Lexus' luxury SUV begs to be taken off-road
Don't be fooled by the 2013 Lexus GX 460's swanky brand name, composed form and well-outfitted interior. This is an SUV that can haul the family, but it'd rather be off-road. Though I doubt most people who purchase one of these ever goes off-road with it. Too bad. This is a vehicle that acts like it would rather be in the great outdoors taking care of business than zipping around suburbia.
Overall, the 2013 Lexus GX 460 does just fine in the family-hauler role; it's nimble enough around suburban streets, though you might notice a little lean when you take a corner too swiftly, and the interior is quiet, comfortable and filled with standard seating for seven.
There are a few things I'd change like the swing-gate and the low fuel economy, and I'd allow access to the third row from both sides of the car -- instead of just behind the front passenger seat -- but generally speaking, the car gives a good performance.
This SUV is derived from the same stock as its cousins, the Toyota 4Runner and Land Cruiser, which made me realize that in an off-roading role, the GX 460 could be a star. The 4.6-liter V-8 engine often emits a low growl when forced to accelerate around town, hinting that it wants more. All across America, GX 460's are sadly whispering to each other, "I thought there'd be more to life." So if you buy a GX 460, take it out for a rock-climbing session or two on occasion. It will thank you.
The 2013 GX 460 has a starting price of $54,690, including an $895 destination charge. The Premium trim starts at $59,485, and my test car cost $66,715.
Available in seven colors, the 2013 GX 460 is a fine-looking specimen. It's not flashy, but handsome with a well-defined chrome grille, large headlights and large side mirrors. A rear spoiler, power moonroof and running boards are standard. Don't be fooled by the GX 460's refined looks; this is an SUV and you, your children and most others will need the standard running boards to easily get in and out of it.
The doors are forgivingly light, though smaller children won't be able to reach them in this tall SUV. Everything is great until you get to the cargo door. The GX 460 has a swing-gate with a flip-open glass hatch, which is only convenient when loading small packages. The whole open-to-the-side business had me flummoxed. Swing-gates are cumbersome and heavy, and they're not convenient if you're parked on the street, in tight quarters like a garage or really anywhere. Have I made my point? Dear Lexus, please at least offer the option of a power liftgate. This is a luxury SUV after all, isn't it?
As often happens with these three-row vehicles, cargo space is at a premium as more rows of seats are in use. There's 92 cubic feet of cargo space with the second and third rows folded; a decent 46.7 cubic feet if the second row is in use; and a meager 11.6 cubic feet if all three rows are in use. From experience, I can tell you that that's not enough to fit a week's worth of groceries for a family of five. A 4.6-liter V-8 engine that produces 301 horsepower is standard. This is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission that functions wonderfully. Full-time four-wheel drive with a low range for off-roading also comes standard. The GX gets an EPA-estimated 15/20 mpg city/highway. It requires premium fuel as well, so prep yourself for putting down some green to fill it up.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
This seven-person hauler's interior feels lushly appointed without being fussy. Real wood rounds out most of the steering wheel and covers a few other surfaces along with decent-looking satin-silver and black plastic trim. I've begun to feel intimidated by some high-tech multimedia systems, but this one remains intuitive and quite easy to use. It includes a color touch-screen and has reachable center stack controls as well as steering-wheel controls. Ten-way power heated and ventilated front seats are standard on all trims, as is an in-dash six-disc CD changer, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and power-folding third-row seats. The Premium trim that I tested comes with three-zone automatic climate control and heated outboard second-row seats. It also included a few extras thanks to a $3,930 audio package that included a sweet-sounding 17-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound system, Lexus Enform with voice control and a navigation system.
As with many cars, seating is most comfortable up front and diminishes in comfort the further back you go. The 60/40-split second-row bench slides forward and back, allowing for more or less legroom depending on who's traveling with you. The people usually traveling with me are in child-safety seats; two convertible seats fit across the second row nicely, but three is not possible.
This brings us to the 50/50-split third row, which can handle a couple of booster or forward-facing convertible seats, albeit tightly. Be warned that access can be somewhat inconvenient. Only the front passenger's side of the 60/40-split second row tilts and slides forward for third-row access. I'd have preferred access from both sides.
With child-safety seats installed in the second row's outboard seats, there's no way to access the third row since the seat won't tilt and slide with a child-safety seat on it. You can fold the middle position's seatback, which houses the cupholders. This makes it a bit easier to access for kids to get to the third row. Speaking of cupholders, there are six total (though one in the third row is more like a coaster) with a bottleholder in each door.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair/Ample
Late one night, with my whole family nestled in the GX 460, I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a coyote that was lurking in the middle of the street. Typically, slamming on the brakes for wildlife is jarring enough to wake sleeping children. Thanks to the GX 460's brake assist technology and velvety smooth automatic seat belt pretensioners, there was nothing typical about this stop. My husband stared at me in astonishment, and the kids didn't even wake up.
The GX 460 Premium trim has standard four-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control, active front head restraints, auto-leveling headlights, an adaptive suspension and a backup camera with rear parking sensors. You also get a subscription to Lexus Safety Connect for one year, which features collision notification and stolen vehicle location systems as well as emergency assist and enhanced roadside assistance.
Active safety features will cost you. My test car came with a $3,170 optional package that included adaptive cruise control and lane departure and blind spot warning systems. Intuitive park assist costs $500.
The two sets of Latch anchors in the second row were easy to use. They're covered by an elongated Velcro flap that you simply undo when you're installing a child-safety seat and the lower anchors are easily available to you then. The top tethers are located in the middle of the second row's seatbacks and have a simple plastic covers that are easily removed.