Big SUVs may be out of favor because of their generally low fuel economy, but the 2010 Lexus GX 460 reminds us how comfortable it can be to cruise around in one of these behemoths. Lexus fits the GX 460 cabin in leather, soft plastics, and wood trim, and its third-row seats fold out of the cargo floor, letting the big vehicle transport seven people.
The 2010 GX 460 is the successor to the 2009 GX 470. With the GX 460, Lexus uses a more advanced variable-valve timing to downsize the engine yet increase horsepower and fuel economy. However, don't expect a dramatic difference in fuel economy. Weighing in at 5,305 pounds, the engine has a lot of metal to move. Mated to its six-speed-automatic transmission, the engine turns in EPA fuel economy ratings of 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. In our driving, we averaged 16.2 mpg through city, freeway, and mountain roads.
Putting our green concerns aside, we climbed into the cabin, and we literally mean climbed, as the height necessitated using the running board to get in. The GX 460 is pure SUV, with a ride height above most modern crossovers. The GX 460's body-on-frame construction is how they built trucks and even cars 100 years ago.
Lexus adds Destination Assist, part of its Enform telematics service, to the GX 460's navigation system.
However, its navigation system comes from this century. We recognize the look of the maps from previous Lexus models, but unlike those DVD-based navigation systems, the GX 460 stores its maps on a hard drive. Given the extra storage space, we would have expected Lexus to include 3D maps, but this system remains 2D-only.
Likewise, the navigation system's touch-screen interface has the same icons and onscreen keyboard as previous Lexus models have, except it now has a feature called Destination Assist. Part of Lexus' new Enform telematics service, Destination Assist dials an operator who can look up business addresses and send the information to the navigation system. More intriguing is the eDestination feature that lets Lexus owners log in to the Enform Web site, find and save various destinations, and then download them to the navigation system from within the car.
Under route guidance, this navigation system uses its XM NavTraffic feed to show traffic problems on the maps and route around potential problems. However, that information didn't stop it from guiding us into some nasty stop-and-go traffic. In its defense, the system did give an audible warning about bad traffic on the route.
The car also has external data for weather, stock prices, and sports scores, the latter two new features for Lexus. When we selected a stock symbol in the configuration menu, it pulled up the stock screen, and we were able to see the current price and how much it had dropped during the day. Touching the entry on the screen made the GX 460 read out the current price and point change, a feature designed to help drivers keep their eyes on the road.
As our vehicle had the Premium trim, it came with an adjustable air suspension, along with a set of controls on the console suggesting the GX 460 could handle serious off-roading. Along with ride height adjustment, these controls engaged descent control, switched between four-wheel-drive low and high, and changed the suspension setting from Comfort to Sport.
Switches on the console engage four-wheel drive modes and change the suspension setting.
Using the latter, we only noticed minor differences in ride feel. In its Comfort setting, the suspension remained firm and did not allow much travel. Going over rougher pavement, we wouldn't call its ride luxurious. Its damping was good, but we certainly felt the bumps. There's only so much you can do with body-on-frame construction.
Shoving the switch into its Sport position, we noticed a slightly firmer feeling to the suspension, but it was far from dramatic. Trying it out on a few corners, the GX 460 didn't give us the confidence to really throw it around. The Sport mode lowers it a little, but it is still a tall vehicle with plenty of weight, and the air suspension does not actively counteract roll.
The power steering is also tuned more for the parking lot than mountain roads. In typical Lexus style, it takes little effort to turn the wheel. Although a boon for cranking the wheels around in a parking garage, this steering tuning rules out road feel.
Given the character of the GX 460, we were surprised to see a Sport mode on the six-speed transmission. In this mode, the SUV might hit Lexus' reported 7.8 seconds to 60 mph, as it lowers the shift points. But it didn't downshift aggressively in turns. Given this vehicle's poor fuel economy, using its Sport mode will just burn more gas without delivering much benefit.
Ignoring the various sport settings, the GX 460 proved easy to drive in most circumstances. The big engine gave it enough power for passing maneuvers and its turning radius was reasonable for such a big vehicle. A backup camera and side mirrors that automatically dip down when the car is put in reverse helped us while parking. The image from the backup camera is crisp, but it doesn't show any distance or trajectory lines.
Lexus also offers adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and side and frontview cameras, although these were not included on our test vehicle.
In one way, the GX 460 really stood out: its stereo had excellent audio quality. With the navigation system comes a Mark Levinson audio system using 17 speakers and a 330-watt amplifier. This system goes deep in even compressed audio tracks, bringing every tone to the surface. We are always pleased when an audio system surprises us with sounds in a track we hadn't heard before.
However, the Mark Levinson system not only finds these sounds, but also makes them real. It recreated tambourines and other percussion instruments, placing them clearly in the cabin. In one track that fades out to the sound of a car driving away, it seemed like a Chevy had just driven through the GX 460's cabin. The sound is also well-balanced, keeping highs from getting too shrill or bass from rattling door panels, yet still producing a chest-felt thump.
Browsing an iPod library causes any album at the top of the list to start playing immediately.
Unlike most other automakers with hard-drive-based navigation systems, Lexus doesn't let you rip CDs to the car. That leaves iPod integration, Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio, and a six-disc CD changer as audio sources. For iPod integration, we had the same complaint as in the Toyota Sienna: land on any album or artist while viewing the library with the touch screen, and it starts playing immediately, ruling out any idle music browsing.
Another thing we found annoying is that the navigation system would not mute or pause the stereo when it issued route guidance voice prompts. With such a good audio system, we frequently had it turned up loud, drowning out the next turn directions.
Lexus uses its latest Bluetooth phone system with the GX 460. Not only does it download a phone's contact list, but it also makes the names available through the voice-command system.
The big 2010 Lexus GX 460 has some interesting design quirks, such as a side-opening rear door. Stylistically, its side graphic, the window, and pillar arrangement, is nicely sculpted, but the whole vehicle hardly cuts a unique figure on the road. The cabin tech interface looks good, but iPod integration is difficult to use.
Although Lexus fitted it with a new engine, variable-valve timing is nothing new, and the six-speed automatic transmission is pretty standard these days. The only things giving the GX 460 a bump in performance are its off-road systems, which could be useful if an owner were to take this $60k vehicle into the back woods.
The GX 460 really stands out for its cabin tech. Although we would like to see richer maps, the ability to pick destinations from a PC then download them to the car is very cool. The stereo sources are pretty standard, but the audio quality from the Mark Levinson sound system is superior to most other factory offerings. The availability of driver-aid systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and cameras all around boost its tech credentials.
|Model||2010 Lexus GX 460|
|Power train||4.6-liter V-8 engine, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/20 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||16.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Six CD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Nine speaker system standard, Mark Levinson 330 watt 17 speaker system optional|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, driver attention monitor, rear view camera, side and front-view cameras|
|Price as tested||$62,529|