A tale of two SUVs: One refined, one bad to the bone

Are you more a Lexus GX 460 or a Toyota 4Runner?

Jeff Rundles //March 25, 2016//

A tale of two SUVs: One refined, one bad to the bone

Are you more a Lexus GX 460 or a Toyota 4Runner?

Jeff Rundles //March 25, 2016//

Almost no one else would link these two vehicles, but the truth is, for me at least, they are very similar. Both the Lexus GX 460 and the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro are mid-sized SUVs – ultimately made by the same company – and they are both handsome, durable and capable vehicles. With the Lexus, you get a bit more engine – 4.6-liter V8 with 301 hp, rated at 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway; the 4Runner is a 4.0-literV6 with 270 hp rated at 17/21 – and with the Lexus you get third-row seating.

So you have to decide what you want to be. With the GX460 you get refinement. With the 4Runner you get bad-ass ― and a much lower price tag. Your choice.

The 4Runner is a 4X4, meaning that it isn’t full-time 4WD, and here it is serious. You can, of course, run it in 2WD, then shift with an extra shifter into H4, regular 4WD, or L4, the low gear for off-road, steep conditions. Then there are further adjustments for the conditions, called Multi-Terrain Select, Toyota’s Crawl Control, which regulates speed off-road, and Hill-Start Assist Control, which keeps the vehicle stationary when starting on a steep incline or unstable surface. And then, of course, the TRD stuff: off-road springs and shock, a front skid plate and Nitto Grappler tires.

The 4Runner is based on the short-bed Toyota truck platform, but it drives surprisingly smooth and is an amazingly nimble vehicle for everyday use. So you get the refinement and the luxury technology. The big surprise is that the mid-sized 4Runner, now in its 5th generation since introduction in 1984, is a BIG vehicle – I saw many of the earlier versions and this one is visibly larger. It feels very solid and safe, and is really fun to drive – not like the truck-like vehicle of old.

The TRD Pro Series 4Runner comes with almost everything standard and carries a base price of $41,500. The only option, for $350, is a sliding rear cargo deck with an under floor storage compartment. They add in $900 for delivery, and the bottom line is $42,800. That is a great price for all that is here.

Now the Lexus GX 460 is a step up, no doubt. But to be honest, driving it around felt the same as the 4Runner. It has a nicer interior with finer leather, mahogany wood steering wheel and shift knob, and all of the electronics are fancier, but for all intents and purposes when you drive it around town the GX feel a lot like the 4Runner. It is also a little bumpy on the ride side, but it is also very quiet.

The major differences are that this GX has a 3rd row seat, which folds flat, and full-time AWD, a system that includes a limited slip differential with an electronic locking feature, so if you want to go off-road, this car can handle it. This vehicle, like the 4Runner, sits up quite high; it’s a step to get in for sure.     

There is, of course, all the luxury stuff – a full suite of the modern apps, all the electronic hookups, a power moonroof, 3-zone automatic climate control, a windshield deicer, and illuminated running boards and scuff plates. The Bluetooth and audio system are very easy to use – the voice command system works well for on-board and device systems – but I found the navigation odd.

It was relatively easy to set up a destination and all that, but the nav system failed to give adequate warning that your exit on the highway was approaching, so I had to scramble a couple of times to get across a few lanes to make the exit. Also, the climate control system is only partially outside of the 8” touch screen, so you can set the temperature with buttons on the dash, but to adjust the fan speed, for instance, you have to engage the climate button through the touch screen. As I said, odd.

My favorite thing about the GX is the rear access. Rather than a lift-gate, which almost every other SUV has, this one features a door that opens on the left and swings open. This makes it easy to open and close and get stuff in and out; the downside is that it isn’t automatic. Also, I love all the safety systems – blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The GX is very well-made, nice to drive if unexciting and loaded with all of the luxuries. But – there’s always a but – the base price is $61,515, $21,000 more than the 4Runner. Except for the seating issue, and perhaps the nameplate which means a lot for many people, I’d rather have the 4Runner.

On my test drive model, Lexus added $1,970 for a rear-seat entertainment system, which features two screens, one each mounted on the rear of the front seats. They also added, $4,340  for a Driver Support Package, with a Mark Levinson audio system upgrade, a pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert, intelligent high beams, wide view outside mirrors (large, and useful), and the Toyota CRAWL control.

As I said, however, I‘ll take the versatile 4Runner and save the money.