2014 Lexus GX 460 review: Lexus GX's update is only skin-deep

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.0
  • Cabin tech: 7.0
  • Performance tech: 6.0
  • Design: 8.0
Review Date:

The Good The 2014 Lexus GX's Enform infotainment puts various destination search, audio streaming, and reservation apps at the driver's fingertips. The optional Mark Levinson surround audio system continues to impress. A full range of driver aid alerts are available as part of a tech package.

The Bad Neither the 4.6-liter V-8's power nor its efficiency were particularly impressive. The Enform system's map graphics were lower-quality than those in other Lexus SUVs we've tested.

The Bottom Line With its new appearance, 2014 Lexus GX 460 is a competent full-size luxury SUV, but its powertrain and dashboard tech could also use an update to keep up with the competition.

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It's hard to talk about the 2014 Lexus GX 460 without drawing comparisons between it and its stablemate, the LX 570. The large, block-shaped SUVs appear similar in pictures, so its easy to assume that Lexus is overlapping itself.

However, the GX 460 Luxury model that I tested feels like a better fit for the road. Its slightly smaller footprint, better fuel economy, and lower initial and operating costs may make it a better choice. If you're looking to spend significant time off-road, it may be beneficial to look upmarket to the LX, but for the vast majority of luxury SUV drivers who occasionally need to haul or tow things and only need light, trail off-road capability, the GX is worth a look.

This 2014 model gets an update that stretches the brand's trademark spindle grille over its boxy front end. The result is more handsome than I expected it to be, printing better in person than it does in my photographs. However, the changes for 2014 are largely skin deep; underneath, it still uses a similar powertrain to the one this generation debuted with in 2009 and a slightly older version of the Enform tech than its contemporaries in the Lexus lineup.

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The 4.6-liter V-8 is a low tech, but hopefully reliable engine. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

4.6-liter V-8 engine

Under the hood is Lexus' 4.6-liter V-8 engine -- a workhorse, but not necessarily an impressive engine. The 4.6 lacks direct injection, cylinder deactivation tech, and stop-start anti-idling tech; it's about as simple as V-8s come these days. As a result, the EPA estimated 15 city mpg, 20 highway mpg, and 17 combined mpg isn't much to brag about.

I finished my week-long and highway-heavy testing cycle at an average of 16.8 mpg, so at the very least Lexus' estimates are fairly spot on with what you can expect in the real world.

Fuel goes in, power comes out, and the 2014 GX 460 outputs a stated 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque, which again isn't as impressive as it sounds when you consider that BMW and Acura state similar outputs with their smaller, more efficient V-6 engines. However, there's more to an engine than just the numbers, so we'll come back to this point shortly.

That engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission -- the only gearbox available -- and ultimately Lexus' full-time four-wheel drive system. The transmission features a standard, economy tuned program, but also sport and manual shift programs accessible by sliding the shift lever left from the "D" position.

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The six-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

In the standard drive mode, the GX's 4.6-liter V-6 feels like it's actively restraining itself. I expect a bit of lag in throttle responsiveness from large SUVs with large V-8s, but the GX felt particularly hesitant to change speeds when its throttle pedal was nudged. In the pros column, the standard program's tendency to short shift each gear keeps the revs low, which keeps the engine running quite quietly. Meanwhile, the V-8's plentiful torque and the heavy chassis' high inertia makes the GX an effortless highway cruiser.

Slapping the shifter into Sport mode doesn't magically transform the GX into a sports car, but it does noticeably enliven V-8's performance. This mode allows the transmission to hold each gear longer, which allows the engine to rev higher into its range and put more power and responsiveness at the driver's toe-tip. The GX accelerates much more readily, the hesitation of the standard drive program somewhat loosened.

Zero to 60 mph happens in a reasonable 7.8 seconds when the GX's driver is really trying hard, but the trade-off is a loud, vacuum-cleaner-like engine note when accelerating (it's fairly unpleasant) and reduced fuel economy.

Adaptive suspension with rear height control

The GX's performance is dictated as much by its suspension as it is by the V-8. Our GX 460 "Luxury" model features an adaptive suspension with three different damper control modes and three different ride height settings.

The driver can select between the suspension's Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings by flipping a toggle on the center console, just starboard of the shift lever. Comfort is the softest suspension setting, Normal is the default, and Sport, naturally, provides the firmest ride.

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At the flip of a switch, active dampers give the driver the choice between Normal, Sport, and Comfort ride quality. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

However, in practice, the three modes don't feel THAT much different when driven at regular speeds in a straight line. The SUV's truck-like ladder frame and high center of gravity mean that its passengers get bounced around over the poorly maintained roads. The Sport mode makes undulating highway expansion joints feel just a hair more pronounced, where the Comfort mode seems to float boatlike over them.

Tuck the GX into a bend and the differences between the programs becomes more pronounced. Between Sport and Comfort, there is a marked reduction in lean when rounding a back road bend and just a hair less squat and dive when accelerating and decelerating. Again, you're not going to flip a switch and transform the SUV, but there is an effect.

There's less of an effect from the ride height control system, which has three settings accessible via another toggle on the center console. For starters, the air suspension of the GX only affects the height of the rear suspension, as opposed to the LX's system, which raises or lowers all four corners. As a result, the GX's suspension doesn't really have much influence over the GX's approach or departure angles for steep inclines.

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