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.
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.
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.
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.