- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2003

Toyota’s philosophy is: A car brand can never have too many sport utility vehicles. There is always one more mountain to climb — one more niche to fill. It is such thinking that gave birth to the Lexus GX 470. Well, that and the fact there was a brand-new Toyota 4Runner platform on which to build a new Lexus SUV. Lexus says it needed an SUV to fill a gaping hole between its RX 300 (now RX 330) and its top-of-the-line LX 470. So far, so good.

But here’s the thing: The LX 470 is a mere 4 inches or so longer and 2 inches wider than the GX, which stands a fraction of an inch taller than the LX. The LX has a 3-inch-longer wheelbase and a bit more cargo capacity, but both SUVs seat eight. (The third-row seat is optional in the GX.) Both use the same V-8 and gearbox. Some amenities that are optional on the GX are standard on the LX, including a DVD-based navigation system, but most standard features are shared. What is wildly different is the base price. The LX is roughly $18,000 more than the GX.

Granted, there are always those who want the biggest and most expensive, whether it’s a wristwatch, a house or an SUV. They will opt for the LX simply for the look-at-me factor. That’s not to say there aren’t some monied folks out there who won’t blink at the additional dollars and genuinely need the extra cargo space, but anyone who has to noodle over the additional 18 large would be smart to go with the GX and forgo the bragging rights.

This can’t be good for LX sales.

Moreover, the GX is a wonderfully competent SUV. That common-denominator 4.7-liter V-8 powering the Toyota 4Runner and Land Cruiser, as well as the LX 470 and GX 470, delivers 235 horsepower and 320 foot-pounds of peak torque. The GX weighs roughly 100 pounds less than the LX, so the engine has even less iron to pull around. It accelerates with gusto. The automatic transmission is a five-speed. Engine and transmission work well together. Though the greenies will whine, the GX 470’s fuel economy is decent for its size and performance. The EPA rates its miles per gallon at 15 in the city and 18 on the open road.

The suspension architecture is quite sophisticated with self-leveling rear suspension, height-adjustable suspension and auto shock-absorber control with four driver-adjustable settings.

The ride is pleasant, but the underpinnings are engineered for off-road abuse. The full-time all-wheel-drive system has not only a low range for more aggressive off-roading, but also automatic hill descent control that applies the brakes to limit downhill acceleration. The standard hill ascent control automatically holds the GX in place on an incline for five seconds without the driver’s touching the brake. All of this is transparent, requiring no driver input.

The mere size of the GX 470 imparts a certain amount of safety for its occupants; however, Lexus has added a number of dedicated safety features such as multistage dual front air bags, front seat-mounted side-impact air bags, front/rear side curtain air bags and front seat-belt pretensioners. As part of its anti-lock brake system, the GX has vehicle skid control as well as traction control. The windshield wipers are rain-sensing variable intermittent. The rear wiper also is intermittent.

Passengers in the GX 470 are treated every bit as well as those in, say, the LS 470 sedan. Leather seating, bird’s-eye maple-wood trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, 11-speaker premium audio system with six-disc in-dash CD changer and power moon roof are standard feature highlights. Upgrading the audio system to the Mark Levinson Audio Package will add another $2,700 to the bottom line but includes the DVD-based navigation system as well as boosting the audio output from 124 to 240 watts and adding another three speakers. The driver is in full command, with all critical gauges easily viewed and necessary controls well within reach. There is plenty of glass for an unobstructed view of the road.

Base price for the GX 470 is $44,925 and includes power window and door locks, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, dual power outboard mirrors, heated front seats and cruise control.

The delivery charge is $575 for a grand total of $45,500.

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