In the decade the Lexus GX 460 has existed, it’s amassed a small (but vehemently dedicated) cadre of owners who are off-road community stalwarts. If you’re vexed as to why the GX would be the machine of choice for rock crawling and trail conquering, merely ask any of the proud 60-plus owners who turned up for the annual FJ Summit in Ouray, Colorado this year, and let them regale you with tales of how their snorkel-sporting, jacked-up GXes bested the worst Mother Nature could throw at them.
Soccer moms these are not — though desire from the SUV buying segment remains equally rabid, considering the GX 460 is Lexus’s fourth best-selling model in the U.S. this year. Despite not having been subject to a redesign over the past 10 years, a refresh for 2020 means Lexus is banking on continuing to appeal to the full spectrum of buyers. We tested the 2020 GX 460 down in Costa Rica’s tropical Papagayo Peninsula to see if the Japanese luxury sport-ute will keep paying dividends for the brand for the next few years.
The Good: The GX 460’s impeccable off-road credentials hail from the fact that it’s basically a Land Cruiser Prado in disguise. It’s still constructed using body-on-frame tech, a bygone method in today’s era of unibody crossovers. That imbues the mid-size SUV with durability and a sturdy platform for towing, or for when the asphalt’s in the rearview.
For 2020, Lexus provided the GX 460 with additional off-road goodies, again borrowed from Toyota. The aptly named Off-Road Package brings a multi-view camera system capable of aiding drivers through (and over) dicey obstacles, a transmission cooler, additional shielding to protect the fuel tank, Crawl Control (a five-stage version of off-road cruise control, helpful on steep inclines, enabled only in Low range) and Multi-Terrain Select, which allows you to literally dial in the optimal power settings for a host of terrain types, including sand, rocks, moguls and mud.
Who It’s For: Lexus is hoping GX 460 buyers have a wild streak that’ll see them adventuring out off the beaten path, but without giving up a sumptuous cabin. While you get the same diligent off-road prowess as the GX’s brother-from-another-mother, the esteemed Toyota 4Runner, the GX’s interior makes the 4Runner look like a slouch who showed up to a black-tie gala in a wrinkled T-shirt. If luxury and capability are equally important to you, Lexus hopes you’ll consider the GX 460.
Watch Out For: The interior has some weak spots. It’s full of luxurious touches and finishes such as Gray Sapele wood; and for 2020, Lexus reimagined the three-spoke tiller and the gauge cluster for the driver. But then you look at the center stack and infotainment system, and the interior starts to show its age. One glance at the busy area — full of redundant buttons and a slow, low-rez touchscreen — and you’re reminded of an era when supercomputers required warehouses.
Another issue: On Costa Rica’s pristine main roads, the truck-like handling common to vehicles with body-on-frame construction was apparent, even with the dampers set to Sport mode. There’s noticeable body roll. Go into any corner with any amount of zeal, and be rewarded with squealing tires. And the six-speed automatic transmission struggles to find the proper gear uphill.
Alternatives: If you’re just looking a plush mid-size SUV mainly for road use with some mild off-road capability, consider the Audi Q7, the BMW X5 and the Acura MDX. Headed into the proper wilds? You’d be wise to consider the Land Rover Discovery, which excels in the cabin comforts and is unflappable when the terrain gets rough. (That said, while priced similarly to the Disco, the GX 460 pulls ahead by a nose. when you factor in reliability and lifetime maintenance costs.)
Review: A light facelift sees the gaping maw that is Lexus’ signature spindle grille make an appearance on the GX 460; triple-beam LED headlights are also new on the front end. These minimal tweaks likely won’t change your opinion of the overall aesthetics, but they do make the model feel more current. An optional Sport Design package gives it a bolder presence, thanks to a different lower-grille design, rear valence, side mirrors, gray 19-inch wheels and a black exhaust tip.
The SUV was comfortable on the open road, but if you’re used to sporty driving, it isn’t going to curry much favor. The 4.6-liter V-8, good for 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque, is adequate enough, but the handling simply isn’t dynamic. Perhaps the legions of crossover fans wouldn’t notice or care, but the vague steering provides little road feel. Everyone will notice the hit at the pump, thanks to a meager 15 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway. Efficiency fans, look elsewhere.
While we’d love to tell you about how great it was to thrash the GX 460 around Costa Rica’s jungles, we sadly cannot: Lexus limited our driving to asphalt alone. So we had to improvise.
A number of excursions were on offer to the assembled journalists; one to the Diamante Eco Adventure Park for a ziplining and the chance to get face-to-glass with jaguars and sloths sounded intriguing. We chose wisely — partially because sloths are incredible, but more so because the two-mile path from the main road to the resort was unpaved, pockmarked and riddled with sizable rocks.
Here, the GX 460 came alive, almost making up for all of its aforementioned shortcomings. Even though our particular tester had the optional Off-Road Package, we chose to ignore many of its features, leaving it in four-wheel-drive high and sinking the accelerator pedal to the floor — and the GX 460 glided over whatever we aimed at without drama. Ginormous potholes that would swallow lesser tires? Not a problem. A swath of loose rocks, each the size of your fist? You’re barely jostled. The suspension that can be lacking on the road becomes a hero in the chop and crud. It’s no wonder that Lexus yanked a few bone-stock GX 460s to pre-run the grueling Baja 500 and 1000 races ahead of an LX 570, completing the course without an issue — when competing trophy truck teams claimed sections were impassable.
But plenty of nifty off-road toys, including the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, come with the GX 460. Engage four-low and magical things happen underneath your feet, including the disabling of anti-roll bars for greater articulation and changes in rear air springs that reduce roll when trailering or crawling. The access road wasn’t rough enough to warrant any of that, but we can imagine if the GX 460 was this pleasant rollicking over a crumbling dirt road at a steady clip, it’d be great when the going gets properly tough.
A few weeks after the Costa Rica journey, we were out in Ouray, Colorado, testing the 2020 4Runner and Tacoma when Lexus unveiled a surprise: the GX OR, a beefyversion of the 2019 GX 460 built by the company as a tribute to the enthusiasts who inspire the engineers. It was meant to look factory-made, and the powertrain was left purposefully stock — but a two-inch lift kit with adjustable valve dampening was added, along with Icon control arms and CBI skid plate protection for said control arms. Larger tires and ample custom storage for hauling all your off-road gear complete the comely build. It’s proof of the inner badass below the Lexus’s soft interior.
Verdict: If the bulk of your time behind the wheel will be spent on asphalt, you’ll have to be accepting of saggy road manners, an outdated center stack and infotainment system and mediocre fuel economy. However, if you’re going to spend any chunk of time off-road, the Lexus GX 460 won’t let you down.
2020 Lexus GX 460: Key Specs
Powertrain: 4.6-liter V-8; six-speed automatic; four-wheel-drive
Torque: 329 pound-feet
Curb Weight: 5,130 pounds
Cargo Capacity: 64.7 cubic feet
Lexus hosted us and provided this product for review.