First Test: 2010 Lexus GX 460
Did Lexus Let It Slide?
When we first drove the all-new 2010 Lexus GX 460 back in November 2009, we came away impressed with the premium SUV's high riding mix of leather-lined luxury and traditional body-on-frame toughness. We applauded Lexus' decision to keep the GX a true off-roader by retaining the solid rear axle and carrying over the boxed ladder frame from the Land Cruiser Prado and Toyota 4Runner. We clapped even louder when we found out the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that was optional on the previous generation GX 470, is now standard on the GX 460. And after sampling the GX's smaller displacement but stronger and more fuel efficient 4.6-liter V-8 (pulled from the Toyota Tundra), well, were ready to give it a standing ovation.
But recently our hands (and those of roughly 9,400 GX 460 owners) have been quieted due to a model-wide recall. After a leading consumer magazine identified a handling problem with the new GX 460, Lexus quickly pulled back all models to address the issue. The problem in question involves the GX's propensity to hang its tail out during emergency cornering maneuvers and what was perceived to be an unacceptable lag in electronic stability control (ESC) system. After pulling the truck from dealer lots, Lexus says it has identified the GX 460's problem and solution -- though perhaps not quick enough for some critics -- and it is now back on sale. How has our opinion changed since the hubbub and recall?
Surprisingly not very much. While Lexus' swift response is understandable in light of Toyota's recent recall woes, the GX 460's performance and handling have not caused our opinion to, erm, slide much at all.
At the test track, we found the new 2010 GX 460 accelerates briskly, hitting 60 mph in an impressive 6.9 seconds. That is just over a full second faster than the GX 470 we last tested (8.0 seconds) in 2003. The quarter-mile marker also arrives much sooner -- the new model needs only 15.4 seconds at 89.7 mph to the GX 470's 16.1 seconds @ 84.8 mph. Braking is also much improved; our 5112 pound GX 460 needed only 114 feet to stop from 60 mph, which is astonishing for a vehicle that heavy. The 440 pounds lighter GX 470 we tested ages ago needed 131 feet.
Of course, the real news is what we discovered on the skidpad and in the real world. Is there a real problem with this Lexus? Should the GX 460 be relegated to the SUV category in the 2010 Formula Drift series? Yes and no.
Around our figure-eight course, the GX logged a respectable 0.74 g (avg) and a time of 28.3 sec @ 0.58 g. Those are competitive numbers for luxury SUVs in this class, but more telling is what our road testers had to say regarding the GX460's behavior at its handling limits:
"Braking and then turning into the first left-hand corner of the figure-eight test, I was startled with how out of shape the GX became," says technical editor Kim Reynolds. "Yes, the car's stability control was switched off (as we typically do for this test), but, yikes, the Lexus was slewing crazily. My first thought was -- 'Hey, this is kinda fun." My second thought was '...but, wow, this shouldn't be in the hands of a general consumer'. My third thought was to have road test editor Scott Mortara try this too (he did, and agreed with me)."
It's worth repeating that Reynolds induced the tail-out behavior during our figure-eight test only with the stability control switched off. That is because we do not perform any of our handling (or braking or acceleration) tests with ESC turned on, as the systems typically intervene well before the limits are reached. As an enthusiast publication, we're interested in finding those limits.
Consumer Reports identified the oversteer issues with ESC turned on, which are test conditions we do not replicate. That doesn't mean they are invalid, and Toyota/Lexus found CR's findings serious enough to warrant a full recall and stop sale.
However, we were not able to replicate the same behavior while on an extended road trip with the GX 460 involving hundreds of miles of city, highway, and off-road driving. Never once did the GX put a tire wrong, despite some fast blasts on dusty dirt roads and even a bit of rock climbing. Comments from the log books do call out the ESC system for some notably un-Lexus-like behavior. "The GX's stability-control system does indeed feel "looser" than many we've tried," noted editor-at-large Arthur St. Antoine. Senior editor Ron Kiino dubbed it "surprisingly sporty."
Our feeling is, like many of the problems highlighted by recalls of all manufacturers, the handling issue that plagues the GX 460 would have likely gone unnoticed by the average (even enthusiastic) driver. Lexus' rapid response to the issue speaks less to the seriousness of the problem itself, and more to the high charged atmosphere Toyota currently finds itself in.
Here's the official word from Lexus on where the company stands on the GX 460 recall, attributed to Mark Templin, Lexus Group Vice President and General Manager, on May 7:
Lexus dealers began contacting customers as soon as details for the VSC update were available. Virtually all of them were contacted by their dealers within a few days and an estimated 75 percent of GX vehicles have already been updated. In the process, they’re providing free loaner vehicles, remote repairs, pick-up and delivery service, and fueling and washing customer cars.
Since it was launched more than 20 years ago, Lexus has built its reputation on customer respect and concern for safety. When Consumer Reports announced on April 13 that the 2010 GX 460 did not pass their ‘Throttle Lift-Off’ test, we immediately stopped selling the vehicle and commenced a vigorous investigation. Thanks to the quick response and hard work by our engineers, we were able to identify and address the issue in just about two weeks. This is our assurance to Lexus customers that their safety and satisfaction are our top priorities.
As previously announced, we will continue to provide a courtesy vehicle to anyone who has purchased a 2010 GX 460 and has concerns about driving it until the recall work has been completed.
Customers who have any questions or concerns should contact their local Lexus dealer or Lexus Customer Satisfaction at 1-800-25LEXUS or 1-800-255-3987.
So there you have it. Our test of a pre-recall Lexus GX 460 finds this controversial luxury SUV to be capable and comfortable whether on and off road.
|2010 Lexus GX 460|
|Drivetrain layout||Front-engine, 4WD|
|Engine type||90-deg V-8, alum block/heads|
|Valvetrain||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|Displacement||281.2 cu in/4608cc|
|Power (SAE net)||301 hp @ 5500 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||329 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm|
|Weight to power||17.0 lb/hp|
|Suspension, front; rear||Control arms, coil springs, adj anti-roll bar; live axle, air springs, adj anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, f;r||13.3-in vented disc; 12.3-in vented disc, ABS|
|Wheels, f;r||7.5 x 18-in, cast aluminum|
|Tires, f;r||265/60R18 109H M+S, Latitude Tour HP|
|Track, f/r||62.4/62.4 in|
|Length x width x height||189.2 x 74.2 x 72.6 in|
|Ground clearance||8..1 in|
|Apprch/depart angle||28.0/25.0 deg|
|Turning circle||38.0 ft|
|Curb weight||5112 lb|
|Weight dist., f/r||00/00 %|
|Towing capacity||6500 lb|
|Headroom, f/m/r||38.0/40.4/35.2 in|
|Legroom, f/m/r||41.7/34.1/29.3 in|
|Shoulder room, f/m/r||55.4/57.3/54.4 in|
|Cargo volume behind f/m/r||64.7/17.0/4.2 cu ft|
|Acceleration to mph|
|Passing, 45-65 mph||3.8 sec|
|Quarter mile||15.4 sec @ 89.7 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||117 ft|
|Lateral acceleration||0.73 g (avg)|
|MT figure eight||28.3 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph||1550 rpm|
|Price as tested||$57,619|
|Airbags||Dual front, f/m side, f/m/r curtain, fr knee|
|Basic warranty||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||6 yrs/70,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|Fuel capacity||23.0 gal|
|EPA city/hwy econ||15/20 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||1.15 lb/mile|
|MT fuel economy||15.8 mpg|