Review: 2009 Lexus GX 470 | New and Used Car Reviews, Research & Automotive-Industry News & LeftLaneNews

30 Jul 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Review: 2009 Lexus GX 470 | New and Used Car Reviews, Research & Automotive-Industry News & LeftLaneNews
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Review: 2009 Lexus GX 470

Suburbanites need a vehicle capable of conquering the Serengeti. They need water-fording and mountain-climbing abilities that make a goat look like it’s wearing roller skates. They need the vehicle that is trusted by United Nations peacekeeping troops in parts of the world most Americans will only see on the nightly news.

They don’t? Really? Then why has Lexus never struggled to sell its GX 470 SUV, essentially a rebadged and luxurified version of the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, a sort of three-fourths Land Cruiser favored by UN peace keepers and Saudi sheiks?

Even as auto sales tumbled last year, Lexus managed to push out 16,424 GX 470s in 2008 – the automaker sold more of these rugged 4x4s than GS sedans. We decided to have a look at one to see what all the fuss was about.

An old-school SUV in nearly every way, the GX 470 features a rugged body-on-frame design, a durable full-time four-wheel-drive system, hill descent and ascent control, an optional automatic swaybar adjustment system for increased wheel articulation – and, of course, acres of fine leather, glossy wood trim, an available high-zoot Mark Levinson audio system and all the panache of the Lexus badge.

In short, it’s an anomaly on paper, but if upscale suburban shopping malls are any indication, Lexus isn’t exactly ashamed of the GX 470.

The GX 470 shares its basic design inside and out with the Land Cruiser Prado sold throughout the globe and popular in third-world countries as a utilitarian rig with a diesel engine and manual transmission. It also shares its powertrain and chassis with the Toyota 4Runner. which grew substantially when it was redesigned for 2003.

What’s it up against?

The GX 470’s off-road credentials mean it compares well to the Land Rover LR3 and Volkswagen Touareg. but we’d bet that most buyers will also cross-shop more on-road oriented rivals like the Acura MDX. Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Audi Q7.

Any breakthroughs?

The GX 470 offers Lexus’ optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which uses hydraulics to adjust the sway bars in order to allow for maximum articulation. Our test car wasn’t equipped with the $1,650 option, which also includes unique trim inside and out as part of the sport package.

How does it look?

The GX’s resemblance to its Toyota Land Cruiser/Lexus LX big brothers is readily apparent. It features typical butch styling cues like thick fender flares, mud flaps, short overhangs and large rolling stock.

Where the GX diverges from the Prado is in the luxury department: Lighted running boards, glitzy trim and smoked alloy wheels are all part of the package here, rather than back-to-basics steel wheels and blacked-out cosmetics.

In our eyes, the GX 470 falls apart a bit at the rear – a typical Toyota SUV trait. The tailgate is especially vertical and looks like it should have a spare tire mounted on it, but it doesn’t. The overall design is fussy – and the high-mounted tail lamps don’t help things out.

You’ll know you’re in a Lexus. Buttery soft leather, glossy real wood trim, numerous buttons, a high-resolution navigation display and electro-luminescent gauges serve as familial ties.

The GX470 is fairly narrow and tall, which helps it navigate narrow streets and trails, but which also means that passenger space is at a bit of a premium. The seats are a little narrower than you’ll find in the Acura MDX and the center console is notably plain.

Buttons are scattered about – you’ll reach way forward to locate the heated seat switches. The navigation system is typical Lexus, however, which means it features an especially easy-to-use touch-screen and Bluetooth connectivity. Oh, and as we’ve previously noted here, there’s a cassette player.

You sit high in the GX 470, though we were a little surprised that this average-height driver had the seat up nearly as far as it would go. A little more upwards adjustment might be nice as there’s more than enough head room. The seats are comfortable and feature drop down armrests – meaning you really are in the captain’s chair.

The GX’s aging design – it was introduced for 2003 – means that it falls behind a little in the feature charts. Where competitors offer heated steering wheels, USB inputs and Xenon headlamps, the GX counters by featuring adjustable shock absorbers, a tool kit, a barometer and an altimeter. Different priorities, we suppose. We just hope they’re not lost on the suburbanites who flock towards the stylized L.

Overall, however, the interior is generally up to Lexus standards and offers traditional SUV values like a high seating position and good visibility.

But does it go?

The GX uses a smooth 263-horsepower 4.7-liter V8 mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. You won’t win drag races, but the V8 moves with more authority than its fairly low horsepower figures might indicate. The transmission is smooth but still fires off quick shifts and doesn’t hesitate to downshift.

We did lament the lack of a sport mode for the transmission, but otherwise the drivetrain was essentially flawless.

On pavement, the GX rides softly as a result of its big 265/65-17 tires. The adjustable shocks offer four degrees ranging from comfort� to sport,� though we couldn’t detect much of a difference between any of the options.

Fuel economy during our week-long evaluation wasn’t too impressive: We averaged about 14 mpg in mixed driving, though the GX is rated 18 mpg on the highway.

Handling is as to be expected: Ponderous and vague. But the GX never feels especially tippy and was stable in heavy crosswinds on the highway. Around town, the GX’s reasonable dimensions – 188.2 inches long, 74 inches wide, make it one of the easier-to-negotiate three-row ‘utes on the market.

After our photo shoot, we took the GX through a couple of dirt roads and over some fairly challenging rutted paths. As expected, nothing stopped the GX, though we did bang its low-hanging running boards on a couple of tall rocks. We wish those running boards were an option, as they didn’t help ingress or egress for anyone who rode in the SUV. Otherwise, the GX was well-protected underneath with standard skid plates and lots of clearance even beneath the lowest point, the rear differential pumpkin.�

The GX uses a traditional transfer case lever rather than buttons or switches like most of its competition. We appreciate the throwback even though most owners won’t likely know what to do with the lever, there’s a certain appeal to tugging it back into low range.

The rear suspension features an adjustable height control that can drop the GX 0.8 inches for loading passengers or it can raise 1.6 inches for more clearance off road. The GX also comes standard with hill descent control, which automatically applies the brakes when descending a steep hill in low range. Combined with hill-start assist, which prevents the GX from rolling back, novice off roaders won’t struggle.

The GX isn’t as user-friendly an off-roader as Land Rover’s LR3, which features pictograph controls that make serious four-wheelers scoff, but can help get novices to the ski lodge without breaking a sweat. Still, it’s a highly capable and surprisingly comfortable vehicle. It’s the sort of vehicle that really grows on you thanks to its gobs of character – a rare feat in a new automotive appliance.

Why you would buy it:

You regularly travel to Dubai and you miss seeing rugged and boxy Toyota-built SUVs on the road.

Why you wouldn’t:

You are totally baffled by the transfer case lever poking out of the console.

Leftlane’s bottom line

We applaud Toyota and Lexus for continuing to offer a highly capable off-roader, even if the Lexus badge and hefty price of entry will stop most drivers from intentionally veering off of pavement. The GX 470 is one of few vehicles that truly feels like it was built to last forever – from the solid frame to the hefty suspension, the GX seems like it will still be on the road when all that’s left are other Land Cruisers, Mercedes-Benz 240Ds and cockroaches.

It’s a shame that most buyers won’t explore this impressive vehicle’s capabilities. We hope that Toyota builds some of this ruggedness into the next-generation Toyota 4Runner – what this Toyota Land Cruiser Prado should have been named for the North American market. A three-row Lexus RX would make more sense for suburbia.

2009 Lexus GX 470 base price, $47,615. As tested, $52,175.

Navigation/Mark Levinson audio package, $3,250; Third row seat, $485; Destination, $825.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.

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