Sometimes an automaker defines a trend, as Toyota once did with the Prius hybrid. Other times they stumble into greatness by accident. The latter describes the life story of what has now become the 2024 Lexus GX550, which started as a less capable and more luxurious version of the 4Runner back when body-on-frame family SUVs were all the rage. For the most part, those early GX470s spent their days as pampered mall wagons, maintained within an inch of their lives at Lexus dealers, eventually finding new purpose as dirt-road warriors with subsequent owners.
Today, unibody SUVs have made great strides in improving off-road capability, so the case for a third-generation body-on-frame GX may at first seem shaky. But Lexus recently released the TX SUV, a three-row family crossover for those who avoid dirt. Meanwhile, overlanding has become mainstream enough that first owners are risking their rigs off-road—or kitting them out so it looks like they do. Also, unibody-based crossovers can only manage towing to a middling degree. The ladder-framed GX550, on the other hand, is a legit tow vehicle, and this latest iteration of GX feels like a welcome change from the ordinary at just the right time.
Leaning into Those Truckish Roots
The new GX550 lineup includes three tiers, each with an upgraded "+" variant. At one end there's the $64,250 Premium: a three-row, seven-passenger base configuration (a six-seater setup is optional on the Premium+) that rides on 20-inch wheels and 265/55 Yokohama tires. The Luxury starts at $77,250 and rolls on 22-inch wheels and 265/50 Dunlops, and it's available in the optional six- or standard seven-passenger configurations. In between there's the Overtrail, an off-road-focused five-seater that wears 18-inch wheels and 265/70 Toyo Open Country A/T III all-terrain tires standing at a lofty 33 inches.
The Overtrail's lack of a third row could trouble some, but the result is a lower load floor (2.0 inches, by our reckoning) that creates a significantly larger cargo volume (46 instead of 40 cubic feet) behind the second row. This and other minor equipment deletions trim enough cost that a lockable rear differential, adaptive dampers, multi-terrain select, multi-terrain monitor system, crawl control, downhill assist control, a roof rack, the Cold Area package, and the new E-KDSS (Electronic Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) with independently detachable front and rear anti-roll bars can be had for the same $69,250 they charge for a Premium+ that lacks such equipment.
Less 4Runner, More Land Cruiser
In the Lexus lineup, the big-boy LX600 is essentially a 300-series Land Cruiser dressed for a night on the town. But that's not the one we get. Toyota infamously decided against the 300-series for the USA, opting instead to go with 250-series Land Cruiser Prado roots for the soon-to-be-(re)released edition of their marquee model. The GX550 is the Lexus version of that 250, and not getting the 300-series may seem like a raw deal, but the Toyota platform that underpins them makes the chassis differences between the 250-series GX and the 300-series LX so small as to be insignificant.
Example: The GX550's 112.2-inch wheelbase matches the LX600, while the GX's width range of 78.0 to 78.7 (depending on wheel/tire combo) brackets the LX's 78.4 inches. Suspension track widths follow the same pattern, as their front and rear suspension layouts match. Both have full-time four-wheel drive with a lockable Torsen center differential inside their low-range transfer cases. Both receive motivation from a twin-turbo 3.4-liter V-6 backed by a 10-speed automatic. They even share the same impressive torque peak of 479 pound-feet at just 2000 rpm.
For the GX550, this represents a humongous 150-lb-ft gain over the outgoing GX460, and that wallop arrives a full 1500 rpm earlier. Sure, the LX600 makes 409 horses while the GX550 is detuned to 349 horsepower, but that's still a 48-pony windfall compared to its predecessor. The extra punch is palpable, and the significant uptick in grunt does away with the 460's notorious initial hesitation that made it feel even heavier than it was. Lexus says the GX550 is in fact some 400 pounds heavier, but you'd swear it was lighter. Lexus also claims the new GX will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, which destroys their 7.8-second GX460 claim. For reference, the last GX460 we tested achieved 60 mph in 7.2 seconds.
A maximum tow rating of 9096 pounds goes along with the uprated chassis and fortified engine, a huge increase from the 460's comparatively pedestrian 6500-pound effort. Surprisingly, the gains carry over to the pump, where the 460's 16-mpg combined (15 city/19 highway) improves to a Lexus-estimated 17 mpg. The GX550's 21-mpg highway claim comes from copious low-rpm torque and 10 forward gears instead of six.
Smooth Operator, On- or Off-Road
The GX's Premium+ trim is fitted with conventional passive dampers to go with its 20-inch rolling stock, but it delivers a smooth ride and crisp steering. Road cracks and seams can penetrate the suspension's defenses, but to a more subdued degree than the old GX. It's by no means a rough ride, but the TX is on standby for those who seek crossover cushiness.
Ironically, the Overtrail is smoother over rougher pavement than the Premium+, perhaps because those 33-inch tires and 18-inch wheels equate to 1.5 inches of extra sidewall. Standard adaptive dampers smooth those edges even further. The Overtrail's setup also rewards on washboard dirt roads, but the killer app that makes this new trim practically glide off-road is the new E-KDSS.
Lexus's old KDSS tech disabled the front and rear anti-roll bars simultaneously because of how its passive hydraulics were plumbed, but E-KDSS uses an ECU to disable the bars independently, so each end responds in turn as an obstacle is encountered. The result is far less head toss through angled ditches and a sense that the dampers are more sophisticated than they are. Actually, it's E-KDSS that's doing the work. We have not yet measured an RTI (Ramp Travel Index) score, But Lexus's claimed 24.5 inches of articulation suggests a healthy score of some 630 points.
The Overtrail's transfer case engages quickly, but we were particularly smitten with a small change to the operational logic of the lockable center differential. In the past, switching into low range automatically locked the center diff. The button was provided if you wanted to lock it in 4Hi. This always seemed logical, on the basis that 4Lo was for rough going. But a locked center diff plays havoc with turning radius, and tight trails have tighter switchbacks. Solution: The GX550 keeps the center diff unlocked when switching to 4Lo and makes locking an independent choice. Result: extremely tight off-road hairpins and fewer three-point turns.
Inside, the GX550 impresses with a lush and attractive interior. The 12.3-inch configurable instrument display and 14.0-inch infotainment touchscreen are similar to those found in the new Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road, but the GX-specific instrument graphics are surprisingly dim, as if the adjustment range only covers nighttime driving. The crystal-clear infotainment screen works as expected, though.
The thing that stands out more is the stellar outward visibility. The GX's hood styling features a broad trough that offers a clear view of the road and makes easy work of judging the forward limits, while the fender creases that look striking in profile telegraph a clear idea of where the tires are. Moreover, the glass dips down at the cowl to expand the side view downward, and the mirror sits back from the roof pillar to allow a sneak peek in between. The end result is a driving position that gives a commanding view without being so upright that it feels overtly truckish and buries your coif in the roof.
In fact, our tallest tester didn't merely fit well in front, he was able to sit behind his own front seat. He also fit in the third row, sort of, but six feet two is a bit much to ask back there, especially since the live rear axle pushes the rearmost floor up, sending knees skyward. Those of above-average height need not apply, and if that won't do, the TX is right across the showroom. The Overtrail neatly sidesteps this conundrum, of course, by not offering a third row.
The 2024 Lexus GX550 is a vastly improved version of its former self. The existence of the TX three-row crossover SUV allows the GX to lean into its body-on-frame roots, which arguably allowed the Overtrail to come into existence. In fact, one could argue that this off-road-focused GX550 trim is now a more capable Lexus-badged Land Cruiser than the 300-series-based LX600. After all, the LX only theoretically offers 18-inch wheels and tires and doesn't bother with a lockable rear differential or disconnecting anti-roll bars.
Lexus expects the Premium+ to be the sales-leading trim when the GX goes on sale this April, and that's certain to be the case because the Premium is a fantastic three-row SUV that can either wander off the beaten path or tow 9000-plus pounds on it. But the new Overtrail represents a huge bargain for those gearing up to off-road—or just look like they will. This is the 2024 Lexus GX550 trim that value-seeking, dirt-loving second owners will prize on the used market.
What's more, we got through this whole piece without once mentioning how much less hideous the GX's new grille looks. Perhaps there's hope for BMW yet.
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