COAL: 2021 Lexus GX 460 Premium w/Sport Design – A Childhood Hero

The GX was Lexus’ third SUV offering, after the LX and RX. Introduced in 2003 as the GX 470, it straddled the price space between those two vehicles. Properly midsize, it shared a basic platform with the Toyota 4Runner and Tacoma, but was in essence a twin of the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, sold overseas. It had a third row and a standard 4.7-liter V8, paired with a 5-speed automatic. There wasn’t a long list of options, either: the main ones were rear air suspension, KDSS, navigation, sunroof, and the Mark Levinson sound package. The first-generation GX lasted from 2003 to 2009, with a facelift in 2008.

The GX 470 versus its Land Cruiser Prado Sibling (J120 chassis-code for both).


The second-generation GX was introduced in 2010 as the GX 460. The “460” represented a new 4.6-liter that, while downsized, was up substantially on power versus the old 4.7-liter. It is also, to date, one of the few examples I can recall of an automaker being honest about a smaller displacement on a subsequent model, rather than going to an arbitrarily larger number because bigger = better.  While the GX 470 enjoyed a robust number of contemporary midsize body-on-frame SUV cohorts, the GX 460 entered the market just as competitors were leaving en masse for unibody platforms.

The GX 460 received two facelifts, one in 2014 and one in 2020. However, throughout its tenure, the Base, Premium, and Luxury trims have remained, and additional options like the Black Line Special Edition and Sport Design Package appeared later in the run. It finally moves onto a third generation for 2024, with the gasoline version being called GX 550 and employing a modern 3.4-liter twin-turbo V6, while Toyota’s 2.4-liter turbocharged I4 Hybrid MAX system (same as the RX 500h, among others) will probably motivate the upcoming hybrid version.

The 2010-2013 GX 460 (J150).


The 2014-2019 GX 460 (right) and 2020-2023 GX 460 (left) (J150).


The Lexus GX has always been a favorite of mine, and in part, that’s because of its significance in my automotive awakening.

When I was a younger kid, I was typically exposed to the premium and luxury cars of my family: like my grandma’s 1985 Buick Riviera, my aunt’s 2001 Cadillac Deville, my other grandma’s various Oldsmobiles, my older cousin’s GMT400-generation GMC Jimmy Diamond Edition. What they all had in common was that they were all domestic, and they were all fairly tacky (though still charming). Fast-forward to 2004, when I was eleven. I was riding my bicycle down the street, and the house at the end of the road had a guy getting out of a black SUV. It looked fancy, and it wore a shiny “GX 470” badge on it, right next to the temporary tag that marked it out as brand-new. I’d never seen a GX 470 before, but I loved the way it looked. “Nice car!” I said.

It turned out that man, Mark, and his wife had a son my age and a daughter my sister’s age, and we’ve all been friends ever since. I got to spend lots of time in that GX 470 as a kid, and I have to say that it was my first exposure to a quality luxury car. The leather, the wood, the ride, the build quality: it was a whole different world from what I’d ever experienced. Mark still has (as of September 2003) his 2004 GX 470, and it hasn’t given him any notable trouble.

Mark’s 2004 GX 470 looks like this on the outside.


And this on the inside.


Back to 2020: before I’d bought my 2017 Volvo XC90, the car I’d intended to buy was a GX 460. But that car was an L/Certified Luxury trim one with all the options, including the rarely seen adaptive cruise. Nevertheless, I got distracted and ended up buying that Volvo. You heard that story last week. That car managed to piss me off so thoroughly, I can’t see myself ever buying another Volvo again. And so, when I decided it had to go in April of 2021, my thoughts turned back to the GX 460. By that time, pandemic pricing had taken hold and the used cars were starting to cost as much—or disproportionately close to as much—as the new ones. Which had me looking for a new one. I rationalized to myself that it was the sort of car that I’d be able to keep forever.

To make sure I liked the GX, I went ahead and borrowed a 2017 from the CarMax on a 24-hour test drive. I had no intention of buying that particular one, especially since it was (a) a Base trim, and (b) extremely overpriced. I also knew that the 2020+ came with some substantial differences. But a night and 150 miles with one was enough to convince me that I liked the basic foundations of the thing. The next morning, I checked the local dealership, Eskridge Lexus of Oklahoma City, for inventory, and saw that they had several GXs in stock.

This is one I considered.


Or appeared to, anyway. Some of the ones on the site had already been spoken for. I was originally hoping for a Premium with Premium Plus package, which would give me the Mark Levinson audio system. But they didn’t have any in stock and weren’t going to get any anytime soon. What they had were either Premium or Luxury models. The salesman had me sit in a white Luxury (which had the Mark Levinson system) and cue up my music, then do the same in a white Premium model (which did not). I could discern no difference between the base and Mark Levinson systems, and that was the only thing I really cared for on the Luxury. So I decided on a Premium.

It came down to either that white Premium that had been parked outside, or a black Premium w/Sport Design on the showroom floor. The Sport Design came with front and rear ground effect trim in a gloss-gray color, the Luxury wheels in black, scarlet taillights, and some additional chrome trim pieces on the front bumper and mirror skullcaps. Inside, all Sport Design models had the captain’s chairs in the second row. And this one also had gorgeous red leatherette.

It’s called Rioja Red. Isn’t that pretty?


The black one with Sport Design really caught my eye, and that was the one I picked. The dealer had $1,500 off already and offered to take another $1,500 off right off the bat. I thought that was a good price, so we struck a deal, and it was mine.

In the ensuing days, I came to appreciate the GX’s attributes. It was nowhere near as swanky as my XC90, but everything was just right. The seats, which had the bare minimum level of adjustments for a luxury car, were all-day comfortable. The ride, despite being on conventional coil-sprung suspension and not some fancy four-corner air-suspension setup, was great. The 4.6-liter V8, with all of its 301 hp, never managed to feel slow. It felt appreciably old-school, and did not worry me as the Volvo had.

All tucked into the garage


That wasn’t to say the GX was without its flaws, some of which had nothing to do with reliability. For one thing, Lexus chose to only put keyless access on the front doors (meanwhile, some Toyota products, including the Avalon, had them on all four doors as early as 2007). Also, Lexus chose not to make auto-power-folding mirrors. You had a switch to fold them, but you had to press it every time you got out of the car, and you had to remember to do so before turning it off; otherwise, it wouldn’t respond to the switch. The foot-operated parking brake was…quaint, though at least it could be deactivated. And because the GX had a solid rear axle, rather than independent rear suspension, the floor was pretty tall where the third row was. That meant the third row was truly just for small children and people you wanted to punish. And that third row folded on top of the floor, rather than into it, cutting into the cargo volume.

And then there was the rear door. The GX 460, like the GX 470 that preceded it, shared its body with the Land Cruiser Prado. And that model could be had with a larger fuel tank that relegated the spare tire to the rear of the truck. Hence the side-swinging door. However, the door was optimized for RHD markets, and so it opened to the right, meaning you had to step around it when parked against a curb.

The GX’s most glaring shortcoming was the infotainment system. Largely the same as the one that had been introduced in 2010—and it was fairly unimpressive then—it felt hilariously out-of-date. Inexplicably, despite the big facelift in 2020, which gave the GX a new cockpit, Lexus chose not to do anything about the infotainment. The GX did not, at that time, get the new infotainment system with CarPlay that was being deployed in the rest of the lineup (not until 2022, anyway…groan).

See what I missed out on? Those jerks.


Fortunately, I could fix that. Turns out, there was a company called GROM that made an aftermarket infotainment setup for various Lexuses, all the way to the earliest ones with infotainment systems. It essentially plugged in behind the dashboard, but then was able to take over the screen, buttons and microphone. It had its own Android-based OS, but also allowed you to have wired or wireless CarPlay and Android Auto. And it was only $500. Score!

Cue me buying that, and then, a week later, carefully disconnecting the battery and disassembling the dashboard of my brand-new luxury SUV. But I got it plugged in and it worked. Beautifully. It was like Lexus had built it that way from the start.

I tried so hard not to scratch anything!


Functioning CarPlay. Gotta love modern tech.


Sometime here, I went ahead and had my driveway expanded. The contractors took out an unnecessary flower box and railroad ties, removed some trees, and made it a lot easier to get cars in and out of the driveway. I also had more driveway space to begin with (which came in handy later on, as you’ll soon find out).

More driveway space is always better!


Roughly a month later, WASPy Ex and I set off for his friend’s wedding. The wedding was in Wyoming, but we thought we’d stop in Denver, CO for a couple of nights, because he’d lived there and I’m from there. The GX handled itself remarkably. I recall getting 19 MPG, which was nice, since it averaged 16 around town. The only annoying thing was that it demanded premium and that the range wasn’t great. But even in the higher altitudes, it didn’t seem to have an issue putting the power down.

I began remarking at how susceptible the GX’s steering was to inclines and banks, more so than anything I’d ever driven before. If the road wasn’t perfectly flat, you needed to hold the wheel at an angle, so as not to let the car steer off course. Also, the adaptive cruise control, standard for 2020 and up, was pretty primitive, and would automatically deactivate if the car slowed to below 32 MPH or so. It was also humorous to hear some sort of relay behind the dashboard physically click every time it slowed down due to a car in front of it. I imagine the emergency braking also wouldn’t have been able to bring the car down to a complete stop, at highway speeds.

Here, I’m driving perfectly straight.


In June, WASPy Ex and I were pulling into a Sonic drive-in stall, when I misjudged my distance and hit the mirror on the adjacent stall’s menu. It made a very expensive-sounding crunch. I got out of the car, and to my dismay, the mirror skullcap had a big chunk ripped out of it. In addition, the turn signal repeater was cracked. Thankfully, I was able to order the skullcap at the Lexus dealer (pre-painted) and swap it over. The repeater was $20 on eBay. Fortunately, the GX 460 and LX 570 used the same mirror assembly, so parts were plentiful.

Good as new, although in need of a cleaning.


In July, we went on a trip to Chicago, and again took the GX. It proved to be a perfectly comfortable road trip vehicle in that instance, as well.

So, how did I end up selling what seemed like the perfect vehicle? Well, I’ve always got my finger on the pulse of resale values for whatever I owned. And by mid-summer of 2021, new-car prices were starting to shoot through the roof as the shortages really took hold. Markups and MSRP-increases galore. And months-long waits. That drove up the residual values of the used cars, as well. By that time, the Lexus dealer had no more GXs on the lot. They had several in transit, and each and every one of them was sold before it arrived. Which meant my GX was now worth more. I remember putting it into several “instant car offer” calculators, and one of them came back for $15K more than I paid. That wasn’t a profit I could ignore.

One last picture of the car.


I called the outfit to confirm, and they were very eager to get their hands on it. And so, a couple of weeks later, with all of 8,900 miles on it, a payoff was posted to my lender, and a tow truck showed up to cart the GX away. I planned on putting in a wait for another GX 460, especially since the 2022 had a redesigned center stack with an OEM touch-screen (and touch-pad) system that supported CarPlay. Even with the tax drag and probably no discount on a replacement, I’d come out substantially ahead.

But something else caught my eye.

As for the GX, my opinion of it remains the same. It’s a charming traditional luxury midsize SUV in a landscape where that sort of thing no longer exists. I only hope that the new one will start out and remain a lot more competitive, while being just as reliable as the outgoing one.

The 2024 Lexus GX 550. Lexus is definitely not going for conservative, here. But it’s an attractive design.


I do miss mine, though.