More severe off-highway work is handled by a 2.57:1 low-range, with all manner of electronic "assists." A-TRAC active traction control works at all four wheels, doing what you'd expect. The Hill-start assist control works like Subaru's hill-holder: Taking your foot off the gas on an angle won't send the car slipping down the hill against its converter. Downhill assist applies brakes automatically in low range to keep the GX at 2-4 mph, as long as you keep your feet off the pedals. Touching the brake pedal will send you faster because the system is rightly programmed to go off when any pedal is pressed. The all-vented disc brakes tie into the same systems and have electronic brake distribution and brake assist, so you only need to plant your foot hard. This activity is accompanied by the buzz-and-click common to such systems.

Like the LX, the GX is at the top of the heap for isolation and ride comfort in a frame-based SUV. Road noise is easily hushed by talk radio, yet huge potholes are absorbed without an appointment at the alignment shop. Double wishbones in front use coil-overs, while the rear suspension is by air springs and a four-link arrangement; rear ride height can be raised for improving departure angle four degrees (simultaneously lowering approach angle by one degree because front ride height doesn't change) and dragging the hitch less. The air suspension also handles automatic-leveling chores.

For a big SUV, the rack-and-pinion steering gives good feedback and response, and the pitch of the teeth on the rack changes to provide faster reaction the more the wheel is turned. Handling characteristics are controlled by Lexus' Adaptive Variable Suspension, which manages each shock independently with four modes between "Comfort" and "Sport," and 17-inch alloy wheels with an identical spare.

Lexus anticipates a base price near $45,000, with a fully loaded GX around $55-$60K. This segment of the SUV market isn't as saturated as others, and while we don't consider the BMW X5 4.4i a GX-competitor except on price, we also don't expect Lexus to have any trouble selling 20,000 a year. TT