Tales from the Road: Lexus GX

If you’re looking for new, look elsewhere. The 2021 Lexus GX is an old SUV with an old interior, old powertrain, and old platform. It’s yesterday’s technology, today, with the 2021 model feeling damn near identical to the one that first hit the streets way back in 2002. 

And before someone interjects with a “Well, actually…”— we acknowledge that Lexus has made tweaks over the years, and that technically there have been two platforms that underpinned the GX. But look past the Predator-inspired grille and you’ll find that the main difference between a 2002 and a 2021 Lexus GX is that the newer one has smoother body panels. But this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, this legacy design is responsible for the Lexus GX’s enduring success. 

Underneath that fancy “L” badge lies a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. And Land Cruisers, as a rule, don’t need to be fancy—they need to simply work. And since 1951, the Land Cruiser has eschewed frills for durability. 

How durable, you ask? Consider this: most vehicles are designed to have a service life of 15 years, with average on-road use. The Land Cruiser, by comparison, is designed with a 25-year service life, with the idea that those years are spent off-road. That means that each and every component has to withstand the most tortuous terrain Earth has to offer, and then ask for more. Components have to survive repeated impacts, endure extreme heat and freeze cycles, and remain robust enough to not only get you out to the middle of nowhere—but to also safely get you back home when the adventure is done. 

This is why anything tied to the Land Cruiser name commands a price premium, no matter how old it may be. And it’s just one reason why we’re totally fine with the decidedly old-school feel of the 2021 Lexus GX 460. 

Look past that modern-ish face and you’ll see a basic, two-box shape that feels like it was penned in the 1990s. The GX 460 is all straight lines and flat slabs of metal; there’s no spirit of elegance here, making it an outlier within the Lexus lineup. Of course, this unabashedly classic look also means that the 2021 Lexus GX 460 will look as fresh in 2041 as it does today. Simplicity simply never goes out of style. 

Get inside and you’ll find the polar opposite of simplicity, but you likely won’t mind. The cabin of the Lexus GX 460 is a wonderland of physical buttons and knobs and switches. The gauges are physical and analog. Big friendly dials control the radio, and you access the GX 460’s various off-road technologies via toggle-style switches. And when you do have to interact with the full-color display, you can simply touch it with your finger, rather than try and figure out Lexus’ typical, weird touchpad-thing.

Interior materials are nice – lots of high-grade leather, deep plush carpet and real wood trim is used throughout the cabin. It all still feels very truck-like though, with flat seats and a high-up driving position. And if we were to judge interior noise on a scale from “tractor” to “Lexus,” well, this GX would definitely be leaning toward the former. The Lexus GX 460 is fine around town. Quiet even. But once you start to move faster than school-zone speeds, the GX’s engine sounds and feels, uh, agricultural. And the overall driving experience becomes more tractor-like as well. 

Do you like to go fast? How about going at least the highway speed limit? Well, look elsewhere. With only 301 horsepower on tap, plus a 5100-lb. curb weight, the GX accelerates at a pace we like to describe as “glacial.” This SUV doesn’t like to hold speed, either, with each lift of the throttle scrubbing all forward momentum. This Lexus SUV also has a steering wheel and brakes, which take your commands and, after thinking about them for some time, end up translating them into gentle suggestions. That is to say, this SUV isn’t very responsive. 

But this is all by design. This is a Land Cruiser, after all, and all those driving dynamics make sense when applied to a rutted, rock-strewn trail, where relaxed inputs are safer and more effective. This GX 460 loves the rough stuff, and is packed with enough off-road technologies (like CRAWL control and semi-detachable sway bars) to make you feel like an off-grid driving hero. 

And even on road, we can’t help but be a bit smitten with the GX 460’s road manners. In a world where cars are increasingly more computerized, we love the fact that there are no intrusive “safety” technologies that are constantly trying to wrestle control away from us. So yeah, this Lexus is slow, but at least it won’t yank the wheel from your hands should it feel you’re a hair too close to a lane marker. 

So despite the fact that the Lexus GX 460 offers an objectively dated driving experience, we can’t help but love the thing. It’s got enough luxuries to feel civilized, and still purposeful enough to take us out far beyond civilization’s end. That we can buy one now and know it will outlast our grandkids makes its $53,250 (USD) starting price seem downright reasonable. Or maybe we can just buy a 2002 model and pass that on. After all, it’s practically the same, right? 

IMAGES: LEXUS

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.