Pros: Off-road-ready hardware, compliant ride, standard three-row seating, plenty of luxury and technology features.

Cons: Uncomfortable second- and third-row seats, poor on-road handling, unremarkable interior quality, low fuel economy.

Introduction

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 is an analog girl in a digital world. Based on the same body-on-frame platform that underpins the 4Runner and FJ Cruiser SUVs, the GX 460 prioritizes off-road performance, just as every SUV used to do. Featuring tough, truck-like construction and standard four-wheel drive with a dual-range transfer case, the GX is a go-anywhere kind of vehicle. But that puts it in stark contrast to modern luxury SUVs, which generally employ unibody platforms that are optimized for shopping malls and suburban driveways.

Of course, Lexus has made sure that the GX feels at home in civilization, too. Thanks to a soft suspension, a slew of fancy features and standard three-row seating, the GX can certainly play the part of a high-end family vehicle. We're surprised that Lexus didn't use richer interior materials in this expensive SUV, but the standard V8 engine provides some consolation, as it's not offered in the GX's lesser platform-mates.

The GX's trail-busting roots are evident, however, in its relatively uncomfortable second- and third-row seats, which can be blamed in part on the beefy suspension underneath. There's also nothing car-like about the way the tall, narrow GX navigates corners. Overall, we can't shake the feeling that a luxury-themed 4Runner is a square-peg-in-a-round-hole kind of product. But if your tastes run to both off-roading and opulence, you may well be swayed by the 2012 Lexus GX 460's old-school charm. 

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 comes in two trim levels: base and Premium. Both trims feature a power-folding third-row seat.

Standard features on the base GX include 18-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof, keyless entry with push-button ignition, woodgrain interior trim, a power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, 10-way power front seats with heating and cooling functions, leather upholstery, driver memory functions, electroluminescent gauges, a rearview camera, a trip computer with a 4.2-inch display, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth and a nine-speaker audio system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio and iPod/USB connectivity.

The Premium adds niceties like high-gloss 18-inch alloys, adaptive xenon headlights, power folding exterior mirrors, semi-aniline perforated leather upholstery, heated second-row seats, tri-zone climate control with a smog sensor and a heated steering wheel with wood inserts.

Some of the Premium's features are optional on the base GX 460. Optional on both models are a 14-speaker Mark Levinson audio system and a hard-drive-based navigation system that features Lexus Enform with Safety Connect (see "Technology," below). The Premium gets a few exclusive options, including dynamic cruise control, crawl control for better off-road performance and a front-view camera system that utilizes two cameras (one in the grille and one in the passenger-side mirror housing) to aid front and side visibility in parking situations.

The GX's interior frankly lacks the top-quality materials we've come to expect from Lexus over the years. In particular, the dashboard doesn't look or feel like it belongs in a vehicle costing more than $50,000. The 4Runner's interior materials got a downgrade with the last redesign, and it looks like the GX has been similarly victimized. Still, everything seems screwed together reasonably well, and Lexus's trademark electroluminescent gauges serve as a reminder that this is more than just a Toyota. Also, while the GX 460's central control panel has a lot of buttons, they're clearly marked in large white type, so there are no ergonomic snafus to report.

Drivers of all sizes should be able to get comfortable behind the GX's wheel, thanks in part to the standard power tilt-telescopic steering wheel. The front seats are bereft of lateral support, but that's understandable in a vehicle like this. Less forgivable are the low-mounted rear seating rows, which will have longer-legged passengers resting their chins on their knees. The third row is especially cramped, so if you plan to use more than two rows on a regular basis, we recommend purpose-built people-carriers like minivans or the Ford Flex.

Cargo capacity in GX measures 11.6 cubic feet, which is practically nothing, behind the third-row seat. Power-fold that seat into the floor and you've got a more reasonable 36.5 cubic feet. With the second-row seatbacks folded down, the GX can haul a maximum of 91.9 cubic feet. That's pretty good for a non-enormous SUV. However, the GX's unusual cargo door is hinged on the passenger side, which means it opens toward the curb on American roads-not the most convenient design for curbside loading.

Technology

Lexus does a good job with standard technology features, and the GX is no exception, featuring iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity right out of the box. Also noteworthy is the available front-view camera system, which at least partly solves the inherent visibility problems of a tall SUV by displaying (at speeds up to 7.5 mph) approaching obstacles at the front and passenger side of the vehicle. The optional hard-drive-based navigation system is another appealing feature, though the GX gets a touchscreen interface instead of Lexus's newer "Remote Touch" mouse-like controller. We'd like to see more sophisticated graphics for the map displays and such, but operating the system is pretty straightforward.

The navigation system includes the Enform telematics suite, which lets you either plan trips from home using a Lexus-exclusive online search called eDestination, or leverage your smartphone for this purpose with the downloadable Enform mobile app. Destination Assist provides live navigation assistance from Lexus's 24-hour response center. Both features are facilitated by direct communication with the GX's navigation system.

Note that Toyota's Entune system, which uses smartphone data connections to integrate mobile apps like Pandora into the driving experience, isn't available in any Lexus for the 2012 model year.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The rear-drive-based GX 460 comes with standard dual-range four-wheel drive and a 4.6-liter V8 rated at 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft of torque. It's rather unusual to see a V8 these days with a horsepower rating as low as this one, and the GX is no lightweight at over 5,300 pounds. Acceleration is adequate, though, and the 4.6 emits a nice purr at full sail.

The GX can tow up to 6,500 pounds, which is more than car-based crossover SUVs can handle, but not that much by truckish SUV standards.

Fuel economy is a predictably underwhelming 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway.

Safety

The 2012 Lexus GX 460 comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and ten airbags (front, front side, front knee, rear side and full-length side-curtain). All models include Safety Connect, which uses the same 24-hour response center as the Enform system to get you the help you need if the unexpected occurs.

Crash tests have not been performed on the GX as of this writing.

Driving Impressions

The GX 460 inherits its tall, slim build from the 4Runner and the overseas-only Land Cruiser Prado. This design may work well for tight off-road trails and narrow Japanese streets, but it also makes the GX feel a bit claustrophobic, as if it hasn't yet expanded to its full width. That feeling doesn't inspire confidence in corners, where the GX could hardly be more out of its element. In a straight line, however, the GX's soft ride and excellent noise suppression make for a pleasant cruising experience. Potholes are often barely noticeable thanks to the long-travel, off-road-ready suspension.

Other Cars to Consider

Audi Q7 - With its standard three-row seating and premium ambiance, the Q7 is a natural GX foe. We prefer both of the Q7's engines (supercharged V6 and turbodiesel V6) to the GX's V8.

BMW X5 - Boasting superior handling along with an available third row, the X5 is the driver's SUV in this class. It's got lovely engines, too. But don't even think about it if you're the off-roading type.

Land Rover LR4 - The surprisingly affordable LR4 trumps the GX with its sumptuous interior, muscular V8 and adult-friendly three-row seating. Off-road performance is naturally beyond reproach.

AutoTrader Recommends

Our GX would have to have the front-view camera system, so put us down for a GX Premium with that $3,000-plus options package.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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