The Lexus GX has been on sale now for the better part of two decades. A true truck-based 4×4 SUV, the GX is based on the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, a vehicle similar to the 4Runner but sold only in markets outside of North America. While the Prado is nearly perfect for the North American market, selling it here as a Toyota would mean cannibalizing sales of the 4Runner, so Toyota chose to instead develop a luxury version of the Prado and sell it here in the U.S. as the Lexus GX. Given that it’s designed primarily for foreign markets, the Land Cruiser Prado/Lexus GX features some quirks, one of which is a side-hinged rear hatch opening — a design that’s not uncommon in other markets but seldom seen in the United States. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the unique rear hatch design on Lexus’ midsize body-on-frame off-roader.
Before we dive into the details of the hatch itself, we should note that it’s also possible to access the GX’s rear cargo area through the rear glass. On the bottom left side of the rear window is a rubber button you press to open the rear glass. This is helpful, given that the rear door design makes it inconvenient to open in a lot of cases.
The handle for opening the actual hatch is located to the left of the license plate. The door is hinged on the passenger side of the vehicle and supported by a gas strut.
Once it’s open, it’s really strange to see an SUV rear door frame with no hinges at the top. It’s the kind of thing you’d generally overlook until someone points it out to you, and then afterward you can’t miss it.
On the back side of the GX’s rear hatch are two storage compartments. The larger of the two compartments houses a small first aid kit, although in foreign markets there’d likely be some other emergency items like a roadside hazard triangle in there as well. In the smaller compartment is the toolkit for changing a spare tire.
As for the cargo area, it houses a third-row seat that can be folded flat into the rear load floor when not in use. While convenient, the fold-flat third row takes up a fair amount of space in the rear cargo area, and the GX’s rear load floor is higher than in most vehicles as a result. As the GX uses a body-on-frame construction, the spare tire hangs between the frame rails and is accessed from underneath.
The GX’s rear hatch is supported by a single gas strut. Longer than the struts you typically see on a top-hinged hatch, the strut on the GX is about two-thirds the length of the entire hatch. The strut can be locked in the open position, which keeps the door from slamming shut on you if you’re parked on an incline, or if it’s just a windy day.
On that note, the GX’s rear hatch is pretty cumbersome to use. While the strut helps, the hatch still takes more effort to open than a top-hinged design, and when open, the hatch is virtually always in the way.
This is especially true any time you’re parallel parked. As the Land Cruiser Prado on which it’s based is designed for right-hand drive markets, where cars drive on the left side of the road, the GX’s rear door is hinged on the passenger side. This means that here in the U.S., any time you’re parallel parked and unloading things from the cargo area, the GX’s rear door blocks your access to the sidewalk while leaving you exposed to traffic — the opposite of what you want.
Opinions are all across the board on the GX’s side-hinged tailgate. Personally, I don’t see much upside to it and would prefer it be hinged at the top. There’s a reason that’s the design used on 99% of SUVs, hatchbacks and wagons. Either way, though, weird features like this are what make cars interesting, and despite its aging design, the GX is quietly one of the more interesting new vehicles on sale today. 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 a while, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.