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New SUV Review: 2004 Lexus GX470

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MODEL: Lexus GX470
ENGINE: 4.7-liter V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 235 hp @ 4,800 rpm/320 lb-ft @ 3,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 109.8 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 188.2 x 74.0 x 73.0 in.

The Lexus GX470 is a bit of a surprise, and not one of the good ones. For one, it's not as modern as several of the other luxury sport utility vehicles, including the gorgeous Lexus RX330. The GX's design is more traditional SUV, with none of the swoopiness associated with more modern vehicles.

It also has, and lacks, some features that I found confusing in a Lexus.

For example, when we travel, my wife and I usually carry CDs for entertainment; she has hers and I have mine. We alternate. The GX470 has a CD player, in fact it has two. But they're located in a hard-to-reach section of the center console (a one-disc player) and in the glove box (a six-CD changer). Many other manufacturers, including low-end vehicles, incorporate 6-Cd changers in the dash, where they are more convenient. Without a passenger along it would have been nearly impossible for me to change CDs, unless I planned well ahead and loaded them ahead of time in the glove box.

One other relatively minor feature, or lack of feature, was the absence of a "mist" setting for the windshield wipers. Granted, there is an automatic setting, but in true mist, or light rain, it is usually working far more than it has to. And in the strange April conditions we encountered with the GX, a mist function would have been much more preferred over the automatic function.

Complaints out of the way. The GX470 is a super vehicles. It is powered by a 4.7-liter V8 engine that develops 235 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. You can pull out tree stumps with this baby. Power reaches all four wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel drive working through a Torsen limited slip center differential. There's also the option to manually set the 4WD to high or low, depending on the conditions you encounter.

The GX stops as well as it goes, with four-wheel disc brakes, ABS, brake assist and active traction control. Lexus reached deep into the Toyota bag of goodies in equipping the GX.

As is usual for a trip in our family, we were loaded with cargo both southbound and northbound. And the GX has a confusing cargo area.

The GX can carry as many as eight passengers. In its normal configuration, there are bucket seats up front and a bench in the second row. The third row consists of two seats that join to form a bench. When they're not in use, they fold up to the side of the rear compartment. They are removable, which is what I would do if I owned the GX. With the second row seats folded and the third row seats removed, there are 77.5 cubic feet of cargo volume. With the second row up and the third row removed, volume drops to 49.7 cubic feet; with the third row seats to the side, there are 39.8 cubic feet. With all the seats in sitting position, there are 13.2 cubic feet behind that third row. So you can configure the GX to suit your needs.

We had a navigation system that was too bright at night. Sure, we could have dimmed it, but we turned it off. With the nav system, though, comes a backup camera that lets you see what's behind the GX when you shift into reverse. The Infiniti system has distance markers projected on to the screen, which I found more helpful.

The GX470 is pure Lexus, with leather seats, heated front seats, bird's eye maple trim, a power tilt and telescoping wood-and-leather steering wheel one-touch up/down power windows, and convenient storage areas inside.

Despite the big engine, and despite the GX470's 4,740 pounds of curb weight (before we filled it with cargo or people), we still averaged 16.9 mpg for a combination of urban and Interstate driving. I thought that was good.

Our tester had a bottom line of $54,873, with a base price of $45,075. The navigation system and audio package was a $3,050 option, while the third row seat added another $2,030. The kinetic dynamic suspension system, that aided handling, was $1,750. Minor options and a $625 destination charge added another $1,398.

There are a lot of things you will like about the Lexus GX470. There are a lot of things you might not like. This is definitely a vehicle that needs to be driven for a while before making any decisions on it. I personally liked it, but there are many things I'd like changed. Maybe I'll wait for the next version.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate