2010 Lexus GX 460
2010 Lexus GX 460. Click image to enlarge

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2010 Lexus GX 460

Toronto, Ontario – In many parts of the world, a traditional body-on frame structure is highly desirable in an SUV. It can offer greater strength than a monocoque design, and the inherent tolerance to flexing makes it suitable for the goat paths that often pass as roads in countries less developed than our own; or for that matter, parts of Quebec and the state of Michigan.

Even so, it is a market that is shrinking in the U.S. and Canada, as buyers shift towards unibodied crossovers in search of better road manners, greater space efficiency, and improved fuel consumption.

Witness GM’s replacement of its truck-style Chevy Trailblazer, Buick Rainier, and GMC Envoy SUVs with the Traverse, Enclave, and Acadia respectively; these new front and all-wheel drive crossovers are based upon what was to be GM’s next-generation minivan platform.

It’s anticipated that Ford will follow suit with its former sales-leading Explorer, which is expected to be re-invented as a Flex-based crossover when the latest iteration makes its debut in 2010.

2010 Lexus GX 460
2010 Lexus GX 460. Click image to enlarge

Only full-size SUV models carry the body-on frame torch, and part of that is because they remain based on their makers’ generally strong-selling pickup truck lines.

Lexus believes that there remains a small but viable market on this continent for a premium SUV that retains the traditional SUV characteristics of strength and off-road ability, yet is smaller, less expensive, and more everyday-useable than even its own backwoods flagship, the $89,750 LX 570.

That model is the seven-passenger, three row Lexus GX 460, a very heavily reworked replacement for last year’s GX 470.

The company has no delusions – in Canada, this market satisfies a small but loyal group of buyers, and Lexus only anticipates selling about 600 of this new GX model in 2010. For perspective, compare that to the 7,642 RX 350 crossovers it sold last year.

Price increases of approximately $8,000 to $9,000 (depending on trim level) reflect greater levels of standard equipment. Among the newly standard features are a touch-screen and voice-activated navigation system – which in many vehicles is a $2,500-$4,000 option by itself – and adaptive Xenon HID headlights with auto High Beam control, which “steer” their light output to better illuminate corners.

2010 Lexus GX 460
2010 Lexus GX 460. Click image to enlarge

Consequently, the entry level GX 460 Premium lists for $68,500, while the extra-opulent GX 460 Ultra Premium is $77,500. It should be noted that there are no factory options on either trim level, so after choosing either the Premium or Ultra Premium model, your only decisions concern colours and whatever dealer accessories you’d like to add.

One of the accessories that you might choose would be a trailer hitch receiver. It, and an aftermarket trailer brake controller, are the final ingredients needed to equip the GX 460 for towing up to 2,948 kg (6500 lbs), since the frame-mounted hitch and sockets for seven and four pin trailer plugs are already provided.

This substantial towing capacity is one of Lexus’ claimed benefits of the GX’s body-on-frame design, yet ironically, the unibody Audi Q7, Land Rover LR4, and Mercedes GL450 can all better that rating.

What the Audi Q7 in particular probably can’t match is the GX 460’s off-road capability. With a far shorter wheelbase that lends itself to better breakover angles, the Lexus is far less likely to turtle or even disembowel itself while passing over obstacles. Standard skid plates also protect the GX’s engine and fuel tank to some degree, and while they are too thin and too few for truly serious rock-crawling, they’re more than what most players in this segment provide as standard equipment.

2010 Lexus GX 460
2010 Lexus GX 460. Click image to enlarge

Certainly the GX has off-roading in its DNA; this vehicle is related to not only the Toyota 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, and Tacoma pickup, it is very similar to a global market model called the Land Cruiser Prado – think “Land Cruiser Lite”. (The larger LX 570 is Lexus’ version of the full-size Land Cruiser 200 Series).

The GX 460’s drivetrain features full-time all-wheel drive via a Torsen centre differential that normally splits power roughly 40:60 front to rear, but can send up to 53 per cent to the front and 70 per cent to the rear when not manually locked by the driver.

In addition to the mechanical advantages of the two-speed transfer case’s low range, electronic systems provide Hill Start Assist, Downhill Assist, and advanced traction and stability control.

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