It’s rare that I get into a car and immediately think that I should doff a chauffeur’s cap, but that’s exactly how I felt the first time I slipped behind the wheel of the big, luxurious 2017 Lexus GX460 SUV. It’s the kind of vehicle that secret service types drive celebrities around in and it was a struggle to get my teen daughter to sit up front with me, she so enjoyed the screens, separate audio system and other amenities of the back seat.
Most importantly, she loved the big space between the back seats as it’s a dual bucket style, not a bench as so many vehicles are now. That means, as she explained, there was space for her purse and everything else even when she and a friend were occupying the back.
But let’s start with an exterior shot because this is a big vehicle. In fact, I dubbed it “The Beast” for our week of driving:
It’s hard to tell in the photos, but it’s a lovely deep blue. Lexus calls it Nightfall Mica, yet another example of how color people have too much time on their hands. Still, it looks almost black until you get the sun just right on the surface, then it’s a deep dark blue. Very pretty.
And this vehicle towers above everything else on the road, even other SUVs. Average SUV height is about 65-68 inches, but the GX460 measures 74.2 inches, ground to roof. If you like SUVs because you feel safe in ’em, then this is a tank. With, um, leather seats and a fantastic sound system, that is!
In fact, let’s talk about the dash controls for a minute. The GX460 features a Mark Levinson sound system and it really is excellent, particularly at high volume. Deep bass, rich mid-range and highs that are pleasant on the ear, not grating, meant that from symphonic music to hip-hop, everything sounded really great. All neatly integrated into the entertainment center:
The layout was surprisingly intuitive too, particularly given that Toyota seems to have a hard time figuring out where to put things like seat warmer controls [see my review of the Prius Prime for details]. Notice the overlap of functions too: The black portion on the lower section of the control area has environmental controls (the “73” is the desired temperature) but there’s also a “Climate” button on the entertainment system too. I have no problem with redundancy given that the alternative is being unable to find controls on a vehicle.
The dashboard itself is surprisingly traditional in its gauges and layout:
You can also see one of the down sides of the vehicle: Mediocre gas mileage. I saw about 18.1 mpg total with mostly city driving and its EPA combined is 17.1, so I was doing better at driving than most people! That sounds low when you compare it with small eco-friendly vehicles like the Toyota Prius, but for a big, heavy SUV, it’s actually quite decent. Then again, with a whopping 23-gallon tank, it’s still going to cost a pretty penny to fill up each time.
One feature that took a bit of getting used to was that the back opens sideways, not upward:
You can pop the window and reach in to get things, but this design for the back door was surprising and I’m not entirely sure what its benefit is over a top hinge style that’s more common on SUVs. And wouldn’t you want the hinge on the left, not right, however? Look at the photo above: If I open the door fully, it’s then in the way of passengers, luggage, groceries, etc that would be on the curb.
I want to jump to the back seat, however, because that’s one area where this vehicle really shines compared to other SUVs on the market.
In addition to in-seat screens with a complete range of audio and video content, the back seats also have seat warmers (a huge hit with my daughter!) and full environmental – and audio! – controls too. In fact, a close-up shows that in addition to their own lighter AC plug, there are a few additional inputs available:
You see that right, there’s component, HDMI, two phone inputs, and separate volume controls too. That’s a lotta control for the back seat, making the passengers definitely feel like they’re wrapped in luxury. And me? That’s why I wanted to grab a chauffeur’s cap or sign up for Uber Black or something!
But don’t forget, this is also a 4×4 with lots of vehicular smarts too. In fact, there’s a rather bewildering set of switches and controls on the center area:
What are these switches? I had to look them up! Left to right, top to bottom, they are: rear height control air suspension (adjusting the rear height for towing, etc), driving mode (sport, standard and comfort), crawl control (for negotiating tough hills) and four wheel drive control (H4 is for high speed 4×4 traction driving and L4 is for rough terrain where you need even more traction but won’t be driving fast). Complicated, eh?
Of course, my guess is that the majority of GX460 owners will consider hopping a curb a crazy 4×4 adventure, so I bet these could be dummy controls and most people would never realize. But when you are stuck in a bad driving situation, it is nice to know your vehicle has all these extra capabilities, particularly icy and snowy conditions in the mountains here in Colorado.
I really enjoyed driving The Beast. It’s off-the-line performance wasn’t anything to write home about, but it’s a solid vehicle with lots of comforts and amenities, coupled with a splendid sound system, rear passenger luxuries and a third-row that can be popped up if you have a few younger guests to transport too. The price tag establishes it in the luxury range at $71K, but if you have the money, it’s a darn nice option for your family and their gear.
AS DRIVEN: 2017 / 9710A Lexus GX460 Luxury in Nightfall Mica with optional dual screen rear-seat entertainment system, sport design package and driver support package. MSRP: $71,890.00.
Disclosure: I was loaned this vehicle for a week in return for this writeup and review.