Jurassic Park was all about resurrecting the dinosaurs – but wouldn’t it be better to just keep them from going extinct in the first place?
The Lexus GX460 is one such – and well worth preserving. It’s been around and largely unchanged since 2010 – an automotive Jurassic Era ago. Most cars – and trucks and the rest – get a major makeover after four years; it is almost unheard-of for a vehicle to go twelve years without one.
What It Is
The GX is a mid-sized, three-row luxury SUV that’s based on the Toyota 4Runner.
It is a real SUV, too – not a “crossover” SUV. Body on frame construction. Solid rear axle. V8 engine and four-wheel-drive, standard. There is no turbocharger. The transmission has only six speeds. There is no 48 volt starter/generator hybrid system to complicate things.
Which probably explains why so many people continue to buy these things.
The base trim stickers for $55,425. A top-of-the-line Luxury trim lists for $64,945.
You do not have to buy a higher trim to get the 4.6 liter V8 – or 4WD with Low range gearing and the heavy-duty off-road underthings.
All are standard in every GX.
If it were still 2010, the GX would have several rivals. But in the intervening 12 years, almost all of them have disappeared. Or at least, their formerly standard V8s have disappeared. Most no longer even offer one as an option – including models like the Land Rover Discovery (which comes with fours and sixes, a “mild hybrid system and an eight speed automatic).
The Mercedes GLE is available with a V8 – and it’s a mighty one – but to get it, you’ve got to spend $20k more ($75,550 for the AMG GLE 53) than Lexus charges for the GX460 with a V8, standard.
And the Benz isn’t available with the V8 – and a third row.
The Lincoln Aviator has three rows, standard – but doesn’t offer a V8, period. And while it’s rear-drive, it doesn’t offer 4WD, much less come standard with it. Ditto the otherwise-appealing Genesis GV80.
Those two offer – optionally – a lighter-duty AWD system without Low range gearing.
Which brings us back to the only mid-sized luxury SUV that still comes standard with 4WD, a V8, body-on-frame construction and a solid rear axle.
A Black Line Special Edition package has been added to the mix. It includes a set of black-anodized 18 inch wheels, “dark chrome” exterior accents, revised front and rear bumpers and a black ash steering wheel inside.
Comes standard with things generally no longer available.
Twelve-year track record of reliability.
Mostly physical rather than digital controls are straightforward and easy to operate.
What’s Not So Good
Steering is a little over-boosted and while one-finger easy, it’s not as precise as it could be.
Two-row version of the Benz GLE has more a much roomier second row.
Land Rover Disco’s available six is more powerful than the GX’s standard V8.
This Lexus still comes standard with a V8 engine, defying the trend toward replacing these engines with what are said to be “more efficient” turbocharged four and six cylinder engines, often paired up with some kind of “mild hybrid” system that shuts off the engine regularly – relying on inertia and battery power to keep the vehicle moving during these intervals – as a way to reduce fuel consumption.
But does it, really?
As it turns out, the 4.6 liter, 301 horsepower V8 that every GX comes standard with is only slightly less “efficient” than the much smaller four and six cylinder turbo’d and often, hybridized, engines that are used in rivals such as the Land Rover Discovery and Mercedes-Benz GLE – both of which come standard with 2.0 liter four cylinder engines that make 296 and 255 horsepower, respectively.
EPA says the Lexo-saurus will travel 15 miles in city driving and 19 miles on the highway on a gallon of premium unleaded. Which sounds horrendous. But the four-cylinder Disco goes . . . wait for it . . . 19 in the city and 22 on the highway. The Benz GLE goes a bit farther – on the highway – where EPA says it’s good for 27 miles. But in the city, it’s back down to 19 – so when you average it out, it’s about the same.
The difference that really matters, arguably, is that the GX has a V8 rather than a turbo’d four – and not merely for reasons of prestige, though that’s also a legitimate reason when you’re spending more than $50,000 on a vehicle.
There’s no turbo to cook – and the GX’s V8 engine isn’t under the kind of pressure that turbo-boosted engines are under to haul two tons of brick-shaped SUV down the road. One of the reasons the GX is revered by the people who own them is its long-term durability, which is partially a function of that easygoing V8 it comes standard with.
Another reason, probably, is that it comes standard with a six speed automatic rather than an automatic with eight or even nine speeds, as its Mercedes and Land Rover rivals come standard with. More parts – and more shifting – often correlates with an eventual need for more fixing.
The GX may be “old” but that’s just the point.
It also pulls – up to 6,500 pounds. This is not as much as the Discovery is rated to pull -even with its four cylinder turbo’d engine – but the body-on-frame construction of the Lexus is more suited to pull. Once again we have the twelve-year track record of GX’s pulling without breaking. Will unibodied and four-cylinder-turbo’d models like the Disco still be pulling twelve years hence?
Want to take the chance?
Having a massive steel frame underneath you has a certain feel that having a body welded-together does not. A pleasant heaviness that’s desirable in a vehicle like this. A confidence-inspiring feeling, when you look underneath a vehicle like this – and see a heavy steel beam perimeter and know it’s not going to bend if you put a floor jack under it or get hung up off-road – and which is much less likely to need welding if you get hit, on road.
With a body that’s bolted to the frame, many exterior body panels can be unbolted and replaced – without welding. And a heavy steel frame is probably going to endure longer – especially against structural rust – than a welded-together (and thinner gauge metal) body and frame.
I will definitely be easier – and cost less – to fix.
Body-on-frame construction used to be standard in most American cars – before government regulations pertaining to fuel efficiency did to them what the asteroid did to the dinosaurs. After that happened, many Americans retreated to SUVs – which at first were built the way American cars once were, with their bodies bolted to a separate steel frame and a V8 usually standard, under the hood.
Now they’re going away, too. For exactly the same reasons.
The GX’s V8 isn’t the most powerful engine in the class. The Disco’s turbo’d-boosted four makes nearly as much power – and its available turbo’d six makes a lot more (355 hp). But neither sound like or have the feel of a V8. There’s not much sound at all, in fact – probably because outfits like Land Rover (and Benz) know that a four sounds kind of disappointing in a vehicle like this – and so they devote a lot of effort to muffling the sounds it does make. Or supplementing the sounds with artificial sounds – through the stereo – to make you feel as though your $50k-plus bought you more than a four.
And be glad you only have six . . . gears, that is.
The GX’s transmission has no more of those than it needs, so it’s not shifting as much as transmissions that have eight and nine speeds – which constantly seek the highest of their multiple overdrive gears, so as to eke out a little more “efficiency.”
You feel the GX’s gears shift – in a good way, again – whereas the feel (and sound) of all that extraneous up-and-down shifting in the others has to be suppressed, such that it’s often hard to tell when or even if they’re shifting. You feel more in touch with what’s going on in the GX – which is a good feeling.
The steering, on the other hand, lacks feel.
It is very light, which makes it easy to steer this rig – but not as precisely. As you drive it, you get adjusted to making the little course corrections which are often necessary. It feels a lot like driving a big American sled from back-in-the-day.
At The Curb
This mid-sized Lexus comes standard with three rows, which has its pros and its cons. The obvious pro is the presence of that extra row – and the capacity for seven people. The less obvious con is how little cargo room there is because that third row – just 11.6 cubic feet, which is comparable to the cargo capacity of a Mazda Miata roadster. But the Mazda has only two seats – and you can’t fold them to make more cargo room.
If you fold-forward the GX’s third row, the available cargo space expands to 64.7 cubic feet. It’s not quite as much total cargo space as newer-design rivals such as the Disco and Benz offer (74.3 and 74.9 cubic feet, respectively – but as with the MPG stats, it’s close enough that it doesn’t make much difference. In fact, the Disco has even less space with all its seats up – just 9.1 cubic feet. The Benz GLE boasts 33.3 cubic feet – but that’s only if you skip the third row, which Mercedes charges extra for.
The differences that count vs. its primary rivals are the GX’s non-digital dash and its easier to use controls, almost all of which are of the knob and button and wheel type as opposed to the tap and swipe type.
LCD dashboards are very trendy right now. But will they look tacky five years from now? How “hip” and “cool” does the cellphone you owned five years ago seem now? The GX’s tastefully traditional analog gauges are apt to age more gracefully – and unlikely to ever just go dark – as LCD screens are prone to doing, eventually.
The stereo can be tuned by hand – rather than finger. Rotate the knob – and there you are. You don’t have to “scroll” through a “menu” to change the temperature or fan speed, either. Even the gear selector has a firmly connected feel. There is an LCD touchscreen – it being 2022 and all – but you don’t need to use it for regularly necessary adjustments, such as adjusting the stereo or dialing up warmer or colder.
This year is likely to be the last year for the GX460 as currently constituted. It is likely to be reconstituted – without a V8 and possibly without body-on-frame construction.
Lexus, like every car maker, is under enormous regulatory pressure to nix the V8 and has already done that in all of its other models, including the LS sedan, which used to come standard with a V8 – and the LX600 (based on the Toyota LandCruiser) which used to come with one too – and now comes only with a turbo’d six.
So this may be the last year to get one of these magnificent dinosaurs with zero miles on the clock and a new-vehicle warranty.
The Bottom Line
The GX460 is like $2 gas – a pleasant memory – except it still exists.
For a little while longer.
. . .
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