Baby Land Cruiser Meets Luxury 4Runner: How the Lexus GX Became an Off-Road Hero in America
With the massive growth in the 4x4, off-road and overlanding scenes in recent years, enthusiasts across America have been discovering (and rediscovering) many of the less popular 4x4s in hopes of scoring a deal or just standing out from the crowd.
And, until recently, one of the best examples of this were the Lexus GX470 and GX460. Lately, off-roaders have really begun to discover the potential of these Toyota-built SUVs and while they certainly aren’t as cheap or overlooked as they once were, they still make for excellent off-road rigs.
With that in mind, we thought we’d follow up our recent story on the history of the Lexus LX, with a look back at the evolution of the smaller but no less capable Lexus GX series.
The SUV Boom
Like the LX, the GX found its way to the North American market in the form of a rebadged Toyota Land Cruiser. But rather than the normal size Land Cruiser, the GX is based on the smaller Land Cruiser Prado.
The Prado has been around since the early 1990s, where it’s been offered as a more compact, more affordable member of the Land Cruiser family.
And after the success Lexus experienced with its Land Cruiser-based LX in the 1990s and with the growing luxury SUV market, Lexus launched the GX470 for the 2003 model year.
A Luxury-Laden V8 4x4
At its core, the GX470 was a third generation J120 Prado with some minor styling tweaks and a new powertrain. In other markets the Prado could be had with four-cylinder, V6 and turbodiesel engines—but in Lexus trim it had just one engine, the 4.7 liter 2UZ-FE V8.
This engine could also be found in the larger Lexus LX as well as the Toyota Tundra, Toyota Sequoia and some fourth generation Toyota 4Runners.
The GX470 actually shared much of its underpinnings with the fourth generation 4Runner (and later the Toyota FJ Cruiser), but there were some key differences between the two.
The GX was slightly shorter and a little taller, it also had standard third row seat and the rear door swung open compared to the 4Runner's traditional hatch.
Along with the standard V8 engine, all GX470s also came standard with four-wheel drive (where the 4Runner did not). Along with a selectable low range, there was also downhill assist control, adjustable rear height controls and adjustable dampers.
While it wasn't cheap, with a 2003 MSRP of about $45,000, the GX was quiet, well-appointed and very capable off-road machine, even if most buyers never ventured far off the pavement.
Enter the GX460
After some minor updates through its lifespan, the first gen GX was replaced with the new second generation GX460 for the 2010 model year.
It had the same basic look as the first gen and was again based on the Prado (now the J150 model) again with some unique Lexus styling touches.
Its 4.6L 1UR-FE V8 was smaller than before but made significantly more power—now rated at 301hp. Elsewhere it carried over basically all the main features from the previous generation, including the standard 4WD, great off-road capability and the latest luxury appointments.
The GX460 has received a few exterior makeovers since its debut, and like its big brother the LX570 each refresh has brought more "Lexus character," including a full embrace of the spindle grille.
Overlooked No More
In fact, Lexus just announced the 2022 GX460 still riding on the same platform but with infotainment updates and a new "Black Line Special Edition."
Meanwhile on the used market, secondhand GX470s and GX460s have jumped a lot in value in the last couple years, after a long time of skirting by just under the radar.
And even at today's higher prices, they are still very worthy of consideration. For many buyer the standard V8 engine and 4x4 give them an edge over the 4Runner.
And because it shares so much with the 4Runner, that means most of the aftermarket upgrades made for a 4Runner will work on a GX as well. As an added bonus, being significantly more expensive when new, the average GX will likely be better maintained and less abused than a comparable 4Runner.
Time will tell what happens to the GX460 as its platform nears 12 years-old, but it's clear now more than ever that the "fancy 4Runner" project has worked quite well for Lexus.
More From Driving Line
- Have any doubts about the GX470's off-road ability? Watch this one hit the trail.
- Off-Road History: How the Lexus LX Became the Luxury Land Cruiser