Drive: Lexus balances luxury with ruggedness in 2020 GX460
It’s been nine years since we last test-drove a Lexus GX460, and we actually recall the circumstances — a family wedding in central Connecticut. Ordinarily, that would be quite a compliment to the car, but what we remember most about this luxury sport-utility vehicle was its ungainly handling characteristics and poor fuel economy. But Lexus executives must have known something we didn’t know in 2011: The GX460 has been a steady seller over the years, averaging 25,000 to 27,000 units sold every year since 2015.
The GX460 last was redesigned way back in 2010, so the Atomic Silver GX460 Luxury wasn’t dramatically different from the one we drove to the 2011 wedding. It seemed to handle a little more crisply than its predecessor, benefited from some exterior updating, and had some technological add-ons. Otherwise, however, it displayed qualities that prompt some critics to dismiss it as dated — notably, a tailgate that swings to the right.
But we keep going back to those sales figures. What keeps this car — or more precisely, this truck — in the Lexus lineup?
The answer is simple; it can be found in the previous paragraph. The GX460 is a truck, with body-on-frame construction and serious off-road chops. For 2020, it even has a $1,570 off-road package, which includes “panoramic view monitor with multi-terrain monitor, crawl control, multi-terrain select, fuel-tank protector (and) transmission-oil cooler,” according to Lexus. We didn’t dare take our $71,695 GX460 off the pavement, especially considering it wasn’t equipped with the off-road package. But reviewers who took the GX460, properly equipped, into the wilderness have been impressed with its comportment there.
Fuel economy remains mediocre — indeed, the 2020 GX460 is a little thirstier than the 2010 model, reflecting Lexus’ unwillingness to tamper with this model’s success by fiddling with its drivetrain. It is rated at 15 mpg city, 19 highway, and requires premium unleaded gasoline. But it can go more than 400 miles between gasoline-station stops thanks to its 23-gallon fuel tank.
Mystery solved: GX460s sell well because they balance luxury with ruggedness, in a way few competing automakers can match. There are midsize models that are equally competent off road — for example, the Jeep Grand Cherokee — but very few that match the GX460 for sheer luxury. The Land Rover Discovery comes close.
2020 Lexus GX460 Luxury
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 301 horsepower, 329 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Ground clearance: 8.1 in.
Weight: 5,126 lb.
Suspension: double-wishbone front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 19x7.5-in. dark gray metallic alloy
Tires: P265/55R19 all-season
Seating capacity: 6
Luggage capacity: 11.6 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 64.7 cu. ft.
Maximum towing capacity: 6,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 23 gal.
Fuel economy: 15 mpg city, 19 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline
The GX460 we test-drove had just about every luxury feature one could imagine, as well as a few that were optional. These included the Mark Levinson premium audio system, $1,145; and a dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system, $1,985. The Lexus Enform infotainment system, standard equipment in Luxury trim, was useful and easy to operate.
The base GX460 starts at $53,100. All GX460s are equipped with the 301-horsepower V-8 engine, 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission and full-time 4-wheel drive. Depending on the seating configuration, they can accommodate six or seven persons.
Lexus produces four other SUV lines: the subcompact UX, compact NX, midsize RX, and the full-size LX. The GX is built on the same platform as the Toyota 4Runner, but is far more refined than even the most heavily optioned 4Runners.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.