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Offers luxury in a big package

GX 470

April 30, 2004|by JASON STEIN/Wheelbase Communications

To be all things to all people, today's mass-marketed, something-for-everyone sport-utility vehicles are usually a mix of a little bit of this and some of that, often winding up doing nothing particularly well.

Jack of all trades, master of none. They're not quick, not really comfortable, not really stylish, can't tow much, don't get great mileage and can't crawl over boulders all that well.

Part car, part truck, part mountain climber, part pogo stick, and it has to have 50 cupholders, seats that turn into a rubber raft, a built-in ice maker . . . and a lease price of $199 a month, right?

In truth, our varied lifestyles and bank balances actually demand this type of diversity and our vehicles are the victims as they struggle to please us in every way for a magic sticker price.

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By its very nature, Lexus doesn't have to cater to everyone. As a high-end luxury automaker, it can dial out objections to price and economy, and include all kinds of equipment and technology that makes vehicles such as the GX 470 a real jack-of-all trades, at least for its rather narrow demographic. It actually does do everything . . . if you can afford it.

Forget about the dollars and cents for a moment and consider that you get full-time four-wheel drive (with a low-speed range), body-on-frame construction, V-8 torque, a first-class look, a smooth ride with off-road prowess and a wonderful selection of luxury-car amenties.

Introduced just last year, the GX 470 is Lexus's third sport-ute, slotted - in terms of size and price - between the premium RX 330 and the really premium LX 470.

The GX shares some of its body-on-frame engineering with the Toyota 4Runner (Lexus is Toyota's upscale division) and is powered by a 235-horsepower, 4.7-liter V-8 connected to a five-speed automatic transmission. True, there are competitors with more peak horsepower, but few give the kind of broad torque range that the Lexus engine delivers, which is most important when lugging around a hefty beast.

In fact, the 4.7 twists out 80 percent of its torque at a just-off-idle 1,100 rpm. (like a diesel), ideal for making the most of its 6,500-pound towing capacity, which is good enough for family-sized pleasure craft or camper trailers.

A two-speed transfer case with a low range helps you get up the steep inclines, while the hill-descent feature helps keep the GX 470 from freight-training down the back side of the slope.

To keep the load level, the GX also comes with Rear Adjustable Height Control, a system that lets the driver choose the ground clearance that best suits the conditions. An Adaptive Variable Suspension matches the ride to the usage. The comfort setting equals a smooth ride. The sport setting stiffens things up for the cut and thrust of rush-hour driving.

The interior offers the usual level of Lexus cushiness to comfortably transport all eight passengers on board (when the vehicle is equipped with the optional third-row seat).

There's also the build quality, fine road manners and all of the standard features you'd expect from Lexus, including leather seating, maple wood trim, power-heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, automatic climate control, moonroof, one-touch up-down side windows and rain-sensing wipers.

The standard audio system has an in-dash six-disc CD changer and 11 speakers, but you can easily upgrade to a 14-speaker, 240-watt premium system design by audio guru Mark Levinson.

But if you want to live in the lap of Lexus luxury - for those who really want to take things upscale - optional items get downright nifty. There's an additional separate air conditioner (when you add the third-row seat), a DVD-based navigation system (with the Levinson setup) and a DVD entertainment system for rear passengers.

New for 2004, the GX has a number of safety upgrades, including side-curtain air bags that deploy in the event of a rollover, a tire-pressure monitoring system and an optional rear backup camera for those vehicles with the navigation system installed.

Overlook the $46,000 sticker price, which when you consider everything you get seems like a bargain, and it's hard to find fault with the GX 470. In many ways, it is the best of all worlds: on-road stability and off-road capability with all of the Lexus trimmings. It is a ride with few, if any, compromises.

And in a do-everything-for-everyone kind of world, that's getting tougher to find.

© 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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