Park the new Lexus GX460 alongside a Toyota Highlander, and the differences are inescapable. Same basic body style, same wheelbase, same seating capacity. True, there are slight differences in overall vehicle length, width, and height, but these two are definitely kissing cousins.
But the Lexus is the richer relative here, with a price tag at least double that of the Highlander. Yes, it comes with more stuff – a lot more stuff – but behind the wheel, the driving experience is much the same and these two do basically the same thing: carry up to seven people around in comfort with the capacity to take the odd off-road foray.
Power for the GX460 is provided by a 4.6 litre V8 that delivers 301 horsepower (the Highlander has to content itself with either a 187-hp four cylinder or 270-hp V6). This engine is used elsewhere in Lexus� line-up, and, like most of this company�s V8s, no complaints here. Lots of available power, almost completely silent in operation, and, on the scale of things, no worse on gas than most of the competition. There is but one transmission choice: a six-speed automatic with a manual shift feature, and the GX460 comes with all-wheel-drive, a Torsen centre differential, hill-start assist, and skid plates for the fuel tank and transfer case. On the top-of-the-line Ultra-Premium version, which is what I drove, you also get an upgraded traction control system, an off-road cruise control set-up called �Crawl Control�, and a multi-terrain select feature….among other things. This last feature allows you to vary the vehicle�s ABS system and aforementioned traction control system to suit the driving conditions you�re experiencing. Despite its hefty price tag, the GX460 is clearly meant to be taken off-road. Should be popular in Muskoka. Interestingly, there are no options packages here; you either buy the base �Premium� model, or the Ultra Premium, with all the goodies.
Unlike the Highlander, which can be kind of spartan, luxury abounds in the GX460. Standard kit includes heated and ventilated front bucket seats, leather interior, push-button start, back-up camera, XM satellite radio, voice-command navi system, and the now-familiar Eco driving guide. This last feature lets the driver know when he/she is driving sensibly via a small green �Eco� light on the dash that lights up when you�re light on the throttle pedal. The GX460 also has rain sensing wipers, which will automatically increase or decrease the wipers� rate of speed, depending on how much of the wet stuff is hitting the windshield. Lots of cars have this feature nowadays, and the GX460 uses infra-red light and a photo diode hooked up to the wiper control. The wipers have to be turned on first, of course.
With the Ultra Premium model, you can add dual screen rear seat entertainment system with headphones and remote, better quality leather interior, adjustable suspension, heated steering wheel, and a lane-departure alert. Not to mention an additional $9000.
One interesting feature of the made in Japan GX460 comes in the form of the two-piece tailgate. Like most SUVs, the rear window can be activated remotely, and opens upwards to allow you to reach in and store groceries and so on, but the bottom section swings outward to the right, as opposed to folding straight out. This is kind of unusual and I�m not sure how I feel about it….could be a problem in a crowded parking lot, when elbow room is at a premium. Total storage capacity is some 1832 litres, and the second row seats have their own heat controls and can recline, while the third row seats can be folded completely flat.
Both models also have Toyota�s active front seat headrests, which I got to experience up close and personal. Basically, this feature causes the front seat headrests to, and I quote, �automatically pop up and move forward to help reduce possible whiplash injury in certain lower speed rear impact collisions�.
How do I know this? During the morning commute, earlier this month, I was smacked from behind by an inattentive young female person driving a Volkswagen Cabriolet, at about 15 – 20 km/h. It wasn�t much of a collision, on the scale of things, but the automatic headrest did indeed tilt forward and in this case, worked in conjunction with the vehicle�s pre-collision system, which simultaneously cinches up the seat belt, while applying maximum stopping power. To the point where my neck was snapped forward and I was essentially pinned to the front seat. I actually felt something pop in my neck, and time will tell if this feature did what it�s supposed to do. Exterior damage to the GX460 was minimal – mangled rear bumper, broken back-up light lens, crimped exhaust pipe, scuffed paint and so on – but because there is also a back-up sensor in this area, and it is a Lexus, the repair bill is likely to be steep. As for the young lady, her airbag did not deploy, strangely enough, but she was uninjured (let�s hear it for seat belts) and her VW could be driven home.
But there goes the safe driver discount.
AT A GLANCE
Type: Mid-size luxury SUV
Base Price: $69,500; as tested: $77,500
Engine: 4.6 litre V8
Transmission: Six-speed automatic w. manual shift mode
Horsepower/Torque: 301 hp @ 5500 rpm/ 329 foot-pounds @ 3400 rpm
Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 14.1 city; 9.8 hwy, premium gas.
Alternatives: Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Range Rover, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti FX50, Mercedes GL Class.
Likes: Well-mannered V8 engine, easy ingress/egress, myriad safety features.
Dislikes: A little pricey to be taken off-road, questionable rear tailgate configuration.