to keep the engine loafing on the highway – below 2,000 rpm at 120 km/h.
Nobody expects a vehicle of this ilk to corner like a Corvette, but the GX is not the lumbering hulk you’d expect. Within its admittedly modest limits, it flicks into turns quite alertly and remains nicely balanced, making it surprisingly wieldy around town. And while it won’t inspire you to actively seek out curvy country roads, it won’t embarrass itself if you find some anyway.
All the while, the suspension’s comfort mode delivers a classic plush ride, albeit with a hint of after-shock discombobulation after hitting big bumps and potholes. Sport mode settles down the aftershock but still feels cushioned – you notice the bumps, but they seem far away.
As a workhorse, the GX is better at towing than toting. It’s rated to pull 6,500 pounds (about 2,500 kilograms), more than respectable for a midsize ute. But cargo-volume dimensions are subpar, and while power-folding third-row seats are a bonus, utility takes another knock from a sideways-opening tailgate – with the hinges on the right.
As a people-carrier, knee room is below par in the second and third rows, and while U.S. buyers can opt for second-row captain’s chairs, Canadians get only a 40/20/40-split bench.
At least the front-seat riders can travel in comfort, especially if they like to sit high and mighty. The relatively small screen integrated into a bluff, blocky centre stack looks somewhat last-century, but there are still plenty of big, easily found buttons for most functions. Standard tech includes navigation, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system and SiriusXM satellite radio, but not Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, let alone wireless charging or a WiFi hotspot.
Likewise, modern-day active-safety upgrades are also limited. The Lexus Safety System+ (LSS+) is now standard, including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning/assist, but it’s not as full-featured as the LSS+ 2.0 system.
So there you have it. Lexus has cautiously updated its veteran off-roader for the twenties while preserving its old-world charm. In this automotive age of increasingly digital, semi-automated isolation chambers, the GX460 is almost like a classic, except you can still buy it brand new – and with a four-year warranty that you’ll probably never need.
- Price: From $75,950
- Engine: 4.6-litre naturally-aspirated V-8
- Transmission/drive: 6-speed automatic/AWD
- Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 16.2/12.3 city/hwy
- Alternatives: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac XT6, Infiniti QX80, Range Rover Sport, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Porsche Cayenne, Volvo XC90
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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