when lexus finally added a third-row seat to a stretched version of the rx suv, we thought the gx's days were numbered. you see, the gx is an old-school, truck-based suv with all the associated shortcomings, such as space and fuel inefficiency. its main reasons for being included higher towing capacity, off-road ability and a third row (in a lexus model smaller than the hulking lx 570).
as it turned out, though, the rx 350l had a smaller third row than the gx, which perversely may give this truck another reason to stick around. we decided to give it a fresh look. i'll zero in on what you get from this holdout lexus — and what you might sacrifice.
you get towing
the primary thing you get from this design that you can't get from the rx 350l is a high towing capacity: 6,500 pounds, which is just 500 pounds shy of the maximum offered by the larger lexus lx suv (see them compared). the rx tops out at 3,500 pounds, as does the acura mdx, which is a more affordable model that competes with the gx in other ways. as for other non-lexus choices, the infiniti qx60 and volvo xc90 max out at 5,000 pounds of trailer weight (see them compared). the more expensive mercedes-benz gls450 can tow more than 7,000 pounds, as can the five-seat gle400 and porsche cayenne, which are closer to the gx in price. if you want the best of all worlds, the land rover discovery has three rows of seats, can tow an eye-popping 8,201 pounds and costs $53,595 to start — a close match to the base gx 460 at $53,380 (all prices include destination charges). see these four compared.
you get off-road capability
beyond four-wheel drive for foul weather and off-pavement use, there's very little need for true off-road features, which is why few suvs have them. in luxury models, off-road abilities seem even less desirable, though that isn't land rover's or lexus' perspective. the main things that distinguish most rovers and the gx and lx from common suvs are heavy-duty suspensions and four-wheel-drive systems with an additional low range for crawling over obstacles. the gx also has adjustable suspension height, though the difference among the three settings isn't dramatic. because the four-wheel drive is permanent (there's no two-wheel-drive operation), most of the controls on the center console will go untouched by most drivers. there are switches to raise and lower the body and activate the transfer case's 4-low range, as well as buttons and switches to activate and adjust the optional crawl control, which is like cruise control for off-road situations.
you get a workable third row?
your perspective on the gx 460's third-row seat will depend on whether you compare it with other lexus models or the rest of the market. the gx and rx defy logic for mid-size suvs of their respective construction. on paper, i'd expect the new rxl to have a larger third row and the truck-based gx a smaller one, but it's the opposite: typical of boxy designs, the gx's third row has a headroom advantage, with a specified 35.2 inches versus the rxl's 34.8 inches. both models have sliding second rows for flexibility, but it's clear from the second- and third-row legroom specifications alone that the advantage belongs to the gx (34.1 and 29.3 inches, respectively) versus the rxl (30.9 and 23.5 inches). if you want more third-row space from a lexus, you'll need to get the lx 570, which has 34.4 inches of legroom for both the second and third rows, plus superior headroom of 38.9 inches.
the gx's third-row legroom specification is an inch and a half shy of the qx60's and 2.6 inches less than the xc90's. the mdx has slightly less space than the gx with its second row fully back, about an inch and a half more with it slid forward.
in use, the gx's third row proves workable for any adult who's willing to climb back there — and it is a climb.
you get a control system you won't loathe
add this to my growing list of backhanded compliments: the gx is old enough that its multimedia system isn't maddening. almost all lexuses have a display in their dashboard controlled by remote touch interface: a mouselike device or touchpad on the center console. despite their years of revisions, we just don't like it, and we're not alone. the gx, however, has a simple touchscreen and — again, because it's older — doesn't incorporate the controls for too many essential features.
perspective is everything sometimes. the serpentine gate through which the gear selector lever slides in older toyota and lexus models (including the gx) used to annoy me. then lexus and competitors started implementing push-buttons and springy levers instead, and i've recognized things can always be worse ...
you sacrifice gas mileage
with epa-estimated highway mileage in the teens, the gx 460 is a throwback in the worst way. its full rating is 15/18/16 mpg city/highway/combined, which is distant from the rx 350l awd's 18/25/21 mpg. (the rxl also comes in a hybrid version, the 450h l, which is rated an impressive 29/28/29 mpg.) like the rx, other car-based suvs typically rate more than 20 mpg combined. non-hybrid awd versions of the mdx, qx60 and xc90 rate as high as 22 or 23 mpg combined.
other three-row suvs with higher towing capacities are pretty thirsty, too, but both the mercedes gls450 and the discovery are rated better than the gx, at 18 mpg combined on gasoline. (a diesel discovery is rated 23 mpg; all other vehicles mentioned here require premium gasoline.) if you can live without the third-row seat, the gle400 and bmw x5 xdrive40i are rated 20 and 22 mpg combined, respectively.
some of this conspicuous consumption comes from the gx's boxy shape and inherent weight disadvantage, but the 4.6-liter v-8 and an automatic transmission with just six gears also play a part. on the upside, the drivetrain behaves very nicely — better than some transmissions with more gears — and a zero-to-60-mph time of 7.8 seconds is more than adequate; it's even better than the rx 350l awd's 8.1 seconds (both lexus estimates).
you sacrifice handling
one of the reasons suvs made the move to unibody construction was to give them more carlike ride and handling. the gx 460 didn't, and it doesn't, though it manages to ride reasonably well in a straight line for a body-on-frame model. it's when you make turns and accelerate or brake forcefully that the gx falls behind competitors, especially the car-based ones. it may have adaptive shock absorbers, load-leveling rear springs and a kinetic dynamic suspension system that's claimed to combat body lean, but we found the gx's body to lean easily and frequently. similarly, it exhibits more nosedive than most vehicles when braking, and there's a little rear-end squat when the v-8 revs up and digs in.
to be clear, once you get into taller and larger suvs, they don't exactly drive like cars regardless of the platform. refinement might be there, but they aren't nimble and sporty. but even with that disclaimer, the gx is a step or two behind.
you sacrifice a liftgate
most suvs have a hatch that swings upward — a liftgate. the gx has a swing gate, which is less than ideal because it requires more space behind the vehicle to open. it's also hinged on the curb side, which means you're more likely to load cargo from the street side. the only true advantage to a swing gate is that it can hold a spare tire outside the vehicle, keeping it from taking up space inside or compromising ground clearance in the undercarriage. alas, the gx has run-flat tires, so that doesn't come into play. lexus does mitigate the limitations by incorporating a flip-up rear window, and i give them credit for the keyless-entry lock and unlock buttons by the gate release. many liftgates don't give you a lock button, requiring you to walk around to the side door or remove the key fob from your pocket. for what it is, the swing gate is modern and well-executed, but it's a downside overall.
you don't sacrifice as much as you might expect
though the inefficiency is baked in, i can't really accuse lexus of neglecting this model unduly. it falls behind some lexuses and competitors in terms of active-safety features and driving aids, but it isn't devoid of them — and the same could be said of other models on the market that are younger overall but likewise haven't been updated in a few years. though the gx's available adaptive cruise control doesn't work below 20 mph, i relied on it for hundreds of miles between chicago and detroit. it can have lane departure alert where many models now have steering assist, as well. blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert is also available. as for cameras, it has three rather than the usual four: front, rear and one under the side mirror on the curb side only, which can show where your right front wheel is.
putting the latest and greatest feature on some but not all models within a brand is common practice, and we can't say the gx's shortcomings are all out of the ordinary.
should i buy the lexus gx 460?
if you're a lexus loyalist and you want a more usable third row of seats — without having to buy the full-size lx 570 — the gx 460 might be a choice you can justify. but it comes with substantial downsides that aren't all necessary if you're willing to look at other makes. the gx earns its keep primarily as an suv with three rows of seats that can tow up to 6,500 pounds.
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