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Lexus GX470

Lexus GX 470 Adds Luxury To Off Road Capability

by Jim Bray

Toyota’s 4Runner has been an excellent example of the mid-sized SUV species for many years, and when the company unleashed its latest version it saw an opportunity to not only redesign it but to push it up market as well.

Hence the Lexus GX 470, a luxury SUV based on the popular 4Runner that gives you the formidable capabilities of its Toyota sibling but with all the coddling and technology you’d expect from the Lexus name.

My review unit was from the 2004 model year, and coming as it did just ahead of the 2005 model’s new engine, it provided a wonderful opportunity to get to know the vehicle, and then try the supposedly new and improved model for comparison when it comes by.

Not surprisingly, the GX 470 proved to be an extremely pleasant ride in virtually every respect. It also displayed some pretty wooly thinking for a state of the art luxury vehicle for the 21st century, though in admittedly nit picky ways.

Lexus Canada says the GX is in response to customer requests for a rugged vehicle with all the Lexus trimming without having to make the jump all the way to the mighty LX 470, which grew out of the long running hit the Toyota Land Cruiser Wagon.

Not surprisingly, the good side of the GX ledger is by far the most substantial. It starts with a nice and smooth 4.7 liter V8 power plant that puts out what seems a modest 235 horsepower at 4800 rpm. Don’t be fooled by the horsepower figure, though; this machine can haul its butt away from a line as quickly as it’s probably prudent to do in a machine such as this. The “butt hauling quotient” is helped by the GX’s 320 lb/ft of torque @ 3400, which pushes you back into the seat in a most satisfying manner. Lexus says 80 per cent of that torque is available from 1100 rpm, which is great if you want to tow something or just throw loose objects to the rear of the vehicle.

Couple the engine to an extremely smooth five speed automatic transmission, a suspension you can adjust between comfort and sport settings, and throw in a state of the art four wheel drive system and you have a vehicle that’s smooth and stable under just about any driving condition.

Helping keep you safe on the roads is such gadgetry as Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Center Differential Lock, Limited-Slip Center Differential, HAC (Hill-start Assist Control), DAC (Downhill Assist Control) and Active Traction Control System (ATRAC). Lexus probably needs a Department of Acronyms just to help everyone keep track.

I had the GX 470 during a week of snow and cold and it did a marvelous job of getting us around, and in style and comfort. Its mechanicals kept us on the road and its comforts kept us snug and cozy and entertained. It was like a mini vacation.

And if you can think of a gadget, I’m willing to bet the dudes and dudettes at Lexus already anticipated you. I mean, illuminated running boards? This seemed a clear case of gilding the lily, but on the other hand why not? I never had to climb into the GX away from sunlight or streetlights so for all I know it could be the height of thoughtfulness.

I guess when you have the Lexus reputation to maintain and a whole lot of other big names coming after you you’re always looking for new stuff.

Perhaps of more use, at least when it came to the trim level of my test unit, is the rear view camera that comes on when you shift the GX into reverse. It uses the LCD screen that also doubles triples or quadruples as the DVD/GPS-based navigation system, and the audio and climate controls display. The camera came in very handy, especially in helping judge the distance of objects behind you when you back up, though it should in no way be considered a replacement for your rear view mirrors.

And as Murphy’s Law would have it, there was a particularly beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon when the glare off the wet asphalt in a parking lot totally washed out the video picture, making the monitor useless. But that was the exception that proved the rule that the rear view camera is a really nice enhancement to the chore of backing up.

The rear view mirrors, by the way, are excellent. The side mirrors, which are heated, are big and offer a terrific view behind, yet don’t block stuff to the sides. The inside mirror can be set to dim automatically.

Lexus GX 470

The GX 470 has three rows of seats and claims to seat eight, though the back row’s comparatively small and is really better for use with small kids or in emergencies. The front two rows are comfortable and coddle you nicely, however. Naturally, it’s all very nice leather and the front seats have variable intensity bun warmers (you can choose your own baking level). The instrument panel is niftily illuminated and very clear and the controls are easy to fathom.

Then there's the stereo. Lexus has chosen to saddle what would otherwise be an excellent Mark Levinson audio system with a CD changer that looks like it came out of the first Lexus except that it fits inside the glove compartment instead of in the trunk. Really, this is an old fashioned cartridge-type changer the likes of which haven’t been seen – except, obviously on some vehicles – since compact discs were still a relative novelty in homes.

Hell, you can get a 6 disc changer mounted right in the dash of cars that otherwise wouldn't’t be worthy of checking the GX 470’s tires!

Anyway, that’s really the only real oversight in what is on the whole a delightful vehicle. And you do get steering wheel-mounted controls to make operating it easier. Oh, and the actual quality of the sound, once you stuck the CD's into the caddy, is absolutely first rate. It doesn’t handle 5.1 channel surround DVD Audio and dts discs the way Acura does, but I bet it does soon.

Now, one doesn’t expect an SUV such as this to handle like a sports car, and the GX doesn’t. But it’s surprisingly good, especially if you take the suspension out of the rather floaty “Comfort” mode and zap it over to “Sport.” The suspension tightens up appreciably, adding a lot more fun to the GX driving experience than I had expected.

The GX sports a full time four wheel drive system with a torque-sensing center differential that splits the power 40/60 front/rear most of the time, but which sends more zip to the rear wheels during “steering maneuvers” (i.e. twisty bits, some on ramps, etc.) to help the vehicle track through curves. It appears to work.

The Lexus has independent front suspension and a rear self-leveling air suspension, and you get a rear height control that lets the driver raise the Lexus’ bum for extra road clearance.

Hey, your Lexus GX can moon people!

Standard tires are 265/75-17’s riding on alloy wheels. Brakes are vented discs front and rear, with ABS of course. I was particularly impressed with the braking feel; the pedal seemed just right under foot and the brakes to which it’s connected make it feel like you’ve thrown out an anchor when you activate them.

The HVAC includes dual zone climate control, which is great when you have a significant other you care about. The power seats are comfortable, though I thought they were a tad narrow for my, well, rump - and thanks to the abundance of adjustments finding the perfect driving position is a piece of cake. Once you’ve found that position you can save it to memory as well, a feature that should be standard on every car. The Lexus remembers two people’s preferences.

The memory also stores the steering wheel’s position once you’ve used its power tilt and telescoping features to get comfortable. And when you enter or leaver the GX 470 the steering wheel moves up and out of the way, which is another excellent touch I learned to love on my old Infiniti Q45.

The navigation system works very well and is pretty easy to use. I could really, really, really do without the lawyer screen that comes on first and which is so tiresomely common on such systems. Once you get past the "silicon solicitor syndrome," the LCD touch screen displays controls for most of the entertainment and comfort systems and it works well. And if you find it obtrusive you can shut it off.

My “Ultra Premium Package” version of the GX included a rear seat entertainment system with a little widescreen LCD in the ceiling that shows the DVD’s you can play in the little DVD player built into the center console. Two pairs of wireless headphones let the little ones bond with Spongebob Squarepants in the back while Mom and Dad argue about which craft shows to stop at up front.

Lexus GX 470

And of course Lexus has equipped the GX 470 with all the safety features you’d expect and want including so many airbags that if they all deployed it would look like someone had unpacked a giant condom inside the vehicle. Likewise are there seatbelts everywhere, automatic headlights and, alas, moisture sensing windshield wipers. I say “alas” because the wipers and I could never agree on the amount of moisture they should sense before self activating. I guess my brain’s just less patient than the Lexus’. Or perhaps less sophisticated...

One other quibble: I wish they had included a more conventional tailgate that lifts, rather than opens from the side.

I could list features all day and probably still miss some, but you can be confident that except perhaps for on onboard water cooler this Lexus is nothing if not fully equipped. And even better: it’s not only crammed with technology and toys, it’s also a very nice vehicle to drive, nicer than an SUV has any right to be.

The 2005 should be very interesting!


Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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