Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Load up the 2010 Lexus GX 460 with all of its options and you get no fewer than five onboard cameras looking out for you.
One watches the lane ahead, another looks rearward for parking poles and yet another watches the curb beside you. There's even one on the steering column, watching to see if you're asleep.
It's all in the name of safety, of course, since the 5,305 pounds of metal, plastic and rubber around you is clearly not enough. Sounds like typical luxury vehicle overkill, but beneath all the gadgets, the new GX 460 is actually quite traditional.
It uses body-on-frame construction like your average pickup truck and there's a good-size V8 under the hood. It has a two-speed transfer case for serious off-roading, and if you happen to own a 6,000-pound boat, it'll tow that, too.
In other words, the 2010 Lexus GX 460 isn't an SUV for people who are on the fence. It's a luxury vehicle for buyers who want every last capability and have the money to pay for it. It's an actual utility vehicle, and quite a nice one at that.
Bigger Is No Longer Better
Believe it or not, the 2010 Lexus GX 460 is not bigger than its predecessor. The marketing trend that had us all on the road to driving Suburbans has finally ended.
Some dimensions of the GX, like the overall length and width, have increased by an inch or less. More important, the height is down by 2.5 inches, so the GX is less imposing when you're standing next to it.
As SUVs go, this new GX is a tad more stylish than before. There are more creases down the side and on the hood. Lexus says the designers were trying to evoke the look of a "machined steel bar." Quite the macho goal, but it's hardly the first visual that comes to mind. "Gated community cruiser" seems like a more believable slogan.
It's a V8 or Nothing
If you like the idea of a V6 engine or even a hybrid drivetrain in your SUV, the GX is not for you. Lexus figures it has the smaller RX if you're riding that fence, so the GX continues as a V8-model only.
As its name suggests, the GX's V8 now displaces 4.6 liters. It's essentially the same V8 engine found in the Lexus LS 460 sedan but with different intake and exhaust plumbing and revised engine controls. The result is 301 horsepower and 326 pound-feet of torque, which is 38 horses and 6 lb-ft of torque more than the previous 4.7-liter V8.
The power is sent through a six-speed automatic transmission and a full-time four-wheel-drive system. A Torsen center differential biases 60 percent of the torque to the rear under normal driving conditions.
A tall 6th gear helps the GX deliver an estimated 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway. These are decent numbers for an SUV of the GX's size, especially when you consider that this GX weighs about 500 pounds more than the previous model. Lexus says the extra weight comes from the now standard Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) and new power-folding third-row seats.
Nothing Wrong With Body-on-Frame Construction
On paper, the 2010 GX's extra 500 pounds looks like it could completely cancel out the gains in horsepower and torque. On the road, however, it's not quite so obvious.
Unlike the heavy-footed Land Rover LR3 (now LR4), the GX carries its weight well. Around town, the light-effort steering and quick throttle response make the GX feel small, easy to drive and perfectly suited to the country club environment it will no doubt live in during most of its life.
It doesn't have the impenetrable, military-grade feel of the Land Rover either. Even in the dirt, it feels like a light-duty machine, with delicate inputs and responses. Even the brakes have a light touch despite feeling more than capable of handling the GX's 5,300 pounds.
All That Weight Eventually Catches Up
It's not until you pin the throttle down on a freeway on-ramp that the limitations of the V8's power become obvious. There isn't much noise and the power delivery is smooth, but the shove in your back quickly turns into a gentle nudge as your pace increases.
Once you're up to speed, the GX settles into the quiet cruiser you would expect. Lexus carried over much of the suspension from the previous model, so there are double wishbones up front and a multilink setup to control the stick axle in the rear.
The KDSS system that's now standard consists of big antiroll bars front and rear that are connected by a fluid channel. On the street, the fluid remains equalized so the sway bars stay in place to prevent body roll. Off-road, the fluid channel allows the front and rear bars to act on each other as the wheels articulate to maintain reassuring contact with the ground.
Sounds complicated for sure, but the GX's ride quality on pavement and off-road is exceptional. Anyone who says a body-on-frame vehicle can't be forced to dance hasn't driven a GX. Whatever sloppiness the live rear axle might imply isn't apparent from behind the wheel, so while there's an optional variable damping system, it's completely unnecessary.
Five Adults, Two Kids, No Problem
There's no change in the wheelbase of the 2010 Lexus GX, so interior room is largely unchanged. Five adults will fit inside without rubbing too many shoulders. The flat-bottom second-row seats aren't that comfortable given the price range, but room for toes, knees and heads is more than adequate and at least the second-row seat folds flat for useful cargo loading.
Motorized third-row seats are one of this GX's new interior features, although there's nothing unique about the setup. Push a button and the individual seats fold completely flat into the floor. When the seats are up, passenger room is tight for adults and fine for kids.
With the seats folded down, the load floor is completely flat, but there's no under-floor storage, as the seat bottoms slide rearward when the seatbacks flip forward. It's also worth noting that overall cargo capacity is down considerably. In the GX 470, the third-row seats could be taken out, leaving up to 49.7 cubic feet of space. Fold the GX 460's third-row seats and it only opens up 17 cubic feet of space. Space behind the third row is down from 13.2 cubic feet to 4.2 cubic feet.
Back to the Gadgets
In addition to the cameras for the high-beam assist system, lane-departure warning system and parking lot perimeter view, there's also a grille-mounted radar to detect a possible collision and a bumper-mounted sonar system for feeling your way into a parking space.
Also new for the GX is an optional crawl control system that can be engaged during low-speed off-road descents. Couple that with an improved hill-holder system for getting up hills and a solid 8.1 inches of ground clearance and the GX is a far more capable off-road machine than you would ever imagine.
Somebody Wants a Real SUV
If the 2010 Lexus GX 460's combination of technology and capability seems odd, you're not alone. Lexus says it only expects to see about 14,000 GXs in 2010. Compare that to the 80,000-90,000 RX crossovers that will go out the door in the same time period.
So the market is small, almost not worth it, but Lexus says there are still buyers who like the idea of having more capability than they really need. To them a crossover is a compromise, which is true. The Lexus GX 460 has a few compromises of its own, namely cargo room and a steep price. If you can get past these issues, though, there's no reason to look past it, unless of course you don't like being on camera.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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