published Saturday, March 1st, 2014

Test Drive: Lexus GX 460 both rugged and refined

The GX 460 has the refinement of a Lexus and the rugged off-road ability of a true SUV.
The GX 460 has the refinement of a Lexus and the rugged off-road ability of a true SUV.
Photo by Mark Kennedy.

FAST FACTS

Model: Lexus LX 460

Exterior color: Black

Interior color: Black

Engine: 4.6 liter, V-8

Horsepower: 301

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 20 mpg highway/15 mpg city

Dealer: Lexus of Chattanooga

Price (as tested): $52,638

There are some luxury vehicles I'd described as SINOs. My acronym — a total contrivance — stands for "SUVs-in-name-only," and you know the type.

They're car-based cross-over vehicles with a little extra ground clearance, a two-wheel-drive set-up and froufrou interiors that would look at home in a premium mini-van. The only off-roading most of these SUVs ever experience is gliding through a mall parking lot.

Then there are vehicles like the Lexus GX 460, real body-on-frame SUVs that have all the creature comforts of a luxury ride but still have the capability to plow through shallow creeks or to sprint across farm pastures in a rainstorm without getting mired in mud.

This week, Joe Prebul at Lexus of Chattanooga set us up in a black 2014 GX 460, which literally gets a face-lift this year with the addition of the brand's new spindle grille -- an attractive design statement that has transformed the brand. The spindle grille is the visual equivalent of a hormone injection, adding edginess to Lexus's traditionally conservative designs.

Also new for 2015 is a $5000 price drop for the base GX 460s like our tester, which makes them an even better value proposition.

STYLING AND COMFORT

Although technically a mid-size SUV, the GX 460 is a true, seven-passenger vehicle with three rows of seating -- including a "way back" row that can actually accommodate grown-ups.

Sliding into the driver's seat, the GX 460 offers a commanding view of the road ahead. Elements of its padded dash comes together at right angles at the center stack, no arches or oblique lines to add fussiness. Seats are wide in the hips, with sufficient bolstering to keep you from sliding to-and-fro. The NuLuxe seats are perforated, with available heating and cooling on upper trim levels. There are also independent climate controls for second- and third-row occupants, so everybody can enjoy a little cocoon of personal comfort.

The second row of seats are split 40/20/40 and the passenger-side seat tilts and slides forward so it's easier for occupants to climb into the third row. Total cargo capacity is an expansive 64.7 cubic feet.

Standard on the GX 460 is a Lexus audio unit with 8-inch touch screen control, subscription-free traffic and weather, backup camera, LED headlamps, power moonroof, roof rails, 10-way power adjustable front seats, nine-speaker sound and push-button start. Our test vehicle comes with a navigation package ($1,795) which includes voice-activated controls, a high-resolution color LCD display and wide-angle rear-view camera.

The exterior of the GX 460 is masculine, with ample wheel arches and a sculpted hood that blends well with the new spindle grille treatment.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Although very truckish in design and execution -- the GX 460 can tow up to 6,500 pounds -- the SUV is also a dream to drive. Lexus, a leader in sound-proofing, manages to give the GX 460 the hushed ride the brand is famous for, while maintaining its off-road prowess.

A 4.6 liter, V-8 engine is standard across the GX 460 line, and provides ample power making 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque. Four-wheel drive is standard on the GX 460, and eight inches of ground clearance adds to its rugged practicality.

On a midday test drive last week, the GX 460 sliced through traffic on Highway 153. The ride is stable and smooth, just right for a long-haul family vacation or a daily commute. The six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and competent.

BOTTOM LINE

For families that need the versatility of seven-passenger seating, and a V-8 hauling machine, the GX 460 -- especially in base trim -- is a compelling value. Expect 20 mpg highway and 15 mpg city. With its new exterior design, the 2014 GX 460 adds a dash of excitement to this rugged, but refined, package.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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