The current-generation Lexus GX is in an odd place. Developed about a decade ago, and prior to the off-road SUV segment exploding in popularity, it tries to water down the off-road capability of the Land Cruiser Prado on which it’s based in favor of perceived luxury and “sporty” styling. As it’s due for a redesign in the next year or so, Lexus should embrace the popularity of the off-road space and design and market the next GX in the vein of the new Land Rover Defender.
In re-imagining the all-new Defender, Land Rover has created a vehicle that can be optioned for everything from off-road capability to extreme luxury. With the GX, Lexus attempts to attract luxury buyers by making an off-road SUV with a sporty design. Land Rover uses a rugged and heritage-inspired design to achieve the same thing. As a bonus, the Defender is made to be able to go off-road without shredding its bodywork. The same can’t be said for the GX.
What’s most ironic here is that despite automakers like Land Rover and Jeep starting to lean heavily on their respective off-road heritage in recent years, it’s really Lexus’ parent company, Toyota, that holds the most credibility in this space, yet they remain reluctant to use it to their advantage. Go to any truly rugged or remote place in the world like Australia or Africa and you’ll see ten Land Cruisers for every one Defender. Toyota has a massive amount of brand equity in the off-road segment, arguably as much or more than any other automaker. People know this. Buyers of Toyota 4Runners buy them because it’s the closest thing you can get in this country to the 70 Series Land Cruisers that dominate the Outback. It’s a no-brainer for Toyota to leverage this with its next-generation of off-road Lexus SUVs that it sells here in the US. There’s not one person who buys a GX without knowing it’s a Toyota underneath. Lexus thinks it sells a lot of GXs today? Channel a little of Toyota’s off-road heritage by giving the next one a blunt nose with square headlights and launch it with a few overland accessories to go with its leather seats and premium switchgear and sales will climb even higher.
Here’s the other thing — you don’t lose any luxury buyers in doing this. Make the next GX as rugged as it is reliable and luxurious, and people who would’ve bought the old one will still buy the new one, and people who had written the old one off as too tame would find this new take compelling as well. Everyone loves boxy, purpose-built SUVs these days, and designing the next GX in this image is a way to add new customers without alienating the old ones.
Clearly, the market is far hungrier than ever before for rugged utilitarian SUVs at every price point. Luckily, Toyota and Lexus are in a perfect spot to capitalize on this, but whether or not a company known for risk-aversion and conservatism will actually do so is a different story. With the next Lexus GX on the way in a couple of years, we shall soon find out. Find a Lexus GX for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the Rust Belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.