2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Introduction
Living in Los Angeles, my wife and I sometimes wonder what would be the perfect family vehicle to have on hand when The Big One finally hits, something that will get us safely out of town through the ensuing chaos. Typically, I nominate the Wrangler Rubicon or Toyota 4Runner, vehicles we might actually be able to swing in terms of price, while she fantasizes about owning a Land Rover Range Rover.
Now that we’ve spent a week with the 2013 Lexus GX 460, it could potentially make that list of best doomsday vehicles, though the fancy side steps that make it possible for preschoolers to climb aboard like they’re scaling Mt. Everest sure do limit this vehicle’s maximum breakover angle. And the GX’s ground clearance measures 8.1 inches, which is half a foot less than a Subaru Forester.
What’s breakover angle? What’s ground clearance? Hmmm. Maybe you’d be better off reading our review of the Lexus RX 350.
Breakover angle is the maximum angle between the tires and the mid-point of a vehicle’s underside, while ground clearance is the maximum distance between the ground and the lowest part of the vehicle’s underside. Each is a key measurement for making assumptions about off-roading capability, and neither is particularly impressive for the GX, which is based on the same platform as the 4Runner and a model called the Land Cruiser Prado, which is sold in other parts of the world.
While it is true that few people require serious off-road capability, big, heavy, tough, fuel-swilling SUVs like the Lexus GX still have their place in a world where major cities go bankrupt and unfunded projects to repair or replace aging infrastructure threaten rip an axle off of a wimpy crossover. That’s one reason why I elected to test the GX on the grid of pavement known as L.A.’s Koreatown, where years of neglect have left city streets a rumpled patchwork of blacktop and concrete.
The other reason? Most Lexus GX 460s spend far more time on pavement than they do in the dirt.
2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
It’s pretty easy to buy a Lexus GX 460. First, decide if you want the standard GX 460 ($54,690) or the GX 460 Premium ($59,485). The Premium includes a few items that are unavailable for the base version, such as an Adaptive Variable Suspension with rear auto-leveling, headlight washers, and special trim finishes. Otherwise, items that are standard for the Premium model are optional for the base model.
Any GX 460 can be upgraded with Intuitive Park Assist, a hard-drive navigation system, a Mark Levinson premium surround sound audio system, Lexus Enform telematics, and a rear-seat entertainment system. The GX 460 Premium is exclusively available with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, a Pre-Collision System, a Driver Attention Monitor, Lane Departure Alert, intelligent high-beam headlights, Crawl Control, and a Front and Side Camera system. Load a GX with all the goodies, and the price tag approaches $75,000.
My test sample was the standard GX 460 in Starfire Pearl with Ecru leather and Auburn Bubinga wood trim. Options included a Navigation and Mark Levinson Audio Package, a Comfort Plus Package (premium semi-aniline leather, triple-zone automatic climate control, heated rear seats, wood-rimmed steering wheel, wood-trimmed shift knob), and Intuitive Park Assist. The price tag came to $60,520 including a destination charge of $895.
2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Design
- New SportDesign option package
The Lexus GX is one of only two models in the automaker’s 2013 lineup that does not have the new spindle-style grille design, and the other model, the Lexus IS, has been redesigned for 2014 and is already on sale. That means the GX is likely due for a design update in a matter of months. Or it means the GX is living on borrowed time.
Given that the GX is the least-expensive 7-passenger Lexus suv, for now, it is probably going to remain in the lineup. Still, with its body-on-frame construction, thirsty V-8 engine, and rugged drivetrain components, the GX 460 reflects a serious disconnect between what Lexus buyers likely want in a three-row SUV and what the GX 460 actually is.
Swollen and swept fenders give the GX some much-needed character, though they bulge out so much that it almost looks like the SUV has been T-boned in a collision. Lexus adds a bit of extra flair with oversized lighting elements and lots of chrome on the grille, but otherwise this is a purposeful and utilitarian design. An optional SportDesign Package adds a mesh F Sport grille and different wheels with a Liquid Silver finish to help tone down the glam.
Inside, the GX looks too much like a Toyota. Though traditional Lexus leather and wood are clearly evident, the GX’s T-shaped dashboard is trimmed with silver plastic that looks like it came out of a Camry. The dull, plain, matte-finish power window switches would be barely acceptable in a Yaris, and the glove box door is identical to a 4Runner. Many of the GX 460’s other bits and pieces appear to have been sourced from corporate communal parts bin, too.
That said, my wife loved being inside of the GX, so what do I know? I will say this: At night, the GX demonstrates the brand’s traditionally excellent illumination in bright, clear, white light.
2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- No changes for 2013
One reason my wife liked the GX’s cabin is that the front seats are very comfortable, supportive and firm without being hard and stiff. A range of power adjustment makes it easy to find a proper seating position, and occupants sit tall with a terrific view forward. In my test vehicle, the heated and ventilated seats were wrapped in soft, perforated semi-aniline leather.
The second-row seat is comfortable, too, and can accommodate three adults. Thigh support is not as good as it is up front, but occupants don’t sit too low and enjoy generous legroom and space for feet under the front seats. My test SUV’s optional triple-zone climate control system and heated outboard seats improved comfort, and because the GX sits so high off the ground, it is super simple to load kids into child safety seats. Just don’t smack your shins into the running boards.
A third-row seat is standard, and accommodates adults for very short trips. However, in order for grown-ups to sit in the third-row seat, passengers in the second-row must slide their seats forward to help share legroom. Entry to and exit from the third-row seat is difficult at best, despite step rails and a tilt/sliding right rear seat.
Most people are likely to keep the third-row seats folded down, using the GX as a 5-passenger vehicle. That’s because cargo space behind the third row measures a paltry 11.6 cu.-ft. With the third-row seats folded, the GX supplies 46.7 cu.-ft. of cargo volume. Fold the second-row seats to maximize cargo space, but the GX can tackle just 64.7 cu.-ft. of cargo, substantially less than a Toyota RAV4.
If cargo space is somewhat challenging, loading the GX can be difficult. It is equipped with a cargo door instead of a liftgate, and that cargo door needs about five feet of space behind the SUV in order for it to open. Plus, the gate opens toward the curb, making it very hard and somewhat dangerous to use when parallel parked on a busy street. Lexus does provide a glass window that opens separately from the cargo door, but unless you’re tall, this doesn’t help much.
2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- No changes for 2013
The Lexus GX’s silver interior plastic, Auburn Bubinga wood, smoked climate control panel and digital display, hidden CD changer controls, and industrial dashboard design remind me of what high-tech home entertainment systems looked like back in the 1990s. But if the Lexus GX looks old on the inside, it is also refreshingly simple to understand and operate.
Large buttons and knobs are clearly labeled in large text using English words or abbreviations. The navigation system employs crisp graphics and is surrounded by huge function buttons. And though I’ve made a couple of wisecracks about the yester-tech look and clear relationship to Toyotas, the GX’s cabin definitely demonstrates how interior designers should use all of the space available to enlarge controls and markings in order to simplify the operation of what is often complex technology. The only ergonomic flaw that I could detect is that I kept hitting my knee on the large power/volume stereo button, turning the system off.
For what is, at its heart, a utilitarian vehicle, the Lexus GX could use improved storage solutions. The forward storage bin in front of the gear selector is deep but equipped with a small opening, and it lacks a liner that could reduce rattles. The center console has a loose piece of felt sitting in the bottom, resembling a shred of something your child might bring home from a pre-school project. This is supposed to reflect the relentless pursuit of perfection?
2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- No changes for 2013
There are four notable standard safety features for the Lexus GX 460. This SUV is equipped with 10 standard airbags, a reversing camera, Downhill Assist Control, and one year of Safety Connect service, which includes an Emergency Assistance SOS Button and Automatic Collision Notification.
Oddly, additional safety technologies are available exclusively for the more expensive GX 460 Premium, and then only as part of a special-order option package. They include intelligent high-beam headlights, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with a Pre-Collision System, a Lane Departure Alert system, a Driver Attention Monitoring system, and a Wide View Front and Side Monitoring system.
2013 Lexus GX Crash-Test Ratings:
Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed crash tests on the Lexus GX.
2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- No changes
Every Lexus GX 460 is equipped with a 4.6-liter V-8 engine making 301 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 329 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm. It powers a 5,305-pound SUV, and is rated to tow up to 6,500 pounds of trailer. A 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift gate delivers power to all four of the SUV’s wheels through a full-time 4-wheel-drive system with a limited-slip differential and an electronic differential lock. Hill Start Assist Control and Downhill Assist Control are standard.
According to the EPA, the Lexus GX drains its 23-gallon fuel tank at a rate of 17 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 16.4 mpg in an even mix of city and highway driving. Do the math, and you’ll be feeding this SUV about $100 of premium unleaded for every 400 miles driven.
2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
Given the GX 460’s corporate lineage and off-roading pedigree, I figured there was little point in seeing how much damage I could do to my test SUV’s running boards in the mountains above Malibu. Instead, I ventured into the urban jungle where most GX models tread.
Drive a normal car on L.A. surface streets, sticking to the lanes commonly employed by buses and delivery trucks, and you’ll risk a flat tire or a bent rim, or both, especially following a rainy season. Roads composed of hard concrete and soft blacktop, subjected to summer heat, and then traveled by heavily laden vehicles, have a way of heaving and twisting into unnatural formations. Some of the worst are in the Koreatown area, so that’s where I went to test the GX 460’s 4-wheel independent Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System.
Equipped with 18-inch wheels wrapped in P265/60 mud-and-snow tires, I wasn’t really surprised by how the GX pounded the lousy road surfaces into submission. Occupants are not isolated from the bumps, but the impacts are muted and the GX rides over them with a heft and authority that makes this SUV feel like it takes more than Wilshire Boulevard to bring it to its knees.
Lexus says the 4.6-liter V-8 accelerates this behemoth to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, and I can say that the refined engine proves eager to help the driver take advantage of holes in traffic. The brakes are responsive, too, and easy to modulate in stop-and-go driving. But there’s plenty of weight to bring to a stop, and that’s occasionally accompanied by drama.
As is common with vehicles designed for serious off-road travel, the GX’s steering is somewhat heavy and slow to respond, and this didn’t help the SUV to feel more nimble or athletic in L.A.’s narrow traffic lanes. Also, on several occasions while threading the big Lexus through lunch-hour hubbub, I wished for a blind spot monitoring system and a lane departure warning system.
On the freeway, it takes awhile to get used to the GX 460’s slow steering response and what feels like a significant amount of on-center play. However, the ride quality is generally excellent, thanks again to the thick tires and tough underpinnings, and this is also a quiet vehicle. Despite its brick-shaped profile, the GX slips through the air with a lower coefficient of drag than the new SRT Viper.
In case you’re wondering, I did take the GX 460 out onto a twisty road, but the less said about that experience, the better.
2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
Here’s the problem with the Lexus GX 460. Consumers go to the Lexus dealership and say: “I want a luxury suv with three rows of seats because sometimes I need to pick up my sister’s kids from daycare.” (Or whatever. You get the point.)
Then the Lexus dealership says, leading the customer to the GX: “We’ve got just what you’re looking for, right here.”
Thing is, the GX isn’t what they’re looking for. It’s a truck with plenty of talent, but that talent is not suited to this buyer. This customer wants the Lexus version of a Toyota Highlander, not a luxed-up off-road warrior.
I know what you’re thinking. Land Rovers sell in big numbers to people with zero intention of exploring their off-roading capabilities. That’s true. But people buy Land Rovers for the styling, and for the cachet associated with the brand’s pedigree, and because most of them don’t compromise on-road dynamics for off-road capability. And if the buyer is looking for something that can tow, or go off-roading, Land Rover still wins that customer with superior towing capability and heroic backcountry performance capability.
I have a solution for the problem. Turn the Lexus GX 460 into a Toyota Land Cruiser, giving Americans cheaper access to a brand icon and giving luxury buyers more reason to get the Lexus LX 570. Then, take the new 2014 Highlander, give it Lexus styling, more power, greater technology, and bespoke luxury amenities, and call it the new GX.
2013 Lexus GX 460 Luxury SUV Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Off-road hardware and technology
- Comfortable front and second-row seats
- Responsive and refined V-8 engine
- Heavy and thirsty
- Inconvenient cargo access
- Safety equipment exclusive to Premium model
Lexus supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Lexus GX 460 photos by Christian Wardlaw