2010 Lexus GX 460 PremiumPosted on June 26th, 2010
Mid-sized sport-utility vehicle with off-road capability
By Nina Russin
The Lexus GX fills the middle ground between the full-sized LX 570 and smaller RX. Like the LX, the GX is a body-on-frame truck, with full-time four-wheel drive and towing capability up to 6500 pounds.
The current model rolled out last Fall, replacing the original GX 470. The 4.6-liter V-8 engine on the new car is more compact than the 4.7-liter engine it replaces, though it out-performs it. The smaller engine saves a little weight, helping to extend fuel economy by thirteen percent.
Three rows of seating hold up to seven passengers. The second-row seats move fore and aft up to four inches to increase legroom. The seats fold flat 60/40, easing access and egress to the third row, or extending the cargo floor.
Despite its off-road and towing capability, the GX is first and foremost a premium vehicle. The $65,754 MSRP on the test car positions it on the brink of the high-luxury segment. Features such as heated and ventilated leather seats, adaptive air suspension, three-zone climate control and a Mark Levinson audio system appeal to buyers who want to take the comforts of home with them.
Last Fall, I drove the 2010 GX 460 at a media program in the San Diego area. This week, I got the chance to test drive the premium grade on a road trip through Indiana and southern Ohio.
Base price on the test car is $56,765, not including an $875 delivery charge. The Mark Levinson audio upgrade is a seventeen-speaker, 7.1 surround-sound system with navigation, Lexus Enform telematics, satellite radio and real-time traffic and weather updates ($3930).
Lexus’ pre-collision system automatically primes the brakes and tightens seatbelts if sensors determine an accident is imminent. The same option includes dynamic radar cruise control, which maintains a preset distance from the car in front. Crawl control, in the same option package, modulates the throttle and brake on extreme off-road trails to maintain five preset speeds ($1,720).
A dual-screen rear entertainment system can play two movies at the same time or one widescreen feature ($2400). The final option, a cargo net, costs $64.
King of the open road
The GX 460 shines on the open highway: its eight cylinder engine is strong and smooth, and the six-speed automatic transmission contributes to surprisingly good fuel economy. Twenty miles-per-gallon won’t win a hyper-miling contest, but it’s above average for a 5300-pound vehicle with a 110-inch wheelbase.
The new engine has excellent power, accelerating from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 7.8 seconds. Merging into high-speed traffic and passing slower vehicles is a non-issue. The six-speed automatic transmission transitions seamlessly between gears. I was never aware of shift shock, even during hard acceleration.
The standard adaptive suspension can lower the vehicle at high speeds to reduce wind drag. It can also raise the GX up on uneven off-road trails to add ground clearance. Ground clearance with the suspension in “normal setting” is just over eight inches.
Kinetic dynamic suspension is a standard feature that adjusts the car’s front and rear stabilizer bars according to steering inputs and yaw sensors. Off-road, it decouples the stabilizer bars to allow for more wheel travel.
The suspension set-up is one of the best I’ve seen on a sport-utility vehicle. The GX literally floats over the road surface, smoothing out any frost heaves and potholes. I’m not suggesting that the GX feels unstable. In fact, the car’s ability to hold its line in high-speed turns is impressive.
The suspension has three modes: normal, comfort and sport. Comfort is the softest setting for driving around town. The sport setting firms up the shocks to keep the chassis flat during aggressive driving. Since I wasn’t driving on particularly challenging roads, I kept the suspension in the normal setting through most of the test drive, and it worked perfectly.
The four-wheel drive system maintains a 40/60 front-to-rear power balance during normal driving conditions, mimicking rear-wheel drive performance. The system automatically shifts power between the two axles based on steering input and wheel slippage.
A speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering system provides good on-center response at speed. Despite the car’s size, it is easy to do an emergency lane-change without upsetting the chassis.
Visibility around the car is pretty good, though the thick B pillars somewhat obstruct over-the-shoulder visibility. Large side mirrors do a good job of eliminating blind spots to the back without interfering with the driver’s vision when cornering.
At night, adaptive headlamps swivel according to steering input to light corners of the road. The headlamps are an important safety feature for drivers in dark suburban areas.
For a tall, two-box vehicle, the GX produces relatively little wind noise at speed. Insulation under the chassis keeps road noise to a minimum.
Large vented disc brakes on all four wheels stop the GX in a firm, linear fashion.
A challenge to maneuver on narrow streets
My trip through the Midwest included a couple of days in my home town of Cincinnati. Cincinnati is an old river city: a lot of the streets are glorified cow paths which were first paved in the horse and carriage days.
The city is very hilly: often compared to San Francisco. Narrow streets snake through the city’s seven hills that surround the river.
While most people in Phoenix, Arizona park in lots off the street, on-street parking is the norm in Cincinnati. None of this bodes well for a car the size of the Lexus GX.
I can’t complain about the steering response on winding roads: it’s excellent. But the car’s wide track makes staying in some of the narrow lanes a challenge.
Parallel parking spaces on the street are rarely long enough to accommodate a vehicle of this size. A standard rearview camera helps a lot when they do, since the driver can see a wide angle view of the street, sidewalk and vehicle to the back.
The other challenge driving the car around town has to do with its height. The roof rails on the test car are a great asset to drivers who want to store bicycles and other large cargo in overhead roof racks. But with the roof rails, the Lexus GX barely clears city garages.
I had about two inches to spare in the garage of one of the hotels I stayed in. I carefully planned my entrance and exit to avoid any lights or sprinklers that might hang below the height indicated by the bar at the garage entrance.
The GX fit within the garage parking spaces, but it was difficult maneuvering the long-wheelbase around poles and nearby vehicles.
The Lexus GX is a great car for large families, due to its spacious interior. Both first and second rows have heated seats to keep passengers comfortable in temperature extremes. The ventilated front seats reduced the effects of hot humid weather during some of my longer drives.
The gauge cluster is easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. However, I found the screen under the navigation display difficult to read in bright sun: the reflective surface obscured the part of the display furthest away from me.
Three-zone temperature controls keep all three rows of passengers comfortable. Ceiling vents do a good job of circulating air through the back of the cabin.
The Mark Levinson audio package produces equivalent quality sound to high-end home systems. I kept the satellite radio tuned to classical and jazz stations so I could enjoy the nuances in the acoustic instruments.
There are three power points at the base of the center stack, to recharge cell phones, plug in MP3 players, iPods or music sticks.
Designers put a cover over the audio controls on the center stack to clean up its appearance. Controls in the center stack are easy to reach from either front seating position.
All passengers have ample access to cup and bottle holders. The center console bin and glovebox provide plenty of storage around the passengers.
Both outboard seats in the second row have ample head, hip and legroom. While the center seat looks narrow, it is surprisingly comfortable.
Third-row seats are best for kids or very small adults, due to limited head and legroom. Access and egress to the third row is pretty good.
With the power third-row seats folded flat, the Lexus GX easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards. The GX is a great choice for active families who need to carry gear due to its spacious cargo area and roof rails.
The rear gate opens sideways, like a refrigerator door, making it much easier for a small person to manage. A strut keeps the door from accidentally swinging shut.
The Lexus GS comes with ten standard airbags: front, side, front knee, second-row side, and side curtains that protect all three rows. Antilock braking, traction and stability control are standard on all models. Lexus safety connect automatically notifies the police and medical personnel if the airbags deploy.
Automatic load leveling enhances vehicle stability during towing.
High intensity discharge headlamps project a longer beam of light that is closer to daylight.
The 2010 GX 460 is on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A body-on frame sport-utility vehicle with car-like handling, a high level of standard safety features and true off-road capability.
Dislike: Long wheelbase, wide track and high profile make the GX less maneuverable around town. The GX may be too tall with the roof rails to fit in some public garages.
Model: GX 460 Premium
Base price: $56,765
As tested: $65,754
Horsepower: 301 Hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 329 lbs.-ft. @ 3500 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 7.8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 15/20 mpg city/highway
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