The word “stalwart” seems like it was made for the 2021 Lexus GX 460. In production since 2009, and only relatively lightly massaged since then, the big SUV’s resilience to replacement is a reminder that – for some applications – newer needn’t always mean better. If you occupy the center-spot of a niche Venn diagram combining proper off-roading, luxury, and bigger groups, the GX could find itself on your (very short) shortlist.
Pricing starts at $53,450 for the entry 2021 GX 460, though by the time you get to the 2021 GX 460 Luxury you see here it’s up to $64,715 (plus $1,025 destination).
The idea of a Lexus off-roader still seems a little strange; after all, the automaker is best known for its sybaritic sedans and SUVs. Meanwhile, though most of the big, lavish SUVs from luxury brands pay lip service to ability off the asphalt, the GX has the hardware to actually back up those boasts.
That’s because underneath the sheet metal is a platform shared with Toyota’s 4Runner, and that has legitimate mud-plugger cred. The truck’s body-on-frame construction is an instant sign that the GX means business, and it’s paired with a big, naturally-aspirated 4.6-liter V8 and full-time 4WD.
Combined with a six-speed automatic and no shortage of traction, the GX’s 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque leave it unexpectedly rapid in a straight line. It’s also rated for up to 6,500 pounds of towing, which is better than most SUVs. The flip-side is thirst, with an EPA rating of just 15 mpg in the city, 19 mpg on the highway, and 16 mpg combined.
What sets the GX 460 apart from the 4Runner – and indeed most trucks you’d consider taking out into the wilds – is how Lexus dresses up its talents. The exterior had a revamp in 2020 with one of the automaker’s sizable spindle grilles, though the outsize proportions actually look pretty appropriate on the slab-sided GX. LED lights are standard.
At the rear, there’s a side-hinged tailgate for accessing the 11.6 cu-ft trunk, though Lexus didn’t go to the effort of flipping the hinges and handles to make it easier to access from American curbs. Drop the third row of seats and it expands to 46.7 cu-ft; drop the second row as well, and it’ll net you 64.7 cu-ft. They’re solid numbers, but not class-leading: an Audi Q7 or BMW X7 each best the Lexus there.
I wouldn’t take a Q7 or X7 to places where I’d trust a GX, however. The full-time all-wheel-drive taps an electronically-locking Torsen limited-slip center differential, nudging power between the front and rear axles depending on traction needs. Lexus’ Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) can increase wheel articulation for uneven terrain, and there are 8.1-inches of ground clearance. Where competitors succumb to the aesthetic allure of big rims and skinny rubber, Lexus’ 18- and 19-inch wheels don’t skimp on the sidewall.
The result is a properly serene ride on the road, with quality and quiet that belies the GX’s age and abilities. The GX Luxury has adaptive variable suspension and auto-leveling rear air suspension, too, which helps with the sense of composure. This is definitely not a performance car – the upright posture means corners are better treated with gentle respect – but for lengthy road trips with six or seven onboard (depending on if you spec the optional second row captain’s chairs) this is refined stuff.
Time has been its least generous to the GX’s cabin. The Luxury trim’s semi-aniline leather is pleasant, and there’s tri-zone climate control, heated/ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, and power third-row seats, but the design is dated. Lexus’ switchgear feels solid, and I don’t doubt it’ll go the distance, but the copious buttons and two-tone gray color scheme are far from looking modern. Even the fancy wood trip, sandwiching thin threads of metal, ends up looking passé with its high-lacquer finish.
It gets more frustrating when you turn to the infotainment. Lexus and Toyota haven’t exactly been known for their touchscreen UX – though there are promising signs that it could be changing now – and the GX underscores that. With Amazon Alexa support this is “the most advanced GX ever,” Lexus boasts, but that’s really not saying much. The 8-inch touchscreen has clunky graphics, there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and the 360-degree camera is still optional.
Safety tech, at least, feels fairly modern. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts, pre-collision warnings with pedestrian detection, lane departure alerts, and adaptive cruise control are all standard, as are 10 airbags. The mid-spec GX Premium trim throws in parking assistance. Combined with the Lexus’ reputation for sturdiness and reliability, it’s perhaps no surprise that residual values are a particular high-spot for the burly SUV.
2021 Lexus GX 460 Verdict
The definition of what makes a “good” SUV has changed considerably since Lexus launched this generation of GX back in 2009. Back then, “utility” meant “take you places that other vehicles wouldn’t dare attempt.” These days, things have skewed to more refinement, more luxury features, and the reassurance of AWD for the occasional snowstorm or once-in-a-blue-moon encounter with a tow hitch.
By those metrics, the GX struggles to compete with the Q7’s, X7’s, XC90’s, and similar of the world. Pitch it at an off-road course, though, and it’ll comfortably out-class them; a Land Rover Defender could keep up, or a Discovery, but everyone else has nudged their focus to more on-road manners.
I can’t really blame the market for that: after all, the audience for a luxury three-row SUV that just so happens to be eminently backwoods-capable is predictably small. The 2021 Lexus GX 460 is oddly appealing in that hyper-focused way, even if for most drivers it’s far from being the best option in an increasingly crowded segment. If you truly need its capabilities there’s little out there like it, but I suspect the aging interior will drive most people to a well-spec’d new Defender.