Lexus has a gimme in the new 2024 GX 550. It’s a full-frame, fully capable, full-on off-roader that announces all that with every element of its upright styling. Plus, if all that adventure stuff doesn’t matter, it’s also available trimmed out for cushy suburban duty. It’s a blunt object built to murder the thick part of the sort-of-lux market. Toyota’s premium division will sell a bajillion of them.
But it, literally, faces a complex issue. Which is complexity itself.
This is the third generation for the GX and it follows in the tire treads of the second generation GX 460, which was in production for an astonishing 15 model years (2009 to 2023). That makes it the longest-lived of any Lexus product generation. Despite that agedness it had its second-best sales year during 2023 with U.S. dealers shoving 31,910 out onto roads and then off them too. The GX 460’s actual best sales year was 2021 when 32,509 were vended – and that was the model’s 13th season.
Go back to 2005 and he first generation GX, the GX 470, had its best sales with 34,399 going out that year. Lexus goal for the new GX 550 is to sell about that many units during its first year. That’s a lot for a vehicle that starts at $64,250 (including $1350 in delivery fees).
The GX has a weird reputation. The first two generations were, under their Lexus skins, closely related to Toyota’s Land Cruiser Prado. And the Prado is also the base upon which Toyota build the wildly popular 4Runner. When new, many (likely most) GXes went out to serve as family haulers. They would rack up easy miles moving kids around, commuting and hitting the upscale malls that were once common in America. That meant once their Nieman-Marcus prowling days were over, they became fantastic used vehicles – often less expensive than a comparable used 4Runner but with the same ability, a better interior and a legendarily reliable V-8 Toyota truck engine.
Eventually hardcore off-roaders noticed the GX, and they began seeking them out, bulking them up for adventure duty. Demand for used GX models quickly exceeded supply. Prices went up. The days of cheap old GXes are gone.
Lexus noticed all this, and with the GX 550 introduces a new “Overtrail” trim that amplifies both off-road ability and the off-road aesthetic straight from the factory in Tahara, Japan. Now a beefed-up GX can be had with new car financing. Yippee!
The GX 550 shares most of its body panels with new Toyota Land Cruiser and it rides on the same GA-F component set that is the backbone of everything from the Toyota Tacoma and Tundra pickups to the Sequoia and Lexus LX 600 SUVs. It’s a tough bunch of stuff with a thick ladder frame, robust double A-arm independent front suspension and a solid rear axle supported in coil springs. The only full-frame vehicle left in the Toyota/Lexus line that doesn’t use the GA-F as its base is the ancient 4Runner and that's overdue for replacement.
Also familiar is the sole powerplant used in the new GX, the same twin-turbocharged V-6 used in the Tundra, Sequoia and LZX 600. Rated at 349-hp in this application, it’s backed by the same 10-speed automatic transmission used in those truck and truck-adjacent things. While a hybrid version of the GX is already on offer in China, it won’t come to North America for at least a year.
Lexus is initially offering the new GX in six different trim levels. Premium and Premium+ are the base (and base but better), Luxury and Luxury+ are for buyers going for comfort and big, shiny wheel style, while the Overtrail and Overtrail+ are at the adventure end.
The paradigmatic shift from soft-roader style to retro FJ styling flatters the GX. The “spindle” front grille that so many Lexus haters love to hate, is no longer so hate-able. Oh, it’s still a spindle and it’s still too big, but it has been toned down. The pinch that defines it has moved higher, while the lower bumper takes some mass out of the bottom. Lexus is still committed to the spindle, but seems it is compromising.
Inside the feel isn’t a throwback at all. The look is big screen at the top of the center stack with another, smaller screen in front of the driver. It’s very efficient … and like so many other current vehicles. There should be a nod to Toyota’s off-road heritage in here. But that’s an enthusiast view; most buyers will like this straight out of Best Buy’s appliance aisle look just fine. Plus, the optional heads-up display is great. And, per usual, it’s all finished to a high Lexus standard.
This was a very brief introductory press drive, so a deeper evaluation will have to come later. That in mind, on the foreshortened off-road course outside Tucson, the GX 550 Overtrail never missed a beat. The engine produces excellent low-end grunt, the transmission behaved impeccably, and the interior proved ridiculously comfy.
But, preliminarily at least, the most impressive element of the GX is the suspension. Working in conjunction with a standard Torsen limited-slip center differential and a locking rear diff, the articulation of the suspension dealt with post-rain slop magnificently. The proctored drive had the GX in low-range, but it didn’t need to be. There was nothing too terribly challenging in this drive.
Let’s get one out on a tough trail like Moab or the Rubicon and see what it can really do.
The Overtrail comes with electronic crawl control and all sorts of whizzy stuff and modes to make getting stuck a challenge instead of a problem. It’s the new electronically operated Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that steals the glory here. Previous KDSS systems operated hydraulically, but this one should be mechanically simpler and still allow anti-sway bars to be virtually disconnected for better articulation.
The Overtrail starts at $69,250 and none will leave lots below that. Does anyone really challenge nasty trails in their new $70K SUV? Sure, some people have the wherewithal and the desire, but it’s going to be the second and third owners of the GX 550 that will really beat them up.
Now to the complication. The first- and second-gen GXes greatly benefitted from mechanical simplicity. This one however, has that turbo V-6 instead of the no-hassle V-8s. That alone would be enough complication. But throw in all the other electronics and maybe – or maybe not – this GX won’t be as reliable as the two that wore the name before. Simplicity is, after all, one of the great guarantors of reliability.
And this new GX just ain’t that simple.
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