The Lexus GX 460 tackled the rougher off-road stretches with...wait a minute. Didn't that lab-coat mag dub the GX a "Don't Buy"? What's this "evil" Lexus doing here, anyway?

In the days before traction- and stability-control systems, most motorists understood that, if you drive like a raging idiot, you'll get into trouble whatever the make or model of vehicle. Today, you're apparently supposed to be able to take an SUV-a machine with an inherently high center of gravity-hurl it into a turn way too fast, jump off the gas, and have the vehicle's miracle systems save you and your careless self from the resulting spin. Here's our take: During our on-road drives and track tests, we observed that the GX's stability-control system does indeed feel "looser" than many we've tried-Kiino dubbed it "surprisingly sporty." That said, we were driving way, way harder than any SUV pilot would ever attempt. Even so, never did the GX feel scary or unsafe. To paraphrase the familiar refrain: Your stupidity may vary.

Underneath its tailored skin, the GX is a bona-fide desert warrior. "Very impressed," says Kiino. "Put it in 4L, dropped it down into first gear, and essentially just modulated the brakes-the GX simply idled its way up and over the rocks and ledges." In addition to low range, the GX offers such Swiss Army functionality as Downhill Assist Control, Crawl Control, Hill-Start Assist (to prevent rolling backward), and a hydraulic Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that, off-road, frees up the anti-roll bars so the opposite wheels can move more independently. You could take this rig almost anywhere.

Add a sweet V-8, a smooth six-speed automatic, every imaginable electronic luxury, a great ride, group-high fuel efficiency, and strong value ($57,619 as-tested), and the GX acquits itself impressively. Indeed, it might have finished first were it not for two drawbacks: a third-place tow rating (6500 pounds) and, far more important, a meager 64.7 cubic feet of cargo room behind the front seats and a very tight third row.