For good, and for bad, the GX is unique.
The recipe for building a competitive SUV has changed drastically over the past two decades. SUVs used to involve a body-on-frame architecture and a hulking V6 or V8 engine under the hood sending power through a four-wheel-drive transfer case. Today, the formula for SUVs involes taking a car platform, lifting it a few inches, possibly adding an electronic all-wheel-drive system, and calling it a crossover. As a result of this change, these modern vehicles feel more car-like to drive than their lumbering SUV predecessors from the 1990s and early 2000s; they are far more efficient and comfortable as well.
But a small market for "old school" SUVs still exists, and Lexus knows exactly how to fill it. The 2021 Lexus GX 460 is still very much an SUV by the old definition of the term. Last replaced with an all-new model back in 2010, the GX remains virtually unchanged aside from a minor update in the 2020 model year. CarBuzz recently tested the GX, and it quickly became apparent that it is nothing like any other SUV on the market. With a certain customer in mind, the GX is one-of-a-kind.
The GX, known elsewhere in the world as the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, is one of the last full-size body-on-frame vehicles left on sale in 2020. Like the Toyota 4Runner, which uses a related platform, the GX is a competent off-roader courtesy of its rugged design. The GX features a full-time 4WD system with a locking differential and low range, which helps it climb steep obstacles with ease. Drivers can raise the air suspension to provide additional ground clearance, and an optional off-road package adds a Multi-Terrain Monitor, Panoramic View Monitors, crawl control, a transmission cooler, fuel tank protector, and off-road drive modes.
We rarely complain about the Lexus spindle grille, but with the GX, it creates a tangible weakness. The GX boasts impressive off-road capability, but if you attempt to take it up obstacles that are too steep, that low-hanging spindle grille is likely to be torn off or damaged. Even in the highest suspension mode, the grille sits too low on the GX, as do the fixed running boards on the sides. Lexus built a cool Overlanding concept version of the GX called the GXOR (GX Off-Road), which solves the stock model's ground clearance issues; we'd like to see Lexus offer a special edition with parts from the GXOR.
Unlike most SUVs, the GX's tailgate swings to the side rather than up. It also features a piece of opening glass, which makes it easier to toss small items into the cargo area without opening the whole tailgate. While it's difficult to think of any particular reason why a side-opening trunk is superior to a standard one, it certainly adds a unique element to the GX.
Improved interior space is one of the most important benefits that a car-based crossover platform provides compared to a body-on-frame design. Although the GX is massive on the exterior, it is deceptively tight in the interior. Taller second-row occupants sit with their knees tucked into their chest and only receive a maximum of 34.1 inches of legroom in the sliding captain's chairs. To put this into perspective, the subcompact Kia Seltos boasts 38 inches of legroom in its back seat. The third-row is also tight, meaning only small children will be comfortable back there on long trips.
Likewise, the trunk space isn't lacking, but feels smaller than the GX's exterior dimensions would imply. With the third-row in place, the GX's cargo hold shrinks to just 11.6 cubic feet. Folding the third-row opens the space to an acceptable 46.7 cubic feet or 64.7 cubic feet with the second-row folded as well. As a show of how well-packaged modern crossovers stack up to old school SUVs, the subcompact Seltos offers up 62.8 cubic feet with its back seats folded, which is far off the fulls-size GX.
Modern crossovers typically employ small four-cylinder engines, often with the addition of turbocharging or hybridization. The GX shuns these modern innovations in favor of a 4.6-liter V8 that dates back to 2006. This V8 produces an uninspiring 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque, which is the same amount of power produced by the Toyota Camry's V6. The transmission is equally old fashioned, containing just six gears compared to most modern vehicles with eight or more.
This V8 may not be cutting edge in any way, but it pays dividends in smoothness, and a 6,500-pound towing capacity. And since this engine has been around for so long, it is proven to be among the most reliable engines on sale. There's something charming about how the GX's engine delivers power, too. You will pay at the pumps though, because the GX averages around 16 miles per gallon combined.
In the time since the GX was introduced back in 2010, the Lexus brand switch from touchscreens to a mouse-style controller, then created a new laptop-style trackpad, then re-introduced touchscreens back into the fold. All the while, the GX kept the same basic touchscreen unit it debuted with in 2010, which actually dates further back to around 2006. Modern features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are expectedly absent, but surprisingly, the GX's touchscreen is easier to navigate than the complicated infotainment system found elsewhere in the Lexus lineup.
If you prefer a simplistic tech experience ,the GX is right for you. In the back, you can even opt for one of those old fashioned rear entertainment system with monitors mounted on the back of the headrests. Lexus at least included modern inputs like an HDMI port, but the screens are so small, you'd be better of buying a pair of iPads for you kids to watch movies on.