Review: The GX adds off-road capabilities to the Lexus lineup

The 2016 Lexus GX with its bold spindle grille is ready for off-road adventure.
The 2016 Lexus GX with its bold spindle grille is ready for off-road adventure. –Lexus

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There are certain car companies that come to mind when you think of off-road capability, but Lexus probably isn’t one of them. The brand is more associated with luxury, elegance, and performance. You wouldn’t think they make the kind of vehicles you take up rocky trails, yet the Lexus GX is up for exactly that kind of challenge.

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At a recent drive program in Oregon, Lexus aimed to expand our perceptions about the Lexus brand. Yes, they’re focused on luxury, but in SUVs like the GX and LX that luxury is off-road capable. Lexus is calling them LUVs for Luxury Utility Vehicles because they provide all the comforts of a luxury sedan with the capability of a traditional SUV.

I drove the Lexus GX 460, which is powered by a 4.6-liter V8 engine with 301 horsepower and 329 lb.-ft. of torque. That engine helps give it the ability to tow 6,500 pounds. There is also Trailer Sway Control that works in conjunction with Vehicle Stability Control to keep heavy loads in check.

Towing is one thing, but heading off-road or trying to navigate snowy conditions is another. The Lexus GX comes with the latest off-road technology to make short work of challenging terrain. It starts with full-time four-wheel-drive with a limited slip center differential. That center differential can be electronically locked and there’s a low range to further improve off-road driving.

The list goes on with features like Downhill Assist Control, Hill Start Assist Control, Active Traction Control, and optional Crawl Control. Those new to off-road driving might be intimidated by all the choices, but the beauty of the Lexus GX is that you don’t need an advanced degree in off-roading to drive one.

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We took a trek through the hills of Oregon where the roads were nothing but dirt and the hills were steep. With all that complicated technology, we navigated primarily using one feature that combines them all so you don’t have to try to figure out which to use from moment to moment.

It might be tough on the outside, but the GX’s interior is appealing and comfortable. —Lexus
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That feature is called Crawl Control and it manages the throttle and brakes to keep the GX moving at a slow, steady speed so you can focus on steering. It doesn’t matter if you’re going up a steep incline, down a hill, or simply traveling on a flat stretch of dirt. Crawl Control lets you concentrate on driving while it concentrates on optimizing the car’s systems.

We piled into GX 460s and tackled the course with several novice drivers who had never spent any time off-road. That’s really the test of how well these things work. If you’ve never done off-roading, it can be overwhelming the first time out.

The GX 460 proved its mettle, easily handling the course. Even those novices, despite a serious case of nerves, managed to drive the trail without incident and quickly got comfortable with letting the car do all the work. One stretch of road proved particularly nerve-wracking yet ideal for demonstrating how Crawl Control functions.

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It started with a drive down a steep, rocky hill. We steered while Crawl Control managed the brakes and kept the vehicle’s speed in check. Taking your foot off the brake as you stare down a slope of dirt and rocks is a serious exercise in trust no matter how many times you’ve ventured off-road.

The system performed flawlessly, easily guiding the GX 460 to the bottom. Rather than pressing the gas to continue, the system kept the vehicle moving slowly as we approached another hill, this time one we needed to ascend.

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Still without touching the brakes or gas, we steered to the top of the hill while the Crawl Control system adjusted the brakes and throttle to keep us in control. All the way down one hill, across a flat stretch, and back up another hill, the only input from the driver was steering.

Since off-road terrain is anything but consistent, you can use the brakes or gas if you choose. This is especially helpful on flat stretches where a little more speed is useful. All you need to do is press the gas and Crawl Control lets you take over. There’s no need to constantly flip switches as the terrain changes. When you take your foot off the gas, the system immediately re-engages to slow you right down and take over once again.

For all its off-road prowess, this is still a Lexus, which means it’s anything but rough on the inside. The car’s starting price of $50,780 includes a posh interior with leather and wood trims, a touch screen infotainment system, and all the comforts of a luxury sedan.

There is a 60/40 split-folding second row that reclines and a standard nine-speaker premium sound system with Bluetooth hands free phone and music streaming. A rear backup camera is standard as is an eight-inch display screen. Inside, it’s everything you’ve come to expect from a Lexus.

The Lexus GX combines two worlds. It’s a luxury ride that can take you comfortably to work all week long, but morphs into an off-road machine for the weekend. Yes, you can go off-road in a Lexus. The only problem is you may not want to go back to those paved roads when the weekend adventure is over.

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