- Crossovers with limited off-road, towing, and adventure capabilities have overrun the red-hot SUV market
- The Toyota 4Runner is often spartan in lower trim levels and creeps past $50k in higher trims
- There is a seemingly secret option in this market: The Lexus GX 460
A couple years ago, we were standing at the Toyota dealer looking at a brand new 2019 Toyota 4Runner. The venerable 5th-generation 4Runner, powered by the seemingly unstoppable 4.0-liter V-6, was before us in all its $47,000 glory. It was top-of-the-line Limited trim, sporting heated and cooled front seats and the Nightshade package with dark wheels and trimmings. Despite being a bit of an old model at this point, it checked a lot of boxes: It could tow a reasonable amount if needed, it would fit the dogs and our friends (I have those), and it would be capable off road and in all weather. On top of all this, the 4Runner is dead reliable. Quite a compelling package, but maybe there was a better alternative—the Lexus GX 460.
The problem was that to get a third row, something we only rarely use but, at nearly $50,000, wanted to have, you had to buy a Limited trim. The popular and hard-to-find TRD Pro trims, which are optimized for some off-road adventuring, didn’t have this feature—and the price tag on those was even higher!
As we mulled over spending a small fortune on a new truck, we looked across the lot to the sister Lexus dealer. On the end of the row was a similar-looking SUV. It was a deep shade of burgundy, and looked really nice in the sun. The GX had caught our eye.
We thanked the Toyota salesman and left saying we’d think about it. Out of curiosity, a quick stroll led to us crawling around this slightly used, certified pre-owned 2015 Lexus GX 460. It was nicer than the 4Runner despite being a few years older. The leather had a satisfying bovine aroma. The sound system was a much improved Mark Levinson unit – we did a video on the 2020 model with the same system. The GX 460 was quieter inside with the doors shut. It had the bank-vault feel luxury car owners have pined about since the old Mercedes days.
A little quick research also told us that a used GX 460 was in many ways a better 4Runner. It’s on the same chassis that underpins nearly a half-dozen other Toyota trucks and SUVs around the world including the 4Runner. The GX 460 is powered by the smooth and uber-reliable 4.6-liter Lexus V-8. The interior was nicer all around, in both materials, with optional semi-aniline leather, and a standard third row no matter the trim level. The overseas model, called the Toyota Prado, is often sent by the United Nations to conflict zones around the world. Talk about an endorsement!
All GX 460s have the acronym soup of Toyota off-road systems. This includes: ATRAC, Toyota’s get-you-unstuck wheel locking ABS; KDSS, which is a fancy acronym for disconnecting sway bars to allow more suspension travel at low speeds; DAC, or Descent Assist Control, to slow you on steep and loose downhills; Standard all-the-time four-wheel drive; a center-locking differential; and on this top trim, adjustable-height rear air ride. These could go all the places most 4Runners could with more and better options and a proper V-8.
We were instantly smitten with this Lexus. The GX 460 really fit the need to have something comfortable and luxurious, while also being able to roadtrip anywhere effortlessly.
After some wheeling and dealing, the dealer agreed to part with this 2015 Claret Red Mica GX 460 Premium for $38,000 out the door. The GX 460 had just under 38,000 miles and was previously leased by a local doctor. She, as the wife immediately started calling the GX 460, was immaculately clean. The only problem listed on the service records was an airbag recall. We drove home happy and feeling like we got a better SUV for a lot less cash.
This is the big secret: If you’re looking for a do-it-all SUV in an environment of boring cars, crossovers, and other seemingly less capable vehicles, the GX 460 is the vehicle for you. We don’t mind letting you in on this knowledge, now that we have ours and don’t have to worry about prices increasing.
Over two years of ownership and 47,000 miles of on- and off-road Michigan driving, our GX had one issue requiring an unscheduled return dealer trip: a cup-holder tab broke. Lexus’s excellent CPO warranty covered this completely. We’ve also added a few more off-road and adventure inspired bits to the SUV. We will detail these in the future, but they’ve made a capable vehicle even more capable.
If we had to identify a couple trade-offs in all this, fuel economy and technology come to the surface. Our GX 460, with slightly more aggressive tires, turns in around 16 mpg average – significantly worse than the impressive Lexus LS 500 sedan we had recently. This is the price you pay for bombproof Lexus V-8 luxury. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are noticeably absent. CarPlay isn’t an option even on the new 2021 Lexus GX 460. These vehicles have changed shockingly little from their introduction in 2010 beyond minor fascia and interior updates.
Trade-offs aside, a few basic modifications have truly reshaped our used Lexus GX 460 into a vehicle that can go nearly anywhere, in any weather, and be very comfortable doing it. Stay tuned as we’ll have a series of posts detailing our build process, modifications, and stories about the trips we’ve taken.