We test this fossil to try to dig up something new.
It’s so easy to lose track of time. One week melts into the next until February becomes July and you look back and think, “What the heck happened?” I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. Lexus definitely does, too.
Case in point: the 2020 Lexus GX 460. In automotive terms, it isn’t just old, it’s positively ancient—11 model years ancient, to be exact. Most sedans get redesigned every five years; SUVs and trucks get redone every six or seven laps around the sun. So it’s safe to say the GX is pretty well behind the curve.
But that doesn’t mean old things are inherently bad, so we took a look at this automotive artifact to see if it’s still relevant in 2020.
When you walk up to it, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess that this car has been in production since President Obama’s first year in office. Whereas most self-proclaimed SUVs now ride on modified car or minivan platforms, the GX remains one of the few rock-crawlers with old-school body-on-frame roots.
For 2020 the GX got a thorough, more handsome styling makeover, bringing it in line with the rest of the Lexus lineup in terms of design. Other detail changes amount to some new standard safety equipment, an optional off-road package (which our test vehicle had), a new transmission cooler, and two USB ports in the back. Exciting stuff, I know.
Step inside, however, and the GX’s old bones immediately become apparent. The Lexus infotainment system is from a completely different era. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility, and the center stack is clad in some pretty chintzy plastic. There’s a bit of exposed wood here and there, and the front seats are exceptionally comfortable, but beyond that the interior of this beast is in dire need of a complete overhaul to make it feel modern.
I say beast because it is. The GX is a monster of an SUV—and it’s not even the biggest one Lexus makes. The last time we weighed one, it came in at a hefty 5,211 pounds. It’s also 16 feet long and nearly as wide as a school bus. Yet third-row legroom is cramped at best. Combine that girth with its old 301-hp 4.6-liter V-8, and the Lexus’ mpg suffers. According to the EPA, the GX 460 gets 15/19/16 mpg city/highway/combined.
Put all these things together, and the big Lexus becomes one heck of a conundrum. Why would anyone pay $54,000-$73,000 for something this old, inefficient, and seemingly so out of touch with what modern-day SUV buyers want? I was really starting to doubt the validity of the GX 460 and wondered why Lexus hadn’t retired the old dog entirely.
Then, as if by sheer bad timing alone, an opportunity presented itself. In April and early May, California’s Antelope Valley is awash with what’s colloquially known as the “super bloom.” The annual California poppy explosion emerges across hundreds of acres of land, and families flock to the poppy reserve to witness what is a truly incredible sight. According to Instagram, this year’s bloom was incredible, and I thought, as a last hoorah before I gave the Lexus back, I’d take a trip there to see the poppies for myself.
I wrangled a few friends who accompanied me in a 2018 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road—more on that in a moment—and we set off to see what might be left of the bloom. In short, we were too late. All the poppies had already died off, and I was left to think about how I was going to spend the day if I couldn’t frolic in the fields. Well, as luck would have it, there are a plethora of places to go off-roading all over Antelope Valley. Any of them would give the GX 460 a shot at redemption. What could this barge do when taken off the beaten track? I was about to find out.
First, to the trails. The Lexus and its full-time four-wheel-drive system mowed through the dirt and sand with ease, even if I did feel chagrined about possibly scratching its Atomic Silver paint with some desert pinstriping. After a short drive we arrived at some hills that overlook the would-be poppy fields. Most folks would have to make their way up these inclines on foot because boulders present an obstacle to anything that isn’t tall or well suited to the climb. But the GX skipped up the hill like a 5,200-pound mountain goat with leather seats.
Not once during the entire day did the Lexus get stuck in sand, protest steep climbs, slide down somewhat treacherous descents, or even seem to mind the massive potholes that littered the dirt roads. My off-roading abilities are closer to those of an average consumer than Ironman Stewart, but the GX and I scampered through it all with ease. What’s more, I didn’t even need to use the low-range gearbox or the crawl controls the off-road package supplies.
Back to that Tacoma. You might think the midsize pickup (specifically, in off-road guise) would be able to go places the Lexus couldn’t during our little adventure. However, everything the Tacoma did, the GX did too, but with an added degree of comfort I’m certain was missing in the pickup’s cabin. The optional cooled seats, for example, were a blessing on that scorching afternoon. The Mark Levinson sound system blasted Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” into my eardrums as I fueled my inner hair-metal rebel.
The GX made it all too easy, on trails and paths that 90 percent of Lexus owners would encounter and say, “No, thanks.” The ride off-road was a touch bouncy at times, but on the whole I found the Lexus controlled its considerable mass well. Grip was ever-present, too. Even on normal, all-season tires, the GX never wanted for traction. After three hours of continuous off-roading, I was starting to see the light.
During my day out in the dirt, the old GX made good. All the compromises that make it difficult to live with during everyday transport on tarmac and asphalt—like its firm ride and extremely heavy steering—finally made sense to me. Even if I didn’t push the Lexus near its limits that day, I realized the GX 460 is a supremely capable luxury-oriented SUV.
That said, there are certainly more current, capable, and luxurious SUVs out there (a decade is forever in car-development R&D), and many of them will happily take you off pavement, too. If your pockets aren’t deep enough for the Lexus, you can opt for its cheaper, platform mate, the Toyota 4Runner—but you suffer a smaller engine and narrower cabin, and lose all the luxe trim.
That leaves us back where we started. Does this SUV from the naughts have a place in 2020? Yes, it’s an imperfect yet worthy companion. But if you buy one of these and never take it off-road, you’re missing the point entirely.
|2020 Lexus GX 460|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||4.6L/301-hp/329-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,150-5,200 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||192.1 x 74.2 x 73.8-74.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||15/19/16 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||225/177 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.17 lb/mile (est)|