2012 Lexus GX 460 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 23, 2012

The 2012 GX 460 is a good pick for those who need the serious towing ability of a body-on-frame SUV, along with the refinement of a Lexus. But gas mileage is dismal, and it has some pretty critical packaging flaws that limit its usefulness.

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 fits into the Lexus lineup just below the Land Cruiser-based Lexus LX 570. And actually, it is part of the Land Cruiser family; it's a full-featured, extra-luxurious version of the Land Cruiser Prado that sells in other international markets.

The GX is also related to the Toyota 4Runner, and there's a clear differentiation. The Toyota sticks to V-6 engines and simpler features and appointments, while the GX gets a strong V-8 engine, power-folding third-row seats, and a host of luxury and technology options—plus Lexus levels of refinement.

This is the third year for the GX in its current iteration, and with the last redesign designers didn't push the envelope much. The only real changes to the GX 460 for 2012 include the addition of color-keyed bodyside molding, and a new high-gloss wheel finish for the Premium model. In all, you won't find the GX 460 to be extroverted or flashy, rather organic, and a gently rounded take on the classic SUV proportions—although carrying a 'machined' look from Toyota's larger truck designs that separates it from other Lexus cars and crossovers. Alongside, the GX looks the most 'trucky,' because of its carved-out fenders and very tall, imposing beltline, while inside, the look and layout are upright but definitely up to Lexus standards.

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With its low running boards, chrome trim all around, and what could be seen as a delicate interior, you might not expect the GX 460 to be a serious rock-crawler. In that, you'd be right; but it's definitely more than another off-road poseur. The full-time four-wheel drive system includes a Torsen center differential and distributes power 60 percent to the rear wheels in normal driving, with more sent to the rear wheels during acceleration. There's also a low range for this tough body-on-frame ute, a host of electronic controls that will help you maintain control in various conditions, and a true center diff lock that you'd use for sand, mud, or snow.

On the road, the 2012 Lexus GX 460 accelerates strongly, with its big, torquey 301-horsepower V-8—0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds—and the six-speed automatic transmission provides quick, smooth shifts. And even though the suspension helps keep it level in corners, light, long-ratio steering and a soft brake pedal enforce the idea that it's a traditional SUV at heart. Fuel economy is, as you might guess, embarrassingly low for a daily driver, at an EPA 15/20 mpg.

In fact, anyone who's driven a truck-based SUV in the past will be right at home in the GX 460. You sit high relative to the beltline, at least compared to other new vehicles, so there's great outward visibility. Seating in the GX 460 is superb in front, with nicely padded seats affording plenty of support plus good headroom and legroom and a general feeling of spaciousness. The second row is very roomy, too. As for the third row, it makes little sense; it's very small, and the power-folding mechanism that's mandatory occupies some of the space behind, keeping the cargo floor from being flat and low. What's more, the side-opening hatch opens on the wrong side for easy curb loading.

On the plus side, the GX 460 is supremely refined, with nearly no road and wind noise, although you do hear the engine whenever accelerating, more than some might expect. Ride quality is quite good, whether or not you get the Adaptive Variable Suspension that comes with Premium-grade models, but there's a bit more 'head-toss' on choppy roads.

You simply won't have to worry about whether the 2012 Lexus GX 460 comes well-equipped; it comes with all the common convenience and luxury features, while the Premium grade steps up to the rich infotainment features and tech extras. Highlights include a safety-tech package, 330-watt Mark Levinson surround sound, a rear seat entertainment system, and Intuitive Park Assist.

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2012 Lexus GX 460

Styling

Inside and out, the 2012 Lexus GX 460 looks macho yet understated and conservative.

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 is in many ways a throwback to the look and feel of luxury SUVs a decade ago. But take a closer look, and you'll find that it's thoroughly modern in the details.

From the front, the likeness with Lexus cars is obvious, with a similar chromed grille flanked by rather large headlamps. In back, the GX has a clean, uncluttered look, mainly thanks to the narrow vertical taillamps and a new wiper design that's hidden under the roof spoiler. Alongside, the GX looks the most 'trucky,' because of its carved-out fenders and very tall, imposing beltline.

While the GX 460 is based on the brawny-looking 4Runner, it's more of a wallflower, overall. Lexus has blended the gentle, organic, and aerodynamic styling of recent Lexus L-Finesse designs with a "machined steel bar" theme, giving it a more sculpted, solid (but simple and straightforward) look that separates it from the cars and crossovers.

"Tough premium" is the way that Lexus refers to the interior, in which they've combined the expected chunky trim and bulkier door handles with soft, luxurious materials. The instrument-panel design is quite upright and has a horizontal-bar theme running its length--assuring a sense of toughness--although inside, the look and layout are a somewhat more upright version of other Lexus cabins.

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2012 Lexus GX 460

Performance

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 has strong acceleration and respectable off-road prowess, but it's not all that agile or enjoyable to drive.

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 has traditional SUV chops—meaning that it's good for the trail, and rock-crawling—and while it performs well enough on the road, it's hardly agile

With a big, torquey 301-horsepower V-8, the GX 460 accelerates strongly—0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds—and the six-speed automatic transmission provides quick, smooth shifts.

Even though the suspension helps keep it level in corners, light, long-ratio steering and a soft brake pedal enforce the idea that it's a traditional SUV at heart.

Considering the low running boards, chrome trim all around, and what could be seen as a delicate interior, you might not expect the GX 460 to be a serious rock-crawler. It's not; but it's definitely more than another off-road poseur. The full-time four-wheel drive system includes a Torsen center differential and distributes power 60 percent to the rear wheels in normal driving, with more sent to the rear wheels during acceleration. There's also a low range for this tough body-on-frame ute, a host of electronic controls that will help you maintain control in various conditions, and a true center diff lock that you'd use for sand, mud, or snow.

Among the most noteworthy of the GX's electronic tools is the available Crawl Control, which micromanages momentum over the toughest terrain at crawl speeds between 1.0 and 3.7 mph, selectable in five increments. All the more impressive is the standard Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which hydraulically links the front and rear stabilizer bars. It serves two roles: Off-road it allows wheel articulation while helping press down on the opposing wheel to maintain contact, while on-road it aids ride quality and minimizes body roll.

Although most of the time we like the flat cornering that KDSS allows, it has a knack of leading you to believe you have more grip left than you actually do. In any case, the GX feels surprisingly comfortable on a twisty road at a moderate pace, although there's no road feel through the steering and an artificial weighting off center. The spongy brake-pedal feel is also one of the least appealing aspects.

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2012 Lexus GX 460

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 has comfortable seating in the first two rows, as well as top-notch interior appointments, but its lack of cargo versatility is frustrating.

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 is a truck, under it all, and anyone who's owned an old-style, truck-based SUV will feel right at home here.

The seating position is high relative to the beltline, at least compared to other new vehicles, so there's great outward visibility. Front seats are nicely padded, with excellent support as well as good headroom and legroom. The second row is very roomy, too, and it's not only split but it slides fore and aft to adjust legroom and aid entry to the third row.

That back row itself doesn't make a lot of sense and will leave adults--or even teenagers--with their knees mashed into the seatback, with tight headroom to boot. Unfortunately, the seat can't be removed, and the power-folding mechanism that's mandatory occupies some of the space behind, keeping the cargo floor from being flat and low. What's more, the side-opening hatch opens on the wrong side for easy curb loading.

On the plus side, the GX 460 is supremely refined, with nearly no road and wind noise, although you do hear the engine whenever accelerating, more than some might expect. Ride quality is quite good, whether or not you get the Adaptive Variable Suspension that comes with Premium-grade models, but there's a bit more 'head-toss' on choppy roads.

The look and feel of the interior appointments in the GX 460 is also top-notch. The GX has more unique interior pieces (compared to the related 4Runner) than ever before, and the controls felt better designed and less cluttered than those in Lexus cars, and we loved the redesigned steering-wheel controls and nice, legible gauge layout and cleanly laid-out center-stack for audio, climate, and nav functions.
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2012 Lexus GX 460

Safety

Several available accident-avoidance features help differentiate the 2012 Lexus GX 460, from a safety standpoint.

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 hasn't been crash-tested by either of the two major U.S. safety agencies. But the GX 460 is quite closely related to the Toyota 4Runner, which has earned a mostly impressive set of scores from the IIHS. Plus, safety equipment—both passive and active—is extensive, including some more sophisticated accident-avoidance features.

In addition to the usual stability control and anti-lock brakes, Lexus claims that the GX 460 has a best-in-class ten airbags, including front side, rear seat side, and three-row side-curtain bags, plus knee bags for both front occupants. Active front head restraints also enhance rear impact safety.

Unfortunately, with the beltline brought even higher than before and a thicker back pillar, the blind spots have grown, leaving you to double- and triple-check when changing lanes. A back-up camera is now standard, but a wide-view front and side monitor system that helps a lot more is optional and requires the navigation system.

Safety Connect—a GPS-based roadside assistance system—is included with all GX models. And the GX 460 has a few features that might actually help avoid an accident. The Pre-Collision System primes the braking system for emergency braking and employs a driver monitor system; it's packaged together with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Lane Departure Alert, sounds a buzzer to warn the driver if the vehicle strays out of lane markings.

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2012 Lexus GX 460

Features

Even among luxury SUVs, the 2012 Lexus GX 460 has a great feature set.

You simply won't have to worry about whether the 2012 Lexus GX 460 comes well-equipped; it comes with all the common convenience and luxury features, while the Premium grade steps up to the rich infotainment features and tech extras.

Option-list highlights include a safety-tech package, 330-watt Mark Levinson surround sound, a rear seat entertainment system, and Intuitive Park Assist.

About the only conventional luxury-SUV feature that's not included in the GX 460 is a power hatch—the GX has a manual, side-opening rear door instead.

The navigation system in the GX is packaged with Enform, which offers a suite of services delivering weather, stock quotes, and sports scores, among other things, plus a Destination Assist service that allows a remote operator to input program your nav system.

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2012 Lexus GX 460

Fuel Economy

Don't even think about the 2012 Lexus GX 460 if making a green statement is important.

The 2012 GX 460 is in many respects an homage to older truck-based luxury SUV designs, and in fuel efficiency there's no real exception. Even with a new engine, which brought some mileage improvements, the GX stands at an EPA-rated 15 mpg city, 20 highway. At that, it's still quite the guzzler, and near the bottom of the scale among all vehicles. And to add to the impact of the fuel bills, premium (91 octane or higher) gasoline is required.

To put this in a positive light, in real-world driving we've managed to meet or beat those ratings across a couple of drives--a feat we can't claim in many new vehicles.

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