Taking my book and the Lexus GX 460 SUV on the road.
As I contemplated what car I wanted, and needed, for a four day romp through the greater New York area and New Jersey to launch my new book: Writing The War: Chronicles of a WWII Correspondent, my first choice, naturally was a Jeep. Maybe a Grand Cherokee, or even better, a four-door Wrangler.
Alas, none were available. But I had needs. I had luggage for two and four boxes of books to haul around. Plus, I thought I might have to make room for a portable keyboard and amplifier at some point. Lexus came through with an interesting substitute for a Jeep—the Lexus GX 460. In a world becoming dominated by unibody crossovers, or a body that is constructed of a single piece, the GX 460 is an old-fashioned body-on-frame luxury bruiser, yielding a quieter ride and greater capability on off-road. Indeed, it is one of the few genuine SUVs left in the luxury category along with the Land Rover LR4.
The GX shares that body-on-frame chassis with the overseas Land Cruiser Prado and the Toyota 4Runner. When the GX was launched in 2010, it did not fare well with Consumer Reports, which found that the SUV could be easily tipped over in certain handling situations. The influential testing group handed out the dreaded “Do Not Buy” rating. But Toyota leaped into action, and “re-flashed” the SUV’s electronic brain, and made a software change to the electronic stability control, as well as other changes. The initial problem has not been an issue since.
The secret to luxury in the Lexus SUV: Connectivity, amenities and entertainment
The Lexus GX 460 expanded its standard connectivity features for 2015 to include Siri Eyes Free, a nicety that allows iPhone users (4S and newer) voice-controlled access to various functions. With the iPhone connected via Bluetooth, it could become a handy system, but one that needs improvement. With the press of a button, we could access Siri through the car’s own communications hub. It will take further testing to see the real-life benefits. We could not marry up the map on our phone to the Lexus screen, for example, when the in-car nav couldn’t locate our hotel.
The Lexus Enform App Suite, which is one of the best on the market in general, has also been upgraded. Hands-free calling worked perfectly. We did not love the navigation system, as it made it difficult to put in a hotel address, so we rang Lexus’s call center to send the directions to the nav. That system worked beautifully. The GX, of course, has Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, with a plenty-adequate eight-inch touchscreen and a nine-speaker sound system with a CD player plus two USB inputs with an iPod interface.
Storage and seating
Front seats were perfectly comfortable, and got tested when we were in a long line for the Lincoln Tunnel. The eight-way power front seats have two way lumbar support. The rear bench-seat however could stand an upgrade, as our passenger did not feel like she was in a luxury SUV in the second row. With the second and third rows of seats down, there is 64.7 cubic feet of space. We utilized this feature once when we had luggage and book boxes to haul. The split rear window is handy for carrying long pieces you may not want to strap
on the roof like skis or 2×4 lumber.
Major improvements in safety in this Lexus SUV
After an initial problem in 2010, with the stability control system, the performance of the SUV has not really been in question. The GX comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front and rearview camera, front and rear seat side airbags, front-seat knee airbags and and side curtain airbags that cover all three rows. If an accident does happen, there is more cushioning in this SUV than a foam rubber factory. The GX also has standard Lexus Safety Connect, which establishes emergency communications with a call-center when there is a collision or theft.
Safety options include blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, a lane departure warning system and a frontal collision warning.
Fuel economy is not great with a heavy body and a 301-horsepower V8 engine. But we managed an average of 19 mpg in combined city and highway driving. With gas at about $2.20 a gallon when we drove the Lexus, we did not feel like we had to skip the appetizer at dinner to save money for petrol.
Smooth ride on poor roads
Like most body-on-frame SUVs, the GX is a bit truck-like, but not in a terrible way. New York City and New Jersey’s roads are riddled with winter-abused potholes and other kidney rupturing problems that made me glad I was not driving a MINI with run-flat tires. The GX’s adaptive air suspension and serious tires soak up the road imperfections like Wonder bread soaks up peanut butter and jelly. Turning radius was better than I expected making tight turns around New York City, and once out on New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway’s smoother pavement, it handled like a champ.
What we loved
- Solid AWD: we did not test in snow, but we did go down a pretty muddy dirt road, and did a dicey U-turn on grassy shoulder; the Lexus performed well
- Seven passenger option with third row folding seat
- Siri Eyes Free
What you need to know
- Base price: $52,720; price for the model we drove, with heated steering wheel and wood-trim on steering wheel and shift-knob, $58,077
- The rear cargo door is a side swinging door, not a lift-gate
- Trim packages vary by region to reflect snow states like Ohio and sun-belt states like Florida and Arizona
- You can tow up to 6,500 pounds