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A rich ride for the
suburban elite

By Bruce W. Smith

(Photos courtesy of Lexus)

Lexus understands that and knows special features and one-upmanship attracts the attention of savvy buyers who think nothing of shelling out $50k for a statement on wheels.

The 2004 GX 470, which was introduced last year, competes hood-to-hood against such worthy rivals as the Cadillac SRX, Mercedes-Benze M-Class, and the Lincoln Aviator. All three competitors are top-notch mid-size luxury SUVs that ooze wealth and power to those in the know. So does Lexus’ mid-size entry.

What makes the truck-based 2004 GX470 so appealing is a state-of-the-art suspension upgrade ($1,750) called Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) that allows the 2004 model handle better than its rivals on- or off-pavement.

Toyota says, “The KDSS technology, which has been proven in WRC competitions, provides more sway stiffness when needed for crisp handling response, less sway resistance when cornering, and more comfort over bumpy roads.”

The new technology will even disengage the sway bars completely in some off-highway driving situations, allowing the suspension has maximum travel and articulation to help the V8-powered GX470 get across terrain that would otherwise be a problem.

Couple the KDSS system with the standard Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) that adjusts the shocks to whatever setting you’ve selected (Touring, Sport, Comfort) as you drive, and you have a remarkably nice SUV.

Another upgrade to the ’04 model is the implementation of several new safety items. One is the Supplemental Restraint System (SRS.) The SRS in the GX470 now employs both front and side curtain air bags—the latter designed to deploy in a severe tilt angle, roll or G-Force situation, protecting the passengers.

The new Lexus SUV also watches the tires for you. Its Tire Pressure Monitoring system (TPM) uses coded sensors inside the tires to warn of under-inflation. Once the system senses any tire that is below a preset minimum air pressure, a warning light on the dash illuminates to show the driver which tire or tires has a problem.

Then there’s the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system that adjusts the throttle and/or wheel braking to help you maintain directional control of the GX470 while cornering over slippery or dry road surfaces.


Inside, it’s all about luxury where leather and elegant Birdseye Maple wood trim prevail. Fit and finish is first class. The optional Levinson audio system is superb; the moonroof huge; the 3rd row seat removable.

Upfront seating comfort is excellent, with power adjustable seats that seem to fit any body type. The second row seats are a bit too firm for luxury class, and legroom can be a little tight if the driver and/or front passenger are a bit long in the legs as we found out during a day-long, 110-mile round-trip golf outing to a country club.

The third row seats ($2,030) are both cramped and uncomfortable for most adults, although children and young adults might not be as critical. So this might be an option to pass on.

There is a plethora of controls, too. If you want something adjusted to your liking, most likely you’ll find a knob, button, or switch to make it so. If you have kids and want to keep them entertained on long trips, the optional ($1,560) rear seat DVD entertainment system is a must.

Need directions, a visual display of whatever it is you want to change, or to see what’s behind you (a rear backup camera is also an option), just watch the 7-inch video screen on the optional navigation system that comes packaged with the Levinson sound system ($3,050). Expensive? Yes. Worth it.? Definitely.


 Cargo carrying is also plentiful. Our threesome’s golf bags had no problem fitting into the 50 cubic feet of cargo space with the 3rd row seat removed. Drop the second row seat and cargo capacity jumps to 77.5 cu.ft., which is enough to carry a lot of goods and gear.

Need more cargo capacity? You can always put a cargo carrier box on the roof rack.

Should you load it up or take advantage of its 6,500-pound towing capacity, the Lexus’ rear air suspension system automatically adjusts to keep you on an even keel.


I drove the GX470 for a week on the Gulf Coast and had the opportunity to see first-hand how the luxury SUV handled everything from urban asphalt and pine forest backroads, gravel to heavy rain. All I can say is it did so in style.

Under the hood resides a 32-valve, 235-horsepower, 4.7-liter V8 that is smooth, strong and quiet. Dig deep into the throttle at lower speeds and it’ll give a kick with just the hint of a throaty exhaust note.

The 5-speed automatic is just as smooth, providing the right gear at the right time. You can let it do the shifting r you can run it through the gates yourself. You can also start it in 2nd gear when the roads are icy. 

Brisk acceleration is the GX470’s forte; the stout (4,740 lbs) GX470 romps to 60mph in just 8.5 seconds. According to the performance data, the engine makes 80-percent of its peak torque at just 1,100rpm. Couple that low-end grunt with the 5-speed automatic and it fairly rockets away from stop lights and up freeway on-ramps.

But don’t expect the GX470 to be quite as speedy when it comes to eating up freeway traffic; it’s a heavy truck and light on the horsepower needed for brisk passing at speeds above 55mph.  This is a business or family cruiser, not a sport truck.

In that vein, the GX470 is soft on the wallet at the gas pumps for a mid-size luxury SUV. We noted better than 18.2 mpg on the open road and 16-combined city/hwy.  Set the cruise control at 60mph and you can nip at 19 all day long.


The Lexus all-wheel-drive system is very transparent; you just drive and the GX470 drivetrain and special vehicle control systems do the rest. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re driving on- or off-road. 

If the wheels start to skid under braking, ABS takes control; if the wheels start to spin under acceleration, Active TRAC (traction control) makes them stop; need downhill braking, Downhill Assist Control kicks in; need help getting going up a steep, slippery incline, Hill-start Assist Control takes over. And on and on.

Controlling power is a Lexus forte. In the case of the new GX470, 60-percent of the power is transferred through the Torsen center differential to the rear axles in normal driving conditions. If the rear wheels lose traction, as much as 53-percent of the power is rerouted to the front wheels.

Those ratios vary seamlessly and constantly during driving as road and traction conditions change. But neither driver nor passengers are aware anything is happening.

The same goes with the steering. The GX470 is quite nimble feeling from the driver’s perspective. What makes the GX470, which utilizes rack-and-pinion steering, an even better handling SUV than most is 71-percent of the engine’s power is shifted to the rear axle during cornering maneuvers, which makes it steer effortlessly through curves.

So there you have it: A stylish, well-mannered, mid-size, all-wheel-drive, luxury SUV from Lexus that has all the features to make navigating the city streets and rural backroads a pleasure.

2004 LEXUS GX470

Base price: $45,275

Price as tested: $54,290

Engine: 235hp, 4.7L, 32V, DOHC V8

Transmission Type:       5-speed auto

People capacity:           5/8 (w/ 3rd row seat)

Steering:           Engine speed sensing power assisted rack & pinion

Turning Circle:  37.4 ft. (curb to curb)  

Brakes:             Four wheel disc with Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD)

Maximum Towing Capacity:      6,500 lbs. (with appropriate hitch)

Fuel Capacity:  23 gal.             



0 – 60 MPH Acceleration         8.5 sec. (TMC results)

0 – 1/4 mile Acceleration          16.5 sec. (TMC results)

Top Track Speed         112 mph – electronically limited

EPA Estimated Fuel Consumption – City / Highway      15 / 18 mpg

Observed:  18.2 hwy/16 combined/14.7 city

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