As far as test drives go, my week with the 2020 Lexus GX, despite being completely coincidental, proved pretty serendipitous.
Sandwiched between time spent with the Audi Q8 and BMW X7, two of the newest premium SUVs on the market, it’s obvious that the GX is more than a little long in the tooth. After all, it was introduced in its current form a decade ago, with only two mild updates over the years, one of which is new for 2020. That means the bulk of this thing dates back to Barack Obama’s first year as president of the United States. All of which to say, it got me thinking: Is there still a place for an outdated SUV like this Lexus?
Driving Feel: 7/10
The short answer is yes. To take nothing away from the aforementioned Audi or BMW, what they bring to the table in terms of ride and handling simply isn’t for everyone. As sport utilities – especially premium ones – become ever more car-like in the way they drive, surely there’s at least a small percentage of shoppers who yearn for the good ol’ days of a chunky and clunky drive. That’s where the GX comes in.
It’s not quite as refined as its more modern counterparts, but that’s because it’s a traditional body-on-frame SUV. If you’re after a ride that’s more pickup truck than posh sedan, you’ll find it here. To say nothing about ride quality and comfort – we’ll get to that momentarily – there’s no mistaking the way the GX feels.
Climbing into it isn’t without its challenges, but it’s somewhat rewarding as you plant your foot on the running board and use the pillar-mounted handle to haul yourself inside. The way the V8 engine under the hood roars to life on start-up is a lost art of aural pleasure, a reminder of the way things once were – and, indeed, can still be for those craving some nostalgia in a new vehicle. And the solid feel beneath you as the GX rolls down the road is something very few vehicles today offer.
Despite its road presence, the GX is a cooperative companion that’s deceivingly easy to drive. There isn’t much in the way of steering feel, but it’s easy to operate despite the sheer size of the GX (it measures 4,805 mm from tip to tail and is nearly as wide as it is tall).
Those sizeable dimensions also help the GX make a statement when it comes to outward appearance. Helping this 2020 edition stand apart from the two versions before it – not to mention the pair of variants of the first-generation that looked pretty similar – are some new styling treatments outside, including a cheese grater applique to the huge spindle grille.
Inside, it’s the same old GX of yesteryear, with a time capsule of a cabin that’s almost identical to the 2010 version. Some of the plastics inside look and feel cheap and outdated – particularly the stuff that surrounds the centre stack – but the leather upholstery is buttery soft while still feeling durable. Bonus points for my tester’s gorgeous shade of red inside that gives the understated space some flair.
User Friendliness: 9/10
If you’re looking for a reminder of what luxury SUVs were like a decade ago, this is it. That’s a helluva long time in this business, and it certainly shows inside the GX – but that’s not all bad news. Take the centre stack and console, for example. While some of the plastics aren’t quite up to expectations in an $80,000 vehicle, the buttons and controls are clearly labelled and easy to understand and use.
While the premium market is busy embracing capacitive and haptic touch for most controls, the GX sticks to tried-and-true buttons for climate and infotainment functions. Better still, it does so without Lexus’ finicky and unfriendly trackpad, saving the space next to the shift lever for the various suspension and four-wheel drive system switches. More on those later.
Smack in the centre of all those Arial font-adorned buttons [The typeface is called Nobel. –Ed.] is a touchscreen infotainment system that is easily the GX’s least-impressive feature. Outdated to say the least, the interface is slow to respond to commands – whether through the touch of a finger or the push of a button – and is aggravating to use. Worse still, there’s no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
A navigation system is standard fare, but the graphics are vintage MapQuest (to stick to the presidential theme, we’re talking Clinton-era here). It also struggled to find some addresses and points of interest during my week with it, causing further frustration as I searched out landmarks that Google Maps made quick work of.
Aside from the absence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, most desirable features are here, including a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated second-row seats. Other creature comforts include tri-zone automatic air conditioning, a 17-speaker stereo, and an available entertainment system in the second row.
LED lighting is equipped all around, while rain-sensing wipers do a nice job of keeping the windshield clear without driver intervention. There’s also load-levelling rear air suspension, which helps when towing, as do self-levelling headlights. (The GX is rated to tow 6,500 lb, which falls short of more modern sport utilities but is more than adequate for a vehicle like this.)
There’s also a host of off-road goodies, including hydraulic sway bars that improve suspension articulation, and a trail-monitoring system that uses various exterior cameras to keep an eye on obstacles on the trail.
New for 2020 are standard advanced safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic emergency braking, though it’s not a full-featured suite and doesn’t offer lane-keep assist. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are also standard.
Much of what’s offered in this regard looks and feels dated compared to other offerings on the market, premium or mainstream, but it all functions fine – though not without fuss. For example, while the proximity sensor sensitivity can be adjusted, the incessant beeping in a drive-thru line can be maddening.
When it comes to practicality, the GX is really in its element. There’s no need to tread lightly here, with the cabin feeling substantial and like it’s ready for family life. There’s just a sense of usability to the interior that makes it feel like it’s ready to withstand the abuses of day-to-day life in a way most other premium vehicles simply don’t.
It’s more like a rec room on wheels than a formal living room, and it’s easy to get comfortable inside. Adding to that vibe of livability is the aforementioned rear-seat entertainment system, which gives passengers in the second row separate screens on the front seatbacks to watch whatever media source they choose, while also offering the ability to control the vehicle’s stereo system via remote control.
Getting comfortable on a road trip shouldn’t be a problem in the back, with the spacious second row offering adequate room for children or adults – though the third row poses its share of problems. Like most three-row SUVs, it’s unlikely the rearmost row of seats will be used with much frequency, but accessing them when necessary involves a level of contortion that makes the otherwise spacious cabin feel suddenly cramped.
Those relegated to the third row can get there via two methods: Fold either outboard second-row seat flat, or tilt the seatback to its maximum 45 degrees and slide it forward. Regardless of method, the second row can’t be moved in any way that doesn’t necessitate high-stepping one’s way inside. Once there, it’s far from rewarding, with cramped quarters that should be reserved for only the smallest passengers.
Graciously, the third-row seats can be folded with the flick of a couple of switches, revealing a flat load floor – though it’s one that stands quite tall. There’s 1,322 L of cargo room with the third row stowed, with a big and boxy space for stuff. Use of the cargo area also takes some strategic parking, with the tailgate swinging open on a passenger-side hinge. However, the glass can be opened separately – and more traditionally – when needed.
Moving on, it’s where the pavement ends that the GX really comes into its own. The best way to think of the GX is like a baby Land Cruiser with a Lexus badge, so all the basics of an off-road warrior are present: Good ground clearance, decent approach and departure angles, and a rear air suspension that can be raised at the flick of a switch on the centre console.
This is also where the GX’s hydraulic sway bars come in handy, providing added stiffness on the road for reduced body roll while offering the ability to disconnect on the trail for improved suspension articulation.
The same Executive Package that includes the rear-seat entertainment – as well as a centre-console cooler and 19-inch alloy wheels – also adds extra skid plates, a transmission cooler, as well as a crawl control system that’s been upgraded for 2020 for even more capability on the trail.
Narrow trails can be tricky in a sport utility of this stature, but the GX’s trail-monitoring system comes in handy when it comes to avoiding obstacles, while the proper four-wheel drive system with high and low gearing, as well as the locking centre differential, ensures getting over them isn’t a problem either.
Simply put, the GX is one of the most confident off-roaders I’ve ever had the pleasure of piloting on a trail, with a surefootedness that’s hard to match. Contributing to that confidence were the winter tires my tester was fitted with, helping make quick work of the snow-covered trails I traversed. And it did it all with an ease of operation that’s hard to find in other hardcore off-roaders.
Another area the GX shows its age is under the hood. While the rest of the market moves to turbocharged engines that make big numbers, the burly Lexus is powered by a true classic: A naturally aspirated V8. To say this thing’s the last of a dying breed is certainly an understatement, and the GX is better for it. The 4.6L makes 301 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque, neither number doing much to impress on paper, but the way both are employed is silky smooth.
It’s not just the engine that’s serene, as the six-speed automatic transmission it’s paired to is equally adept at bringing a zen-like quality to the drive. Most shifts are all but imperceptible under normal acceleration, switching cogs with the precision of a Swiss-made watch.
Fuel Economy: 5/10
The only real downside to the engine comes at the pumps, with the GX sucking back 91-octane at a high rate. Over the course of a little more than 600 kilometres together, my tester returned an average of 15.7 L/100 km. But the worst part is that figure is barely off the official Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) combined consumption rating of 14.5 L/100 km, this despite my time spent off-roading on a frigidly cold day.
While the rear air suspension comes in handy on the trail, it also contributes to a tremendously comfortable ride on the road. With the adaptive dampers set to the aptly named Comfort mode, the GX cruises along with a vintage kind of poise that’s hard to match.
Out on the open road, the GX is a smooth operator, and it rolls down the pavement like it’s riding on a cloud. Contributing to that smoothness is the silky powertrain, which makes effortless work of passing situations. Acceleration isn’t exactly swift, but it’s so smooth and linear and unlike just about anything else on the market.
It’s hard to imagine buying an $80,000 SUV to go off-roading in, and that’s about the only major stumbling block the GX encounters. Starting at $75,950 before freight and fees, the GX’s age comes back to haunt it when the missing or outdated features are taken into account. Further hurting its value proposition is the $6,000 it costs to add the Executive Package, pushing the price tag to $84,125 with destination and A/C tax. However, those looking for a unique level of capability won’t find much else on the market like the Lexus GX, making the price seem almost reasonable.
Providing a presence like few other vehicles on the market, the 2020 Lexus GX is sure to stand out while offering an interior that’s nearly as luxurious as other SUVs of its ilk. In fact, I’d even go so far as to declare it an improved infotainment system away from being the perfect premium SUV.
Forget the tough-as-nails attitude or the ability to tackle some serious trails, because the best part about the GX is that it feels substantial. A decade after it launched, the GX can still stand up to everything from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and it’s hard to find a better all-purpose premium sport utility.
|Peak Horsepower||301 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||329 hp @ 3,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||16.2/12.3/14.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||330 L/1,322 L behind 3rd/2nd row|
|Model Tested||2020 Lexus GX 460 w/Executive Package|
|Price as Tested||$84,125|
$6,000 – Executive Package, $6,000