2014 Lexus GX 460 Driving Impressions


The Lexus GX cruises smooth and unstressed on the level freeway, turning just 1500 rpm at 60 mph and 2000 rpm at 80, with a long-legged overdrive in the 6-speed transmission. On freeway hills, the 4.6-liter V8 has to work more, as the transmission kicks down a gear, and when it does you feel gas being sucked to gain that acceleration. The engine makes 301 horsepower, and by today's standards that's not a lot for a vehicle that weighs 5340 pounds.

Its 329 pound-feet of torque peaks at 3500 rpm, well into the transmission kick-down territory. With torque coming that high in the rev range, it's good that the gears in the transmission are fairly close ratio, although that makes a bigger gap between 5th gear and that 6th gear overdrive.

Lexus says the GX 460 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds and will do a quarter-mile in 16.6 seconds, and maybe it will, but it doesn't feel that quick to the seat of our pants.

On patchy curvy freeway at 70 mph, the GX wanted to move in big, slow twitches, even with thick ant-sway bars. We got used to it. And it bounced more than we've come to expect from luxury SUVs; but that's old-school body-on-frame for you. The tradeoff is it's more rugged.

The chassis shows its truck roots in the city, as well. We would not call it nimble. Potholes and speed bumps are swallowed by the suspension. The GX is one of those vehicles that takes speedbumps better if you don't slow way down. But elsewhere in the city the chassis shows it truck roots. Patches and uneven pavement make it jiggle, not helped by 60-series tires on 18-inch wheels and the thick anti-sway bars used to control the GX in corners.

The truckness goes away when you put your foot on the brake pedal, as the four-wheel discs respond to light pressure. Under hard braking the nose dives a bit, but after all it is tall and heavy. We'd say the front-to-rear balance is good.

Cornering is good for a vehicle this size, as long as the road is smooth. The body roll is well controlled by the same stout anti-sway bars, allowing the GX to track through corners predictably without need for correction, and the stiff wheel and tire combination works to enhance stability.

The GX 460 uses electric power steering, whose feedback some say is less sharp than old-school hydraulic, but the system has big advantages in packaging and fuel mileage. The GX's speed-sensitive steering has a good range, delivering good turn-in at slow corners and stable tracking through smooth sweepers. The GX is not the kind of vehicle that inspires us to toss into corners, but it doesn't wobble.

The GX is always in four-wheel drive, invisibly. Even during slow maneuvering, there's no sense of torque steer, nor is there scuffing or binding at full-lock, which happens with some systems. The GX continuously adjusts power to individual wheels via its torque-sensing center differential. Traction is enhanced with the system Lexus calls A-TRAC, which quickly controls slipping on surfaces like wet grass or slippery pavement.

Finding a level spot, we actuated low range using a small lever just below the shifter, and saw that it nicked in and out of 4-Lo immediately. It's necessary to enter Neutral to access low range, but short of that, its additional 2.57:1 gear reduction is available practically on-the-fly. Because of the gearing, and the adoption of KDSS, the Lexus GX 460 is one of the very few mid-size SUVs with genuine off-road capability.

KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) has been in the Lexus toolbox since 2005. It's a remarkable electronically controlled system that unhinges one end of the anti-sway bars that would normally limit wheel travel. Limiting wheel travel is a good thing on pavement, but off-road, the opposite is desirable. KDSS offers a way to have the best of both worlds. It works automatically, without driver intervention, any time a wheel is lifted off the terrain while the vehicle is in low range. We've tested the system in the past on the Toyota Land Cruiser, and found it dramatically improves a vehicle's ability to avoid getting stuck while crossing highly irregular terrain.

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