A full day of holiday travel and endless miscommunication, mix-ups, and general SNAFUs all the way from Los Angeles to my familial home in Dallas, and the rear hatch of my fresh-from-the-wrapper 2020 Lexus GX460 wouldn’t budge. I heard something unlock in the hatch area when I used the key fob, but the liftgate remained an unyielding bulwark. My phone’s harsh white LED flashlight failed to uncover a door handle, button, pad – anything – to open the door manually. I swallowed my pride somewhere around the third top-to-bottom canvass of the GX interior and called my close friend who is a bit of an expert on the breed. My profanity-laced question was met with immediate laughter: “It’s a side-opening door. It swings out!”
Welcome to the 2020 Lexus GX460, a full-size SUV that’s simultaneously one of the strangest and most traditional vehicles in Lexus’ lineup. For the record, the feckless whining above is a “me” problem, considering the fundamental design of the GX hasn’t changed in 18 model years. Until last month, this was the only blank spot in my Lexus repertoire; an omission that’s unsurprising given how I’m unable to recall the last time we had one in the office fleet.
A quick search on our site reveals I’m not the only one on staff who hasn’t driven the latest and greatest iteration of the GX. Aside from a handful of news posts on updated model lineups, the last time we reviewed an example was back in late 2016 – a test executed in Los Angeles a few months before I moved west from Michigan.
Despite the glaring omission from our fleet, it’s not like we’ve missed any major changes. The 2020 model year marks the largest refresh since 2013, now incorporating the latest Lexus spindle grille and triple-beam LED headlights. Lexus Safety System+ is now standard, adding pedestrian detection, lane departure, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. Aside from these alterations and some interior tweaks, it’s the same second-gen GX460 that’s been on the roads for a decade. This includes the unchanged 4.6-liter 1UR-FE V-8, cranking out 301 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque managed by a six-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel-drive.
Driving the GX in 2020 is an inscrutable experience. Aside from parent company Toyota, I struggle to think of any other automaker who offers two distinctly different full-sized body-on-frame V-8 three-row SUVs, let alone another luxury automaker. Everyone else has gone the way of unibody, wagon-ish soft-roaders that have more in common with their car and hatchback offerings than a truck. Even so, manufacturers go to great lengths to make sure these vehicular soap bars drive less like SUVs and more like midsized sedans.
Not the GX460. It’s deliciously truck-ish, right down to the subtle body shake over divots and the roar of the mechanical cooling fan that drowns out all local conversation. That aforementioned 4.6-liter is a bit down on power compared to modern turbocharged V-6s, but the tradeoff is a wonderfully under-stressed powerplant that feels capable of reaching past the 350,000-mile mark without much more than regular oil changes. The transmission tends to resist downshifts, but the GX never feels sluggish, even loaded to the gills with passengers and luggage. If you’re abusive on the throttle, our sister brand Motor Trend’s instrumented testing found a 0-60 mph time of 7.4 seconds – just on the right side of average for a three-row SUV.
Where Lexus siblings NX and RX carefully manage snowy streets and dirt roads with front-biased all-wheel-drive, the GX is Sahara-ready with full-time four-wheel drive and a suite of 4×4 gizmos and goodies lifted directly from big-brother LX570. Half of the center console is occupied by 4×4 controls, and it’s not just for show, either – overseas, a less luxe version of the GX is marketed as the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, a truck renowned for both its dependability and mountain-crushing capabilities.
The bulging, lumpy design is hardly the comeliest in the SUV arena, but it’s more macho than its unibody competitors, and is inoffensive to the point of apathy. The GX’s bones may seemingly pre-date the woolly mammoth, but the interior isn’t nearly as outdated as reviews would have you believe. Yes, even the Rosetta Stone-era infotainment works well enough to pass muster, especially when coupled to this example’s top-shelf Mark Levinson sound system.
The materials on this loaded Luxury trim GX are excellent, and absolutely on-par with the rest of the Lexus lineup. Polished wood and frosted metal surfaces give way to soft touch plastic and rich semi-aniline leather, and the fetching Rioja Red upholstery and the sculpted steering wheel, both new for 2020. For the kiddos or fidgety adults riding in the middle row captain’s chairs, there’s a set of USB ports in addition to an optional dual-screen entertainment system.
My loaner also came equipped with the new-for-2020 Off-Road package, adding crawl control, a transmission cooler, a fuel-tank protector, and multi-terrain selection. Interesting additions, but nothing I made use of while hustling family members to and from airports, dinners, malls, and grandma’s house around the greater metropolitan Dallas area. In that arena, my family loved the big cushy GX, especially when it came time to hit the town; there was more than enough leg and headroom for everyone, and the increasingly craggy roads around my neighborhood were handily managed by the GX’ three-mode air suspension.
One particular unpleasant side-effect of the 18-year-old architecture was the horrific fuel economy. You can never accuse me of being a feather-footed driver, but even the most tender throttle operation will net you an EPA-rated 15 mpg city and an abysmal 19 mpg highway. Need some contrast? These figures are worse than a 2020 Ford F-150 with the 5.0-liter V-8 (17 city, 23 highway).
However, aside from a sore gas-pumping hand and a lack of Apple CarPlay, there wasn’t anything egregious to criticize on the GX. It’s far too easy to dismiss an older late-cycle model as a lumbering anachronism, but chances are, if it’s past the seven-year mark, the automaker is content to sell a set number of vehicles each year to a core customer base who really isn’t all that concerned with the latest tech. In other words, most GX buyers only consider the GX, because it’s essentially the same SUV they’ve bought every four years since 2002. Toyota, the company that in 2019 sold 10.6 million cars and operated on a revenue stream of $272 billion, has likely crunched the numbers and performed key consumer research on the GX, and a complete ground-up redesign may not pay sales dividends. Why ruin a good thing?
Really, I’m just happy that as the decade closes out and the industry faces an increasing onslaught of electrification, the big thumpin’ GX460 is still with us, to remind us why we liked red-blooded rough-and-tumble SUVs to begin with. Happy new year, GX460 – I hope I’ll see you in 2030.
|2020 Lexus GX460 Specifications|
|PRICE||$73,035 (as tested)|
|ENGINE||4.6L DOHC 32-valve naturally aspirated V-8/301 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 329 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm|
|LAYOUT||5-door, 6-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||15/19 (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||192.1 x 74.2 x 73.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.4 seconds|
|TOP SPEED||110 mph|