In many ways, I’m not the right person to be testing the 2020 Lexus GX460.
I can count the number of off-road excursions I’ve had on two hands, I don’t live particularly near any good trails, and although I’ve enjoyed off-roading in other peoples’ toys, I have no intentions of dedicating the money or time it would take to really commit myself to the hobby. I can’t help feeling that most car-buyers are more like me than they are like overlanders and I think that might actually make me the right person to review this SUV.
Old School vs Just Old
The GX460 is a vehicle designed almost exclusively for off-roading enthusiasts, not for you and me. It may try to fool you with its big leather seats, its luxurious Lexus badge, and its vague similarity to an LX, but this is an SUV (decidedly not a crossover) whose experience is overwhelmingly influenced by a desire to kick up dirt and crawl over rocks.
That desire to appeal to enthusiasts leads me to my first complaint with the GX: it’s old. It’s so old that it entered production back in 2009. The GX460 predates Boardwalk Empire, Justified, and The Walking Dead. Lost was still on the air when this car entered production. That means that there are no real whizzbang electronics to play with. No cord-free charging for your phone, no Apple CarPlay, and worst of all, it has an infotainment system from years ago. Yes, you get maps and—new for 2020—you can optionally get a camera view that simulates an out of body-on-frame experience, but simple things like radio operation and Bluetooth connections are difficult.
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The system has big flaws, like being ugly, slow, and frustrating, but it has little flaws, too. Little flaws, like the inability to have two devices connected to the Bluetooth, meaning that you and your passenger can’t easily switch between your phones. That sounds small, but this is a $70,000 Lexus being sold new in 2020; why am I denied features that the Fiesta had in 2014? On the other hand, the age of the GX means that it does come with real, physical, honest-to-goodness buttons. That means that your HVAC controls are blessedly freed from the prison of submenus and that you get a real volume knob.
I will concede that the size of the GX460 gives it an old school feeling of imperiousness. You can ride high above the plebs in a massive vehicle that’s about the size of a cathedral and as quiet inside, too. The acoustics also surprise, with a pretty good 17-speaker surround system.
That’s all good if you’re in the front seats, which are ventilated or warmed, adjustable in a few ways (not as many as is the standard now, but still enough to get comfortable), and wide enough for your passenger to curl up sideways. The back seats, meanwhile, are slim and uncomfortable. There are optional second-row captain’s chairs now, but the bench seat that I had looked like a park bench compared to the front-row seats. It’s an industry-wide problem, so this complaint isn’t specific to Lexus, but this is a seven-seat SUV, not a 2+5. Admittedly, the second-row passengers aren’t completely forgotten, there are TVs back there for passengers to watch DVDs on.
SEE ALSO: 2019 Mercedes-Benz G-Class Review
Soft or Too Soft?
Mind you, the second-rowers will have to have a stronger stomach than mine to actually use the screens. I am given to carsickness, so this gripe might not be universal, but few vehicles are so singularly talented at eliciting sickness in me as this one. This comes as a result of those huge off-road springs. For an SUV that features rear air suspension, Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, Active Height Control, and independent front suspension as standard, it feels remarkably like a 1989 Cadillac DeVille. In comfort mode, after every bump you feel the suspension gathering up the GX’s 5,400 pounds and struggling to find something to do with it, making the whole thing pitch and loll down the road like the world’s laziest pogo stick. If a spine-breakingly stiff suspension isn’t worth it on a car, neither is an inner-ear assaulting one.
If you are into off-roading, though, this does seem to have all the trappings of a good off-roader. Crawler gears for getting out of low-speed trouble, adjustable ride height to better avoid rocks and whatnot, and a hearty 4.6-liter V8 that makes 301 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque.
And this is where all of that age starts to make sense. The GX460 has the body-on-frame construction that is so fetishized in the off-roading community, and that fewer and fewer new vehicles stick with. The big beefy V8 is also old school, but delivers healthy low-end torque. The big HVAC buttons and the chunky switches that operate the ride level, crawler gear, and more would all be easy to operate even if you were wearing gloves. Mind you, you’d have to have a good memory to remember where all the buttons are (not just the ones on the center console, but the ones behind the steering wheel and on it, too) but that seems like the type of thing off-roaders might enjoy. And it’s not all old-school. A 360 camera to see rocks with, a transmission cooler, and a fuel tank protector are newly available for the 2019-2020 model years, which may tempt off-roaders into a brand new vehicle. And I can sort of see why they might be.
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The GX460 occupies an interesting space in the market. With real off-roading bona fides and comfy seats, it places itself above the Jeep Wrangler in comfort but below the Mercedes G-Class in price. It’s smart and is, presumably, why it has lasted so long. Although it’s not necessarily everyone’s first choice for some off-roading, one need only read our recent review of the related 4Runner to see that some of the GX’s weak points are in service of a capable off-roader. And if the idea of a cushier 4Runner—albeit one with a worse infotainment system—appeals to you, then step right up.
Verdict: 2020 Lexus GX460
For me, and 90 percent of the driving population, though, I don’t think it makes sense. I would have had to go a long way out of my way to find an off-roading trail and then I might have hurt a $70,000 vehicle. The GX460 makes so many sacrifices to allow it to do something that even the majority of Jeep owners don’t do regularly (if at all). What the GX has tought me is that I’d rather have a crossover. Crossovers are great! They can tow, they can go as off-road as I’m ever likely to go, and best of all, when they go on-road, they’re comfortable and a little kinder to the environment.
There’s a wave of criticism in the industry that has argued that performance cars are too harsh, too stiffly sprung to truly be enjoyed on the regular kinds of roads that real people drive every day. Lexus, with the GX460, has come in and proven that the inverse can also be true. Off-roady, luxury cars can become too softly sprung, too lazy to really be good at the job of being a road car.