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

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.0 Overall
  • Performance 6
  • Features 7
  • Design 8
  • Media 7

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.

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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The ride height control only affects the rear suspension, but also adds automatic leveling. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The High setting only works up to about 20 mph and the Low setting only up to about 10 mph, before automatically reverting to the Normal rear ride height. There is no beep or warning before this happens, so if you're using the Low mode to squeeze the GX into a tight garage, be sure to mind your speed.

The Adjustable Height Control system does transparently provide a benefit when loading up the GX with cargo or when towing by providing automatic leveling of the rear suspension, which theoretically helps to maintain the SUV's ride quality.

Full-time all-wheel drive

Before the power reaches the road, it must first be divided between the GX's four contact patches.

The GX features a two-speed transfer case that allows the driver to select between 4WD low and 4WD high settings. The former is a low speed, high torque multiplication setting that's useful for slow towing of heavy objects or carefully crawling off road. The latter is the setting that the average GX will spend 99.99 percent of its time in -- a full-speed setting that is used on the road. The GX must be stopped and shifted into neutral to switch between these modes electronically.

Splitting power between front and rear is a Torsen limited-slip center differential. Under resting conditions, the torque is split at a 40:60 front-to-rear ratio, but that can change to 30:70 when cornering. This "TORque SENsing" differential is able to detect slip on either the front or rear axle and instantly change to a 50:50 ratio for optimal traction. Drivers can also lock in that 50:50 ratio with the touch of a button near the steering wheel.

The GX doesn't feature any of the brake powered A-TRAC terrain settings that we've seen in the the 2014 Toyota 4Runner or crawl control settings found on the 2014 Lexus LX 570 and neither system seems to be available as an option. It does feature the automaker's Downhill Assist Control (DAC), a brake-based speed control system that is used when descending steep hills with loose surfaces.

Lexus Enform connected tech

I completely expected the GX to feature an 8-inch Enform infotainment system identical to the one that I tested in the 2014 LX 570. The broad strokes are similar, but there are a few noteworthy difference worth calling out.

Let's start with the familiar. The GX's dashboard is powered by Lexus's Enform technology (a re-branding of Toyota's nearly identical Entune tech), which means that it features connectivity with the Lexus Enform app and connected services. Pair your smartphone running the app with the Lexus via Bluetooth and gain in-dash access to Pandora and iHeart Internet radio streaming. Enform also rolls in Bing, Facebook Places, Yelp destination search, MovieTickets.com, and OpenTable reservations.

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With the aid of your smartphone's data connection, Enform puts dinner reservations, movie tickets, and more into the dashboard. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Standard audio sources include a single-disc CD player, HD Radio, satellite radio, dual USB ports with iPod connectivity, a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, and Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling, audio streaming, and text messaging.

The audio for those sources plays through either the standard nine-speaker stereo or an optional 17-speaker, 330-watt Mark Levinson Surround audio system. Opting for this $2,821 stereo upgrade also swaps in a DVD changer with DVD-Audio compatibility. I was only able to test the Levinson system, but the crisp and powerful audio provided by this premium setup sounds, to my ear, like it's worth the upgrade price.

The navigation software present in the GX is different from that of the LX that we've tested previously. Basically, the GX's system features a 3D bird's-eye view, but also uses lower-resolution maps. The graphics are passable, but they start to look dated after spending significant time with the newer Lexus system.

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The GX's navigation gets the job done, but the graphics are lower-quality than those on the LX. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

I like that the GX's navigation system integrates with the Enform apps allowing me to, for example, purchase a movie ticket, reserve a table for dinner, and then navigate to those destinations with just a few taps.

Standard safety tech for the GX 460 Luxury is limited to a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking proximity sensors, and a rear camera. An optional package ups the tech ante with Crawl Control, intelligent automatic high-beams, a lane departure and pre-collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control, and wide-view front and side cameras.

In sum

Outside of its LX sibling, the closest GX 460 competitor that I can think of is the Mercedes-Benz GL450 4Matic. The Benz is more powerful and more luxurious, but is also much more expensive than the Lexus -- plus, I'd rather live with the simpler, more fully featured Lexus Enform infotainment than deal with Mercedes' COMAND and mBrace systems.

Speaking of tech, other models to consider include the BMW X5, the Audi Q7, and the Acura MDX, all of which feature industry leading dashboard and/or safety technologies. These vehicles make similar power to the Lexus GX, but with smaller, more efficient engines. It's going to take more than a new look for Lexus to seriously compete in this crowd; the GX needs a power-train and tech overhaul.

The 2014 Lexus GX 460 starts at $49,085, but our Luxury model rolls in a lot more standard features and luxury for $60,715. Fully loaded up with all of the available driver aid tech and an optional rear seat entertainment system, the GX 460 can end up as high as $71,004, but our example was only equipped the $2,821 Mark Levinson audio system and a $925 destination charge, bringing us to an as-tested price of $64,461.

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The GX's price feels right, but it faces stiff competition from luxury SUVs with better power and better tech. Antuan Goodwin/CNET
Tech specs
Model 2014 Lexus GX 460
Trim Luxury
Powertrain 4.6L V-8 engine, 6-speed automatic, full-time all-wheel drive, locking Torsen center differential, 2-speed transfer case
EPA fuel economy 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, 17 mpg combo
Observed fuel economy 16.8 mpg
Navigation Standard Enform navigation with HD Radio traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard with hands-free calling and audio text message
Digital audio sources Dual USB connectivity, 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, HD Radio, satellite radio, DVD/CD player, Bluetooth audio
Audio system 17 speaker Mark Levinson surround audio, 330-watts, DVD audio
Driver aids Blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, rear camera, front and rear proximity alerts
Base price $49,085
Price as tested $64,461

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