DURING THE BOOM years of the SUV, Toyota's luxury division found itself between a rock--the Land Cruiser-based LX 470--and a soft place--the unibody RX 300. There was a need to fill the gap between large off-road machine and smaller street-biased crossover, so Lexus' product planners looked through the massive Toyota parts catalog and opened it to the then-newly reworked 4Runner. From those bones grew the GX 470. While the GX was based on the 4Runner, you can forget about anything youthful or edgy. It also doesn't resemble the 4Runner. The swoopy styling, sold elsewhere as the Land Cruiser Prado, is much more Lexus: It's handsome, sure, but mostly inoffensive. (Note: there is a 2009 model-year GX available. It's the last year of this body style, which has been replaced for 2010, but is still too new to be considered "pre-owned.")

Lexus made GX shopping easy for buyers who are too busy to check option boxes or research trim codes. When it comes to options, you can pick one from any category. Engine: the DOHC, 4.7-liter V-8 so familiar to Tundra drivers. Rated at 235 horsepower for the first two model years, it gained 28 ponies for the 2005 model year. Transmission: five-speed automatic. Drivetrain: full-time four-wheel drive with a locking center differential and low-range gearing. Perhaps this equipment level is one indicator that the GX can go farther off-road than your average crossover. The off-road capability is bolstered by Hill-Start Ascent Control, which could keep the vehicle motionless on a steep grade until the driver picks up the throttle, and Downhill Assist Control, which automatically applies the brakes to maintain a snail's pace down tricky trails.

There's more. The GX's computer manages anti-lock brakes, traction control, self-leveling rear suspension, automatic shock-damping control, suspension ride height, and optional in-dash navigation. In 2004, Lexus gave the GX a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which uncouples the anti-roll bars to reduce head toss on rough roads. For a bit extra, this Lexus was offered with a Mark Levinson stereo. Further distancing itself from the 4Runner, the GX offers three rows of seats with perches for eight humans; naturally, the front two are electrically heated and all are faced with leather.

You may have the notion this is a complex, sophisticated vehicle, but don't let that deter you: We couldn't find evidence of a lick of trouble with any of those gizmos. One online resource gives the GX top marks for all model years. There are no manufacturer recalls that apply to the GX series. Owners that rated their GX's qualities gave a lot of 10s and 9.9s. Even a first-year GX has retained almost half its value after seven model years. The GX appears to have the kind of squeaky-clean reliability record that makes Q.C. geeks swoon.

That's not to say every one for sale is perfect. Make sure there is documentation of regular and thorough dealer service and leave enough time during the test drive to verify that all the GX's subsystems are working. Maybe you can drive over a curb to test the Kinetic feature. Given the life most GXs live, it'll probably be the first time it's been done intentionally.


2003-2008 Lexus GX 470
Body type 4-door SUV
Drivetrain Front engine, 4WD
Airbags Dual front, side
Engine 4.7L/235-263-hp DOHC V-8
Brakes, f/r Disc/disc, ABS
Price range, whlsl/ret (IntelliChoice) $14,585/$21,123 (2003); $33,434/$43,418 (2008))
Recalls None
NHTSA frontal impact rating, driver/pass Not rated