2020 Lexus GX Review

Christian Wardlaw | Aug 08, 2019

Introduction

Imagine a Toyota 4Runner stuffed inside of a giant marshmallow, and you get the general idea of the 2020 Lexus GX. Refined yet rugged, plush yet potent, the Lexus GX is a luxury vehicle built upon a durable and capable traditional SUV platform.

For 2020, Lexus updates the GX’s styling and interior, makes its driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies standard rather than optional, and adds a new Off-Road Package to the optional equipment menu. Otherwise, this midsize premium SUV is largely the same vehicle it was when last redesigned for the 2010 model year.  

2020 Lexus GX Gray LargeFor this review, J.D. Power evaluated a GX 460 Luxury with the Sport Design Package and a Mark Levinson surround sound system. Final pricing for the 2020 GX was not available as this review was published, but in 2019 a GX 460 optioned like the test vehicle was priced between $68,000 and $69,000.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Lexus GX, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compared to the segment, the Lexus GX is popular with women. J.D. Power data shows that 48% of Lexus GX owners are female, compared to 37% of all midsize premium SUV owners. The Lexus owner base is younger, too, with a median age of 53 (vs. 58). Their median household income is $193,750 (vs. $198,923).

Lexus GX owner sentiments are largely aligned with those of those across the segment. However, there are certain differences.

For example, they are less likely to agree that they’re willing to pay extra for safety features (86% vs. 90% for the segment) or an environmentally friendly vehicle (46% vs. 52%). Only 30% of Lexus GX owners claim that a first consideration in a new vehicle is fuel economy (vs. 44%).

Similarly, GX owners are less likely to agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and strong acceleration (91% vs. 95%), or that they like a vehicle that stands out from a crowd (79% vs. 84%).

What do Lexus GX owners care about? Reliability, with 98% of GX owners agreeing that this factor is a first consideration when they choose a new vehicle (vs. 94%). Also, 91% of GX owners agree that they need a versatile vehicle that accommodates a busy lifestyle (vs. 85%).

Lexus GX owners say their favorite things about the GX are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, driving dynamics, exterior styling, interior design, and engine/transmission. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the GX are (in descending order) the seats, climate control system, storage and space, infotainment system, and by a significant margin, fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his perceptions about how the Lexus GX measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

With no more than a glance, the 2020 GX is immediately recognizable as a Lexus. Though it remains boldly proud of its jutting snout, the redesigned grille and new triple-beam LED headlights with signature L-shaped running lights bring greater cohesion to the SUV’s styling. Also, with the Sport Design Package, bigger 19-inch aluminum wheels help to fill the GX’s wildly flared fenders.

Nevertheless, the Lexus GX remains a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.

Interior

Lexus makes two changes to the GX 460’s interior for 2020. The first is replacement of the Mahogany wood trim in the Premium and Luxury trim levels with a trendy new gray Sapele wood. Also, a new Rioja Red upholstery color is available, complete with a black headliner.

Otherwise, the GX’s interior remains the same. Equipped with an analog cabin in a digital world, the GX’s controls, switchgear, and comparatively remedial technology reveal the SUV’s advanced age more than anything else. At the same time, fans of buttons and knobs will be in heaven, especially since the GX’s controls are clearly labeled and easy to use.

Seats

Equipped with Luxury trim and the Sport Design Package, the test vehicle included seating for six people and premium semi-aniline leather upholstery. The front seats and second-row captain’s chairs were heated, and both the driver and front passenger benefitted from seat ventilation.

Shorter people might find the GX a bit of a climb to get into, but this Lexus is comfortable once you’re inside. It doesn’t offer front seat massage, though, and the range of adjustment is limited compared to many other midsize premium SUVs.

Adults relegated to the third-row seat will be unhappy, especially since access to them is awkward at best. Most suitable for children, this seat is located alarmingly close to the GX 460’s tailgate, which means you might want to think twice about carrying youngsters back there.

Climate Control System

With triple-zone climate control, overhead air vents for rear passengers, and the previously mentioned ventilated front seats, the Lexus GX easily combatted high summertime temperatures. The controls are, however, oddly located between the stereo controls and the infotainment system’s touchscreen display.

Lexus says you can use the voice recognition system to adjust the cabin temperature. On my first attempt, the system instead changed to satellite radio channel 75. On my second attempt, I successfully changed the climate control to 75 degrees. Then I tried to switch back to the FM station I’d been listening to, but without success.

Infotainment System

From its small, embedded touchscreen display to its lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, the Lexus GX’s infotainment system represents yester-tech in a vehicle that costs this amount of money. Furthermore, the voice recognition system isn’t as advanced as what many competing models offer.

Perhaps the most advanced feature is Lexus Enform Remote. Both smartphone and smartwatch compatible, this app-based technology works with Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa to provide remote access to certain vehicle functions and data, to monitor vehicle usage, and to find the SUV when you can’t remember where it's parked. This service is free for one year, along with Lexus Enform Destination Assist personal concierge service.

The test vehicle’s optional 17-speaker Mark Levinson surround-sound system proved excellent, and for 2020 the GX gains two new USB ports for second-row occupants to use.

Storage and Space

Given that versatility is important to Lexus GX buyers, the lack of cargo utility is a concern.

First, the rear tailgate swings from left to right, making it a real burden to use when parked parallel to the curb with other vehicles close behind. Second, there is little cargo space when the third-row seat is raised. You can line up grocery bags, and that’s all. Space measures 11.6 cu.-ft., but that figure is only relevant if you’re stacking items. Third, maximum cargo space measures 64.7 cu.-ft. This isn’t much for a midsize SUV that weighs more than 2.5 tons.

Most people are likely to use the GX with the third-row seat folded down. So configured, it holds a generous 46.7 cu.-ft. of cargo. Note, however, that the load floor is high, making it more difficult to load heavy items.

Interior storage is not generous, either. The center console bin is adequate, but otherwise, there are few places to stash things. This is especially true given that the glove box is stuffed full of vehicle documentation such as the thick owner’s manual.

Visibility and Safety

If storage and space do not impress, visibility is excellent all around. Tall glass, large side mirrors, and various camera views help to make the GX maneuverable. However, the low-resolution reversing camera is another example of the SUV’s old technology, resembling grainy security camera video after dark.

For 2020, Lexus makes several driver assistance and collision avoidance features standard for the GX. They include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beam headlights. Lexus Enform Safety Connect is also standard, free for the first 10 years of GX ownership. It provides automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, and quick access to roadside assistance.

Like the rest of the GX’s technology offerings, these systems are basic rather than advanced. The adaptive cruise control does not operate at low speed and cannot bring the SUV to a stop let alone accelerate again after stopping. The forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems use the same chime, making it hard to discern which feature is attempting to get your attention. And that chime is irritating, prompting disuse of the lane departure warning technology.

Engine/Transmission

Every GX 460 is equipped with a 4.6-liter V8 engine making 301 horsepower and 329 lb.-ft. of torque. Notably, the torque peaks relatively low at 3,500 rpm. A 6-speed automatic transmission with a Sport driving mode distributes the power to all four wheels through a full-time 4-wheel-drive system.

Creamy smooth, the V8 delivers plenty of oomph, and the automatic transmission shifts unobtrusively at all times. When accelerating from a stop, the throttle response can be too eager, resulting in sudden leaps forward. Be careful in thick traffic, when parking, and when putting the GX into a garage. Lexus says that it takes this 5,130-pound SUV 7.8 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph and that the GX tows up to 6,500 lbs.

The 4WD system includes a transfer case and electronic engagement of 4-Lo. The GX 460 supplies 8.1 inches of ground clearance and features both downhill assist control and hill assist control.

A new Off-Road Package installs a Crawl Control off-road cruise control system that regulates speed while the driver focuses on steering the best line across difficult terrain. Additionally, this package adds a Multi-Terrain Select traction system that regulates power delivery based on the surface conditions underneath the tires. A fuel tank skid plate, a transmission cooler, and a Multi-Terrain Monitor that even shows what’s underneath the SUV add to the GX’s capabilities.

Light off-roading is no problem for the standard Lexus GX, especially with the adaptive variable suspension that can raise the vehicle for extra clearance. Add the Off-Road Package and some all-terrain tires, and this SUV likely matches Jeep and Land Rover in terms of its exploring capabilities. This is one of the GX’s key selling points.

Fuel Economy

The Lexus GX is not a fuel-efficient vehicle. It gets 15 mpg in the city, 18 mpg on the highway, and 16 mpg in combined driving. This aligns with the testing average, which came to 16.1 mpg. Based on the EPA data and the 23-gallon fuel tank, the GX travels a maximum of 368 miles between stops at the gas station.

Driving Dynamics

With its Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which is designed to keep the GX level regardless of terrain, and an adaptive variable suspension with Comfort, Normal, and Sport settings, the GX provides a reasonably good ride and handling characteristics.

In Comfort mode, the SUV feels soft and disconnected. In Sport mode, it feels hard and communicates too much of the road surface to the cabin. That’s why my favorite setting was Normal, which blends these traits in the most agreeable way.

In the city and on the highway, the tall, heavy Lexus GX feels fairly stable. It rides on a relatively short wheelbase and has a comparatively tall center of gravity, so it needs KDSS and the adaptive suspension to eliminate as much dive, squat, pitch, and roll as is possible.

On country roads chock full of bumps, cracks, patched pavement, and undulations, it is easy to imagine Lexus GX passengers getting queasy. Toss this SUV down a curvy road, and you’d better know it well because the GX doesn’t take kindly to sudden inputs.

With three full turns required to spin the steering wheel from left to right, the steering gear is slow. This is common in vehicles designed first for off-roading capability and second for on-pavement prowess. Even slight bends in the road require plenty of input and don’t expect much in the way of precision. On one narrow bridge with oncoming traffic, I found the GX’s vague steering a little unnerving.

However, the worst of this SUV’s dynamic traits is the brake pedal. During the first half of travel, nothing really happens. Then the brakes suddenly engage, and it’s really hard to modulate them for smooth stops.

At least they don’t fade. On the mountain road part of my testing loop, on a hot day, after using them for miles during descent from altitude, I rounded a blind corner and there was a Jeep Wrangler stopped in the road, four sightseeing people looking at God-knows-what. I slammed fully onto the brakes, the seat belts tightened up, and the GX’s antilock brakes brought the SUV to a prompt stop.

Final Impressions

In addition to its award-winning reputation for dependability, the main reason to buy a Lexus GX is for its off-roading capability. Thirsty with fuel, sometimes difficult to drive smoothly, lacking utility, and technologically well behind the competition, the Lexus GX is overdue for a complete redesign.

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