ANZA BORREGO DESERT, Calif. -- All four nubby mud and snow tires on a cushy GX 460 sport utility vehicle from Lexus, elite spin-up brand from Toyota of Japan, scratch for traction on rivers of sand in a wadi that winds through California's bleak Anza Borrego Desert.
The high-hiking GX 460 amounts to a go-anywhere SUV rigged with a stout V8 engine pumping massive torque muscle, a full-time 4-wheel-drive (4WD) system, sophisticated electronic vehicle control systems and extensive on-board safety gear plus a plush passenger compartment which accommodates seven riders on three rows of seats with multiple zones for climate, comfort and audio-video entertainment.
Lexus constructs the GX 460 with a high-strength and super-rigid structure based on a ladder-format platform with twist-resisting boxed steel side rails.
The suspension consists of an independent double wishbone design up front with coil springs over gas shocks and stabilizer bar plus a rigid axle in back set in 4-link scheme with control arms, standard coil springs and stabilizer bar. Included is the Lexus kinetic dynamic suspension system (KDSS) which disconnects stabilizer bars to allow for more vertical travel of the axle and better suspension articulation when rolling over dicey terrain.
Sure-footed tire grip stems from the 4WD system with a Torsen limited-slip center differential which can vary the power to front and rear wheels and can be locked electronically on wet pavement in inclement weather.
Also aboard is an electronic 4-wheel traction control system labeled active traction control (A-TRAC).
Optional for off-road travel, the Lexus crawl control (CRAWL) device is an electro-mechanical system that works with the transfer case set in low range regulating engine speed and output as well as brakes to send the vehicle forward or backward at a low speed. It incorporates downhill assist control (DAC), which aids in a steep descent without driver intervention.
On tap to help stop the hefty GX 460 are four big disc brakes tied to electronic devices as acronyms in car safety: ABS (anti-lock brake system), EBD (electronic brake force distribution), and VSC (vehicle stability control) system.
The 2014 GX 460 maxes hardware for safety with ten air bags aboard including curtain-style air bags concealed in headliners above side windows for three rows, seat-mounted side air bags for outboard seats on the first two rows, even knee air bags for front riders.
Lexus derives the GX 460 nameplate in recognition of the size of the engine. Displacing 4.6 liters, the aluminum V8 features continuous dual variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-iE) and delivers 301 hp at 5500 rpm plus big torque of 329 lb-ft at 3500 rpm.
The V8 connects to an electronically controlled automatic transmission featuring six forward speeds and a sequential shifter.
GX 460 runs on 91-octane premium unleaded fuel and earns EPA fuel economy figures of 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.
A classy external design enables the GX 460 to stand out in a gaggle of vehicles, not only from its tall stance but a visual character which looks strong and muscular.
One more thing: You can't miss the new yawning-mouth spindle grille on 2014 models marked by horizontal chrome bars, and those front-corner swooshes of the daytime running lights that underscore lamp clusters with LED headlamps.
The GX 460 cabin feels plush and luxurious, and multiple means to control noise and vibration create a quiet and isolated compartment that's rare for a sport-ute.
Layout of the cabin consists of a pair of large bucket seats on the front row, a folding bench with 40/20/40 split on the second row, and back-row 50/50 split seats which fold flush to the floor.
The compartment has new espresso wood/abyss black trim, along with a new 8-inch touch-screen dash display. Stock gear ranges from SmartAccess with push-button start/stop and door unlock settings to automatic dual climate controls, steering wheel audio controls, power tilting-telescopic steering column, 10-way power for front buckets and a 9-speaker Lexus Display Audio system.
A Premium Package adds mahogany wood trim, heated and ventilated front seats, Lexus Navigation, 3-zone automatic climate controls, LED foglamps and Intuitive Park Assist.
New GX 460 Luxury edition scores contents of the Premium Package plus a rear air suspension with auto level, adaptive variable suspension, electrochromic outer mirrors with auto retract, a heated steering wheel with wood trim, semi-aniline perforated leather on seats, heated second-row outer seats and power fold-flat rear seats.
Lexus lists the 2014 GX 460 at $49,085, or $60,715 for the GX 460 Luxury.