The usual progression in alphanumeric vehicle names is for the numbers to get bigger. Bigger is better so bigger numbers are, well, better as well. So as the second generation of Lexus mid-size (for Lexus) SUV debuts this year, it’s odd to see the 2010 Lexus GX460 replacing the 2009 Lexus GX470.
The name GX460 makes sense, however, because the Lexus SUV’s engine is smaller than last year’s, at 4.6 liters for 2010 versus 4.7 liters for the Lexus GX Generation One. The 4.6-liter V-8 is an all-new engine and it gets better gas mileage than its bigger predecessor. Lexus claims the improvement as 13 percent, the EPA estimated combined fuel mileage jumping from 15 mpg to 17 percent. Someone doesn’t know percentages. Our calculations say the 2010 Lexus GX460 gets a whopping thirty percent better mileage gas and that’s a bunch.
It’s still a long way from a Prius. The 2010 GX460 has an estimated fuel economy of 15/20 mpg city/highway, which Lexus points out is better than other luxury SUV models and in the same neighborhood as some V-6 SUVs.
That the engine displacement retrenchment yields better fuel economy isn’t particularly surprising. What’s impressive, however, is that the 2010 Lexus GX460 makes more horsepower and torque than the previous, larger engine. The new engine is rated at 301 horsepower and 329 horse trailer towing lb-ft of torque. With the optional hitch and its standard body-on-frame construction, the GX460 can pull up to 6,500 lbs.
That’s only the SUV part of the equation, however. The 2010 Lexus GX460 lives up to the luxury part of luxury SUV with a full dose of Lexus refinement inside. The GX460 has a standard swathment of leather and is trimmed with auburn bubinga wood. Now you know where the bubinga forests have gone.
Plus there are ten-way power driver and front passenger seats and ten airbags.
As a convenience to the second and third row passengers, the second row bench can slide fore and aft by 4.1 inches and folds (almost) flat for cargo. The third row is power-operated by switches on C-pillar, the seat cushion sliding rearward under the floor while the seatback folds forward. Up, down, up, down. Yes, we’re easily entertained.
The dual-zone automatic climate control means never having to say “Hit the recirc button. We’re behind a bus.” In addition to the expected filter, the climate control has a smog sensor that switches the ventilation to recirculation mode automatically.
The standard Lexus premium sound system has nine speakers and all the usual input modes including a 6-disc in-dash CD changer, but also USB audio plug and automatic sound levelizer. Other standard equipment includes a proximity key with pushbutton start and running boards with built-in courtesy lights that shine under the car for superior puddle illumination.
Lexus claims that the Lexus GX models have been used as family haulers during the week but on vacations and weekends they’re used to tow toys “and sometimes (they) drive to areas with unpaved and rugged trails.” Call us doubting Thomases, but we’d be surprised if a significant portion of Lexus GX460 owners will be out slithering their fifty-grand four-wheeler over muddy and over fallen trees.
The irony is that part of the price for the 2010 Lexus GX460 comes from its good-road/bad-road abilities. Adaptive variable suspension (optional, not on our test vehicle) with normal, sport, and comfort modes helps combine on-road performance with off-road skills. Standard on the GX460, however, is the “kinetic dynamic suspension system”. This system allows the anti-roll bars that provide stability on the highway to be hydraulically disengaged in off-road conditions. The added articulation lets the suspension climb over obstacles more easily. It works because off-roading compresses one corner at a time, while highway driving pushes down on front and rear together as the Lexus GX tries to lean going round a corner.
Our test 2010 Lexus GX460 came with optional “crawl control,” an extension of the anti-lock brake system. Crawl control, however, manipulates the electronic throttle and brakes to maintain a constant speed over one of five low speed settings. The system operates with the dual-range center differential in low, and addition to the brakes and throttle, “active traction control” works as virtual locking front and rear differentials, applying brakes to a slipping wheel while transferring torque to a wheel with better traction.
Also aiding the 2010 Lexus GX460’s off-road agility are new 18-inch wheels, replacing last year’s 17-inchers.
Theory is fine but driving is proof, and although we weren’t able to test the 2010 Lexus GX460’s off-pavement performance, we had earlier tried out crawl control in the Lexus GX470. It’s eerie but it works, albeit with a lot of brake chatter over uneven terrain as the electronic brain worked to balance power and braking to keep at that constant speed.