Lexus GX 460 Road Test | © Laura Byrd

The mission was simple: find out why Lexus drivers should care about the new GX. Two states, 1,200 miles, and three storms later, our road tester has a pretty good idea.

The freeway is white with snow. The windshield wipers can barely keep up with the endless flakes rapidly hitting the glass. Gripping the wheel, I glance down at the navigation system. Just 20 miles to my destination, but it could take an hour or more if the traffic in front of me slows to a soggy, monotonous crawl.

Conditions couldn’t be more perfect.

This is my third storm in a week of test-driving the 2010 GX 460, which Lexus redesigned and released last fall, almost quietly. At the time, most of the auto world was swooning over the flashy Lexus LFA supercar and CT 200h prototype. But over the winter, SUV drivers and veteran Lexus owners started to take notice: this mid-size SUV—larger than the RX, smaller than the LX—was selling very well. And after 1,200 miles of driving it through New Mexico and Texas, I’m starting to understand why.

I settle into the heated seat—a new standard feature—and check my mileage. I’ve averaged 23 miles per gallon on this trip, which supports Lexus’ claim that the new GX has better fuel mileage estimates than its V8-class rivals[1]—23 mpg ratings for a mid-size SUV is excellent.

One thing I really wanted to get a feel for, though, is hidden below my feet. The GX is what you'd call a body-on-frame holdout. In other words, while many large-SUV makers have switched to lighter construction styles, Lexus has retained this GX 460 chassis style for the same reason commercial trucks have kept it: strength. And it pays off. The car feels tough, with little vibration at freeway speed—and it feels like something you’d want your family inside while other cars slip and slide around you.

GX Road Test

I’ve also made it a point to try out a new feature for this latest version of the GX, the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS). First introduced in the Lexus LX, KDSS essentially allows each wheel to move more independently, so the wheel on uneven ground can react while the other wheels are relatively unaffected.

The day before, I’d wound my way up Museum Hill above Santa Fe to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian at 11,000 feet, a perfect KDSS testing ground. A rutted gravel road deep with muddy snow kept some visitors away, but I had easily negotiated the slippery, uneven terrain. Once at the top, I’d done some bumpy big-rock driving on a hill beyond the museum just to see how hard the KDSS system would work to keep all four tires on the ground, and was astounded by the inches of articulation—terrain grip—of each tire.

But it’s the paved roads that matter to most people. KDSS also stiffens the vehicle’s stabilizer bars on regular roads, which on this trip helped it handle, even feel, more like a luxury sedan than an SUV, an illusion extended by the car’s quiet, stately interior. My fully loaded premium model has a heated steering wheel and rear heated seats, but new standard features like the heating element embedded in the windshield—rapidly melting snow off the glass—and the integrated running boards have made it a pleasure to drive despite the weather.

GX Road Test

Full of improvements over the previous model, the GX’s hinged cargo door now easily locks into place. Its low load-in height has made moving my luggage in and out pretty effortless. A separate opening for the rear glass window kept the interior warm and dry when I opened it in a hailstorm to toss in added supplies.

When I was driving from Albuquerque to Lubbock a few days earlier, a record-breaking storm hit the region, hammering my test drive with 75-mph wind gusts and a deluge of water and hail that inundated the highway for miles.

Despite the challenge from Mother Nature, I set the cruise control to a safe speed on I-40 and later I-84. The GX hugged the road solidly and smoothly through every blast of wind and miles of torrential rain—quietly cruising without struggling to maintain the set mph. Commercial trucks roared past me in the opposite direction and the GX didn’t flinch, with the suspension absorbing any lateral movement.

Now that I'm driving in a curtain of snow, I'm at ease. The comfort and luxurious feel of the GX romanced me in the first hour of driving. For families hauling kids here, camping gear there, and anything else that requires a quick change from needed seats to needed cargo space, the electric third-row seat that stows in the cargo floor will be welcome. But after driving twelve days and hundreds of miles in the worst possible conditions, I'm not thinking of the everyday benefits—I’m hoping to chase another storm.

Legal Disclaimers

[1] Based on 2010 EPA mpg ratings of luxury SUV V8-powered vehicles. Actual mileage will vary.