AutoMatters: Lexus GX 460

By Jan. R. Wagner

Lexus is well known for luxury but also leads in off-road capability. Full-time four-wheel-drive is standard on the Lexus GX 460, which uses an electronically controlled transfer case and a TORSEN

®torque-sensing limited slip differential. The front to rear power ratio is adjusted as needed, based on wheel slip. That power – 301 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, is provided by a 4.6-liter V8, delivered through a six-speed, electronically controlled transmission.

The standard Kinetic Dynamic System adjusts the front and rear stabilizer bars to help reduce maximum body-lean angle by as much as 50%, enhancing both on-road handling response and off-highway capability. Trailer sway control has been added for 2014.

For moderate off-road driving you can leave it in high four, just like you’d use on the highway. If the GX 460 experiences extreme articulation with a wheel up in the air, the advanced traction control system intervenes, pulsing the brakes to any individual wheels that are spinning and applying torque to the wheels that have the most traction.

In especially low traction situations, stop on level ground, keep your foot on the brake, shift the shift lever into neutral and engage low range. Doing so will select a lower reduction gear ratio in the transfer case and lock out the center differential. The vehicle will move much more slowly and be much more responsive to applications and lifting of the throttle, for improved ascent and descent speed control. For even more control of the six-speed transmission, shift from Drive into Sequential mode. That will allow you to select individual gears. In first gear it will crawl very slowly.

Ideally when you are off-roading or descending a steep hill, it is preferable to control your speed with gearing, not the brakes. Excessive use of the brakes on a long, steep hill may overheat them.

When lower gearing is not enough, low speed crawl control is available for low speed ascent and descent, integrating what were previously separate systems into one common system, for ease of use. Engaged by a simple press of a button, it allows the vehicle to slowly crawl up or down a hill, with the transmission in Drive or manually shifted. It also operates in reverse.You can preset any one of five crawl speeds, ranging from a high of about 5-mph down to 1-mph.

Once you engage that system, the GX 460 will control each individual wheel’s speed by applying the throttle and the brakes, as needed. Just keep your feet off of the pedals and steer. The noises you’ll hear will be the solenoids activating the master ABS actuator ten to 20 times per second, to apply braking pressure to each individual wheel cylinder separately. This controls the wheels that have the most traction.

If you wish to speed up or slow down, apply the throttle or the brakes. That will temporarily over-ride the low speed crawl control system. As soon as you lift your foot, the system will take over again.

This system is especially helpful for less skilled off-road drivers when they’ve had to stop on a hill for something and then need to resume moving. To demonstrate the effectiveness of low speed crawl control, try stepping out of the vehicle on a steep, perhaps gravel-covered hill and see how difficult it is to walk without slipping.

The GX 460 has a mid-length wheelbase and a short turning radius, to handle tight turns. A warning beep, part of the parking assist system, may occasionally remind you that an object is close to your bumper.

A graphic display in the middle of the instrument panel, directly above the steering wheel, helpfully shows you which way your front wheels are pointed. To see what you are about to drive over or through, or if you are about to crest a blind, steep hill and need to know if the road turns, there are two front-facing cameras: one with a wide angle lens mounted low in the grille and another on the outer, passenger-side mirror, to show what is near the far side of the vehicle.

For 2014 Lexus has lowered the starting price of the GX 460 to $49,085. That is $4,710 less than for 2013. Available upgrades include navigation, mahogany wood trim, three-zone climate control, heated rear seats, adaptable air suspension, intuitive park assist and blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert.

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Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #298