2005 Lexus GX470 Review


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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2005 Lexus GX470
SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Lexus

Trust Lexus to make a body-on-frame truck that has the quiet comfort, smooth ride, and refinement of a luxury car. For the 2005 Lexus GX470 is just that - a rugged truck that is more than competent in the roughest conditions, yet as comfortable and quiet on the road as one of Lexus's benchmark luxury sedans. In size, it fits between the smaller, car-based RX330 and the larger, premium-luxury LX470, and has been made more powerful and given improved ride and handling abilities this year with a new engine and an available high-tech variable suspension system. Additionally, the optional navigation system is now Bluetooth-enabled, to integrate with similarly-designed PDAs and cell phones.

The GX470's namesake 4.7-liter 2UZ-FE V8 engine gets its extra power from the addition of Lexus's ``VVT-i'' computer-controlled continuously-variable valve timing system, which helps it to make 270 horsepower, up from the previous 235. The ``ECTS-i'' computerized electronic throttle control system further improves engine response. The ``Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System'', introduced last year, now can be had as part of the otherwise cosmetic Sport Package. It adds variable roll stiffness to the standard ``Adaptive Variable Suspension'' to give ride and handling characteristics not usually associated with a tall, heavy and heavy-duty sport-utility vehicle.

Well, actually, Lexus calls it a ``luxury utility vehicle,'' not a sport-utility vehicle. That is more appropriate - ``sport'' being what you indulge in at your destination in the GX, not in the process of getting there, as would be the case with a Lexus GS430 or IS300 sports sedan. The ``utility'' part of the description is spot-on. With a good multi-range four-wheel drive system, eight-plus inches of clearance, plenty of interior space, and the ability to tow up to 6,500 lbs., the GX470 is unquestionably and luxuriously utilitarian.

I recently spent a week with a new Sport Package-equipped GX470. It was at the tail end of a winter of stormy weather, with sudden squalls and strong, gusty winds. And enough rain to overpower the drainage systems of many local roads and highways. Nothing the weather could throw perturbed the GX a bit. Even in 40-mph plus crosswinds on the local bridges, it stayed put, with excellent road manners. Interior space, if not quite ``full size'', was equal to that of a large mid-sized sedan, and the design, materials, and fit and finish were completely up to Lexus standards. Why be uncomfortable doing all the tasks of utility?

APPEARANCE: Moderately large but not imposing, the GX470 is not of the ``macho aggressive'' school of SUV styling. Yes, it's a two-box SUV, with the typical proportions of the genre, but it takes its main styling cues directly from the Lexus LS430 sedan, especially in front. The large trapezoidal grille, with its bright horizontal crossbars and ``L'' logo, and oversized, plastic-faired headlights are familiar. The hood is high and sculpted, and the bumpers are car-like, with body-colored coverings and integrated into the lower cladding and fender flares. Running boards are also integrated into the lower side cladding, and feature lighting for safer access at night. Huge taillights dominate the rear. Between them is another luxury-car touch, a chrome garnish strip over the license plate. The ``Sport Package'' includes smoke-gray headlight bezels, foglamp trim, and backup light lenses, and dark graphite finish on the wheels and roof rack.

COMFORT: Step inside, over the low, lighted running boards, and there will be no doubt as to the maker of this vehicle. All of the Lexus styling cues are present - sumptuous leather, just the right amount of wood trim on the instrument panel, doors, shifter, and steering wheel, and tight, precise panel gaps. A dark top to the instrument panel reduces glare, while the backlit ``Optitron'' gauges in the instrument cluster are easy to see in any light, even with polarized sunglasses. Of course just about anything that could be power-adjustable is. The touch-screen interface for auxiliary controls has been improved over the past years. External buttons control major systems, with a minimal number of touch-screen submenus for simple, quick operation. The front bucket seats rate high on the comfort scale. The second row provides plenty of space, especially headroom. Both the back and cushion are split 60/40. The backs are adjustable for angle, improving passenger comfort, and each part can flip and fold for extra cargo space. A third row seat is available, although my test vehicle was not so equipped. The large-capacity rear cargo space is easy to reach thanks to a side-hinged rear door, and the full-sized spare tire is stowed under the chassis, as in a pickup, freeing interior space.

SAFETY: The Lexus GX470 has strong four-wheel vented disc brakes, augmented by Brake Assist, electronic brake force distribution, and the Vehicle Stability Control system. Dual front and side-curtain airbags that are designed to deploy in the event of a rollover as well as side collision are standard. A rear-view video camera is part of the navigation and audio package, and provides a wide-angle view of the area directly behind the vehicle when it is in reverse.

RIDE AND HANDLING : Although the GX470's basic chassis layout is conventional, with body-on-frame construction, an independent double wishbone front suspension, and a live axle at the rear, the details are not at all conventional. Air springs in the rear allow variable ride height. A full-time four-wheel drive system varies the front-to-rear torque split depending on available traction, and is aided by an electronic traction control system that provides the effect of locking differentials without the weight penalty. The Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) uses hydraulic control devices to vary the effect of the front and rear stabilizer bars. Reduced body roll in cornering is a characteristic of stiff stabilizer bars, as is a lack of suspension articulation on bumpy surfaces. With KDSS, the GX corners with remarkably little body roll - and has full suspension movement when it's needed, as the stabilizer bars can be effectively disabled. The KDSS system works in concert with the standard Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), which continuously changes shock damping in response to driver inputs and road conditions. For serious off-road use, or in the slippery stuff, Downhill Assist Control (DAC) eases low-speed, low-range descents, while Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC) helps keep the GX from slipping backwards when starting on a steep slope. There are enough acronyms for the DoD black budget, but the result is ride comfort nearly at the level of a Lexus LS and handling among the best of any SUV.

PERFORMANCE: The GX470 is not the premium Lexus SUV, that place is reserved for the LX470. But, although they share use of the 4.7-liter, iron-block, alloy-head 2UZ-FE V8 engine, that used in the GX gets the VVT-i variable valve timing system, which helps to boost horsepower from 235 (at 4,800 rpm) to 270 (at 5,400 rpm). Torque is up slightly, from 320 lb-ft to 330, still at 3,400 rpm. Although a look at horsepower makes it seem that all of the new power is at the top end, there is plenty of low-end torque for everyday and off-road use. The top-end power comes into its own when accelerating, passing, or climbing a long highway grade. The multi-mode five-speed automatic transmission is smooth and refined, and the four-wheel drive system is simple to use.

CONCLUSIONS: The Lexus GX470 combines strength, ability, off-road prowess, and luxurious comfort.

SPECIFICATIONS
2005 Lexus GX470
Base Price $ 45,775 Price As Tested$ 52,058 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 32-valve V8 with VVT-i variable valve timing Engine Size 4.7 liters / 285 cu. in. Horsepower 270 @ 5400 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 330 @ 3400 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase/Length109.8 in. / 188.2 in. Curb Weight 4,871 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.0 Fuel Capacity 23 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires P265/65 SR17 Michelin Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone, coil springs /live axle with 4-link location and air springs Ground clearance 8.3 inches Drivetrain front engine, full-time 4-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 15 / 19 / 16 0 to 60 mph 8.1 sec Towing capacity 6,500 lbs OPTIONS AND CHARGES Navigation and Mark Levinson Audio Package - includes: Lexus DVD navigation system, backup camera with steering wheel voice command button, Mark Levinson 14-speaker 240-watt premium audio system $ 3,050 Sport Package - includes: black bird's-eye maple trim, dark graphite finish on center instrument panel, smoked bezel headlamps and foglamps, 17-inch alloy wheels w/dark graphite finish, roof rails with crossbars, dark-tinted backup lenses, chrome exhaust tip, Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) $ 1,800 Preferred Accessory Package - includes: cargo mat, cargo net, wheel locks $ 232 Rear spoiler $ 551 Destination charge $ 650

Complete specifications on the 2005 Lexus GX 470 Sport Utility and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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