The New Old School: Charting the Rise in Popularity of the Lexus GX470 as a Dependable Off-Road Machine
Take a look at the current automotive landscape and you’ll generally find an appreciation amongst the various communities for one another. That’s not to say that everyone enjoys everything, but the scenes aren’t as isolated as they once were.
One great example is the migration of import enthusiasts into the overlanding and 4x4 world. As many tuner car owners grew up and created families, they wanted a vehicle that they could still enjoy modifying, but could function as a family car or daily driver as well. Off-roading and overlanding, simply put, are the most fun activities one can have with an SUV, so the leap wasn’t a tough one to make.
Same Brand. New Rigs.
Historically speaking, off-roading in America has largely been a domestic affair. While Toyota and Nissan have always had a presence, the Japanese brands have been the outsider option when compared to traditional pickup trucks and Jeeps.
As import enthusiasts began to flock to the 4x4 scene, that began to change, as both modern and vintage 4Runners, Tacomas, and Land Cruisers began to skyrocket in value. The combination of brand familiarity, bulletproof reliability, and off-road prowess moved Toyota to the forefront of the 4x4 world.
As is the case whenever there’s an explosion of popularity in the automotive sector, enthusiasts began to look for a cheaper option in the Toyota world that could check all of the same boxes. The obvious answer was the Lexus GX, the luxury brand’s mid-size SUV offering that had sat quietly in the line-up since 2002.
A Hidden Gem
The GX470 had all the hallmarks of a great off-roader: body-on-frame construction, full time four-wheel-drive with low range gearing, and a powerful Toyota V8. The catch, of course, was that it had never been marketed as such, and the vast majority of the models had spent their lives as people-movers in well-to-do communities.
Once enthusiasts realized that there existed an American version of Toyota’s Land Cruiser Prado here in the states, an affordable 4x4 SUV readily available for sub-$10k prices, the GX boom began to ramp up. Owner Tony Nguyen luckily got his 2006 GX470 from his parents when they were looking to trade it in for something smaller. Like so many other enthusiasts’ dailies, the mods came quickly.
The Tuner Thought Process
Tony said, “This particular GX spent most of its life in that “soccer mom/Starbucks” mode. It was only when the factory rear air bags started to fail when I decided to take this rig to the next level. To replace the old components was going to be about the same effort as an entry level lift kit, so I pulled the trigger!”
These days the aftermarket community for the GX has exploded, offering tons of opportunities for builds. “The purpose of my GX kept changing,” he said. “Initially it was the daily, then it became the doggy transport, then it became my wife’s ultra running support vehicle. Lots of camping mods were added but after my Land Cruiser joined the stable. We dove deep into the overlanding world with solar power, an onboard fridge/freezer and the iKamper 3.0 with a king size bed on top.”
A Perfect Fit
Other GX470 owners found the model as a perfect balance between the larger domestic trucks and a dedicated off-road platform like a Wrangler. Owner Eric She said, “I had a 2019 Ford Raptor before, and that was great, but it was too big for the off-roading that we do in North Georgia. The GX470 is a great and reliable platform for my trail riding and family needs.”
Forgoing the overland modifications, Eric has focused his GX build on trail riding and technical off-roading. With plenty of body armor, undercarriage protective steel plates, and a Badlands 12k wireless winch, the GX470 is prepped to handle about anything that the wooded trails have to offer.
The Black Rhino beadlock wheels are covered in 35x12.50x17 Nitto Trail Grapplers that give the Lexus plenty of grip in all conditions. A long time fan of the brand, Eric said, “I had Nitto Ridge Grapplers on my 2018 Tundra Platinum and they exceeded my expectations. The Trail Grapplers are relatively quiet on the street and have handled rocks, mud, and North Georgia trails with no issues.”
Old School Meets New School
In a world where even conservative Toyota is moving to complicated turbo and hybrid powertrains, the GX470 is an interesting link between the old school simplicity of a V8 and body-on-frame construction and the new school “tuner”philosophy of bending a platform to your will.
While its bones are shared with the Land Cruiser Prado, the GX was sold as a luxury vehicle in a market where off-road capability and luxury rarely mixed. To truly perform on the trail, it needs to be modded, and this generation of off-roaders recognized that, and capitalized on the opportunity.
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