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Home The Market Large and in charge, at least until the pavement ended

Large and in charge, at least until the pavement ended

Driven: 2021 Lexus GX 460 Luxury

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Remember when large sport utility vehicles began clogging up urban and suburban roadways in the 1990s? I wrote then that these vehicles represented gated communities on wheels. 

Where there once was the Chevrolet Suburban, that workhorse of a vehicle ready to carry a crew to a worksite or a family on vacation, now people could isolate in large and luxurious SUVs from the likes of Cadillac, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Infiniti and others. 

It seemed such vehicles were designed not for sport or utility at all, and the thought of actually driving one anywhere but on pavement seemed out of the question.

2021 Lexus GX460 Luxury model

But flash forward a few decades and we have Lexus proclaiming its latest 2021 GX 460 as the “dual-purpose luxury utility vehicle,” suitable not only for a night on the town, or at the country club, but also “engineered for all kinds of terrain including extreme off-road conditions.”

I’ve just spent a week in a 2021 Lexus GX460 Luxury model and it is, indeed, a large and luxurious 3-row station wagon with 4-wheel drive — and really, isn’t that what most SUVs and crossovers really are, station wagons, except we don’t use that term anymore? 

The GX460 is a wonderful transportation device on pavement for those who like traveling in isolated luxury. It has a V8 engine, leather seating (heated seats even in the second row), all the bells and whistles and an array of driver aid/safety technology, moonroof, variable suspension, towing package with trailer-sway control, etc.

For most of the week I drove it as might a typical owner — shuttling children (or grandchildren, in my case) to sports team practices, and home from grammar school (finally, back to real school, for at least a couple days a week), hauling home groceries, etc.

By the way, if you use your GX for shopping trips, be sure you can park where there’s plenty of room to open the rear hatch. Only the backlight is hinged into the roof. The door itself is hinged curbside, and when open, that (quite literal) tail gate extends nearly 4 feet out behind the vehicle.

2021 Lexus GX460 Luxury model
See that rock to the right of the SUV? The trail ahead included many many more

On the weekend, I did a 150-mile Sunday afternoon cruise that included divided highways (with speed limits of up to 75 mph), but also a long and leisurely 2-lane cruise through a Joshua tree forest.

So far, so good. In fact, even better than good. Though allow me one nit to pick: The side steps to ease entry and exit from a tall vehicle aren’t quite wide, or at least don’t extend outward enough to be really useful, though they look nice.

After my Sunday afternoon cruise, I noticed on the car’s Monroney pricing sheet that among its many options was a $1,570 Off Road Package, so I decided to follow up with a mid-week afternoon drive off pavement. A few months ago, I’d driven the same trails in a 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Pro, the GX’s light and nimble compact cousin, and was astounded at how delightfully capable that vehicle was off pavement. 

2021 Lexus GX460 Luxury model

That was not my experience in the GX. Perhaps it was the extra 1,500+ pounds, or the less-aggressive tire tread, or a difference in the on-board off-road technology. Whatever, my off-road experience in the GX was harrowing and I was very much relieved when the dust-covered Lexus and I found an escape route and returned to pavement.

Someone living in a gated community might opt to drive the Lexus GX460 Luxury model on a challenging off-pavement trail to reach their luxurious log cabin retreat hidden away in the mountains or on the shore of a remote stream. Personally, I’d be content to keep this large and luxurious SUV comfortably on pavement. 

2021 Lexus GX460 Luxury

Vehicle type: 7-passenger 3-row sport utility vehicle, 4-wheel drive

Base price: $64,365 Price as tested: $71,690

Engine: 4.6-liter v8, 301 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 329 pound-feet of torque @ 3,500 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 109.8 inches Overall length/width: 192.1 inches / 73.8 inches

Curb weight: 5,198 pounds

EPA mileage estimates: 15 city / 19 highway / 16 combined

Assembled in: Tahara, Aichi, Japan

For more information, visit the Lexus website.

Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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