LUXURY IN A BOX: The square shape of the Lexus GX 460 is a hint that it’s an old-school body-on-frame vehicle, designed for off-road capability.
LUXURY IN A BOX: The square shape of the Lexus GX 460 is a hint that it’s an old-school body-on-frame vehicle, designed for off-road capability.
LEXUS

Any test car in my driveway almost always represents a mystery arrival. It’s much like being part of the plot in a mystery novel in which the detective who is up next takes the next case.

So it is with test cars. Of course, some might say it’s downright criminal the way I write about some vehicles.

Thus it was when the phone rang with the announcement that a 2014 Lexus GX 460 luxury SUV was to arrive in my driveway in mid-July.

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The quick arrival meant my first drive was made without doing my normal homework. If you’ve driven enough cars, it’s not particularly hard to get in, adjust seats and mirrors, then be on your way. However, there almost always are design and technology features that you need to research and incorporate into a review.

And that was true for the GX 460. It has lots of the unexpected, including its square appearance (74.2 inches high and 74.2 inches wide).

If you’ve ever driven a Lexus or been a passenger in one, it’s likely you’ll remember a pair of common qualities: luxury and refinement.

The GX 460 had those, but only to a point. Before I figured out what was happening, this Lexus had me baffled. It wasn’t your usual daily luxury driver.

It was time to do some of that remedial homework.

Quickly we found:

The GX 460 is a throwback, body-on-frame design and therefore a workhorse Lexus capable of some serious off-roading or towing.

Lexus has done some serious engineering in the suspension and handling department. The result is what the company calls its Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), with stiffer stabilizer bars (to reduce maximum body lean by up to 50 percent) and a set of hydraulic cylinders on each stabilizer bar able to vary that resistance.

In off-roading situations, the KDSS reduces that sway resistance, allowing the wheels on each axle to move with extra side-to-side independence (articulation in the four-wheel lexicon). In those cases, the hydraulic system can flow to reduce any tendency for wheel lift.

We had the base model that starts at $49,995 (including destination). The list of standard features is lengthy and expected. The unexpected is standard leatherette upholstery, a bit of slumming for a Lexus.

Options included the necessary (in today’s world) blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alerts ($800) and a $4,710 Premium package that added the leather-trimmed seats, mahogany wood trim, rain-sensing wipers, windshield deicer, LED fog lamps, fancier alloy wheels, parking assist, heated-ventilated front seats, heated outboard second-row seats, three-zone automatic climate control, and touchscreen navigation. A cargo-area cover ($150) and wheel locks ($81) bought the bottom line to $55,736.

Meanwhile, the “luxury” version starts at $61,625 and offers upgraded comfort but mostly another level of technology, including adaptive suspension with rear auto-leveling, auto-dimming side mirrors, blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, heated steering wheel, the expected upgraded leather upholstery, and power-folding, third-row seats.

The GX 460 is powered by a 4.6-liter V-8 with dual overhead cams that produces 301 horsepower and 329 lb.-ft. of torque. That goes to a four-wheel-drive system via a six-speed automatic transmission.

Power was sufficient, given that this is a 5,305-pound vehicle. We weren’t towing or lugging a big load so acceleration, including on-ramps and passing, was fine, though you knew you were moving a heavyweight.

However, that performance comes at a cost. Fuel economy has EPA ratings of 15 miles per gallon in city driving, 20 on the highway, and 17 combined. We did well, averaging 19.3 mpg, over two tanks of gas that included one 3.5-hour trip from Newburyport to Cohasset through Boston in Friday afternoon get-outta-town traffic.

On the road, our GX 460 was a combination of its on- and off-road personalities. It wasn’t as refined as, say, the Lexus RX 350 luxury crossover around town; however, it was more refined than a really off-road capable vehicle such as the Jeep Wrangler. Our base model didn’t have the three-mode drive system—normal, sport, comfort—that’s in the Luxury version. Still, we felt at home in all driving situations, though all driving feedback—accelerator, brakes, steering—fell one notch below normal Lexus refinement.

Normally, power distribution in the GX 460 is 40 percent to the front wheels and 60 to the rear. However, on twisty back roads, the system’s brain can switch that to a 30/70 ratio or, in slippery situations, a 50-50 mix for traction.

New design cues on the exterior for the GX 460 include the Lexus spindle grille and full LED front lighting treatment with LED fog lights joining the LED headlamps and driving lights.

Inside the cabin, controls are Lexus-intuitive for the most part, considering there are a few extra suspension system switches at hand. However, the instrument panel-dashboard materials were a class below normal Lexus poshness.

This clearly is a Lexus designed for someone with places to go that might be off the beaten path. It’s also a vehicle that will get you there in comfort even if you’ve got things to tow.

So it turns out there’s no mystery involved and we can mark this case closed.

2014 Lexus GX 460 SUV

THE BASICS

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $49,995/$55,736. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 15 city/20 highway/17 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 19.3. Drivetrain: 4.6-liter V-8, 6-speed automatic transmission, full-time four-wheel-drive. Body: Five-door, seven-passenger, body-on-frame SUV.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 301. Torque: 329 lb.-ft. Overall length: 189.2 in. Wheelbase: 109.8 in. Height: 74.2 in. Width: 74.2 in. Curb weight: 5,305 pounds.

THE GOOD

Off-road capability, overall toughness.

THE BAD

Fuel economy; not as refined as the rest of the Lexus line.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A nice way to be able to go anywhere (and tow something) in relative luxury.

ALSO CONSIDER

Land Rover LR4, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara.