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2024 Lexus GX Off-Road Review: A Trail Slayer Straight Out the Box

When the base model is this good, who needs the Overtrail trim?

byJerry Perez|
Jerry Perez
Jerry Perez. Jerry Perez
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Not a day goes by without me witnessing a jacked-up SUV or pickup rolling down the street with enormous tires, light bars, and all kinds of preposterous off-road gear. Living where The City ends and The Country begins treats me to a daily parade of just as many $80,000 Ford Broncos and Jeep Rubicons as old Fords and Chevys with bullet holes and jerry-rigged suspension lifts. It's a fine place to live.

The 2024 Lexus GX 550 goes about its business a bit differently. It's sharp-looking but not shouty like the Americans. In my tester's Nightfall Mica blue, it even flies under the radar. It's powerful but quiet. It's capable but humble. No trail-rated badges or brightly painted tow hooks here. At first glance, the GX is just another luxury SUV for suburban parents with decent paychecks and an image to upkeep. Y'know, the kind who are too fancy to be seen in a Tahoe but too smart to buy a Land Rover.

And actually, yes, that's exactly what the GX is. But it's also so much more than that. The Premium+ trim I tested lacked all the cosmetic and functional off-road goodies of the rugged Overtrail trim, yet it was an absolute banger on the trails. Do you really need all that stuff? Does it actually make the GX any better or more capable?

Here's what I think.

What's Going On Here?

The first new-gen GX I ever laid eyes on was the one Lexus dropped off in my driveway. First impression: Wow, this thing looks even better in person than in photos. The Drive's truck editor Caleb Jacobs had the chance to drive a prototype in Japan last year, while Andrew Collins blasted his way through the Arizona desert in one this January. They both had the souped-up Overtrail+ models, so when Lexus rang up and offered me a test, I thought I would get the same model. Nope.

What I ended up getting was the Premium+ model, which is essentially the same core package as the base-model SUV but with a few extra comfort goodies inside. I had all-season tires instead of the 33-inch all-terrains, no fancy E-KDSS suspension, no additional ground clearance, no crawl control if the going got rough, and no multi-terrain monitor. I seriously questioned whether I should even take this off-road. I was in a pickle.

This normally wouldn't be a big deal, but I had already made arrangements with other friends to drive 100 miles to an off-road park, and those people then made arrangements with other people to join us. It was a whole thing. And on top of that, I had promised my 17-year-old son that he could go with me and I didn't want to let him down. He's at that age where I'm sometimes legitimately afraid he might stab me in my sleep.

I said, "Screw it." I figured I'd go and find out what it could or couldn't do. Plus, it's not like I was crossing the Sahara Desert.

Jerry Perez

Off-Roading the Lexus GX

I didn't have any special off-road driving modes or other software gizmos to activate, so I aired down the tires to about 18 psi and went off the beaten path. If the going got rough, I had 4-low and a center-locking diff to help me out—in addition to a couple of friends in a Tacoma with a towing strap.

First up were some sand dunes. The 5,700-pound GX dug in just enough to briefly make me regret my decisions that day, but the steadier I was on the accelerator the more momentum I'd gain, and the better things got. Traction control quickly recognized how much wheel slip to allow to maintain speed and not let it get bogged down. I was making my way up and down tall dunes in no time, facing just enough of a challenge to keep things interesting but not too much that I risked getting stuck. Steep climbs littered with loose dirt and rocks were child's play for the Lexus.

Next up: mud. Wet, chunky, shoe-eating mud. With the GX leading the all-Toyota pack, I ventured into woodsy, single-track trails—the kind you'd wanna tackle in a beat-up Suzuki Samurai, not a $71,000 Lexus. With the help of its surround-view cameras and my son's lackluster spotting (seriously, he could've watched some instructional YouTube videos), I made my way through tight and technical trails I'd previously only explored in a new Defender 90. Despite being 37 inches longer than the Landie, however, its turning radius was phenomenally tight.

With mud up to its wheel hubs and ruts so deep the only thing I could see out my window was a wall of dirt. The luxury SUV that I dared question the capabilities of carried on like it was on a mission from God.

What stuck out most through these various challenges was the drivetrain's ability to generate grip where I was 110% sure there wouldn't be any. Low-end torque is plentiful and delivered so gently by the twin-turbo V6 that it squeezed every ounce of grip out of those vanilla-ass tires. Likewise, the steering was just so communicative and precise that I always knew exactly where each tire was and what the terrain under them felt like.

At last, the all-season rubber and stock drivetrain settings met their match. However, I feel the need to highlight that up until this point, I had been driving the GX for over two hours through dunes, creeks, and trails in the same mode and settings as I'd drive it from my house to the grocery store—only with less air in the tires, of course. This is important to understand because many believe that putting a tire off the beaten path requires all kinds of tech wizardry or you're doomed.

Alas, what I'd consider to be a 45- to 50-degree incline caked with mud finally forced me to stop, drop that baby in neutral, switch to 4-low, and give it another go. In fact, it wasn't even the incline nor the mud but a couple of protruding rocks halfway up the hill that forced me to take it extremely slow to avoid causing damage. Despite driving through several big puddles, the brakes were strong and offered plenty of feedback, allowing me to safely keep the SUV planted while it shifted to lower gearing.

At the trail's end, there was a seriously tricky descent where I was left wishing for an extra inch, inch-and-a-half of ground clearance. It was simply unavoidable to grind on the running boards and spare tire while tackling a couple of steep drop-offs. I wouldn't have minded firing up the hill-descent control to focus on just wheeling, but the Premium+ trim doesn't have that. No biggie, it was a bit more fun that way.

The Off-Road Verdict

Emerging unscathed from a full day of serious off-roading felt like a major win for the "basic" GX. But in reality, it wasn't. My experience is a testament that Lexus built a phenomenal off-roader right outta the box. Also, if you're patient and take a moment to understand the machinery and terrain, you'll go much farther than you think. I'm not saying off-road equipment and other gadgets are useless, but they aren't as vital as the marketing guys want you to believe.

The 2024 Lexus GX 550 is unlike any other rugged luxury SUV out there. It's smooth, quiet, comfortable, and a downright killer on the trails. It does more with less. To answer the questions at the beginning of this review: When the (nearly) base model is this good, you don't need to upsell yourself into a higher-trim, more expensive GX.

2024 Lexus GX 550 Specs
Base Price (Premium+ as tested)$65,600 ($71,455)
Powertrain3.4-liter twin-turbo V6 | 10-speed automatic | four-wheel drive
Horsepower349 @ 4,800-5,200 rpm
Torque479 lb-ft @ 2,000-3,600 rpm
Seating Capacity5 to 7
Wheelbase112.2 inches
Max Towing Capacity9,063 pounds (Premium trim)
Off-Road Angles26° approach | 23° break-over | 23° departure (Premium trim)
Ground Clearance8.6 inches (Premium trim)
EPA Fuel Economy15 mpg city | 21 highway | 17 combined
Quick TakeBuy one.
Score9/10

Email the author at jerry@thedrive.com

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