Many moons ago, when the world was young, SUVs barreled across the landscape as the proudly uncouth beasts that they were. Fuel economy and handling were as nonexistent as any semblance of on-road comfort. Truck frames and truck powertrains sat underneath truck-derived sheetmetal. The only leather to be found on these rigs was on the boots of the grizzled cowboy behind the wheel.

The menagerie that is the current automotive marketplace has made those days obsolete...mostly. Though most modern SUVs have gravitated toward lavish appointments and docile road manners, there's still a few holdouts who seem to subscribe to yesterday's rough-and-tumble philosophy. One of those is the 2019 Lexus GX. Though it wears styling that seems to be in line with the rest of the Lexus lineup, underneath it's all uncompromised off-roader, which regrettably shows through in its truckish ride, sloppy handling, and penchant for fuel. Admirable capability saddled with unfortunate flaws – such is the song sung by the 2019 Lexus GX.

Best Value

The GX is offered in three trim levels: GX 460, GX 460 Premium, and GX 460 Luxury. Base models come decently appointed, but we'd probably spend the extra dough for a mid-range Premium. Though it costs an extra $5,000 over a base model, buyers get real wood trim, navigation, tri-zone climate control, heated and cooled seats, parking assist, and automatic wipers.

Above that there's the Luxury trim, but with a price tag that's six-grand heavier than the Premium, we'd stay away. It's not worth it, even if it does come with leather, an active suspension, and power-folding third-row seats. The only option we'd get on our Premium is blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, which, pleasantly enough, is a no-cost option without any strings attached. Here's what our GX would look like as it rolls off the delivery truck:

  • Model: 2019 Lexus GX 460 Premium
  • Engine: 4.6-liter V8
  • Output: 301 hp / 329 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Four-wheel drive
  • MPG: 15 City / 18 Hwy
  • Options: Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert ($0)
  • Base Price:$58,320 (including the $1,025 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$58,320

Performance

Lexus GX

Performance is hardly the right word to describe the GX, unless you're expounding about its ability to traverse all kinds of terrain. But though there's no denying its off-road prowess, its persnickety persona on the asphalt means it plays second fiddle in a segment chock-full with competent competitors.

The GX's lack of on-road talent stems from that old-school construction which makes it such a force on the trails. With a high center of gravity, weightless steering, and obsolete solid axle rear suspension, any semblance of handling disappears. The steering is a particular source of consternation, as there's an utter lack of feedback.

To mitigate the on-stilts sensation that occurs during cornering, Lexus bestowed the GX with a trick hydraulic suspension. It works by exerting force on individual wheels in an effort to quell body roll on curvy roads. It seems to work well enough, and doesn't upset the ride quality or impede the SUV's off-road chops.

Powering this rig is a 4.6-liter V8 making 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque. It's a smooth and effective motor, one that works well with the big and heavy GX. It pairs to a six-speed automatic transmission that's pleasantly unobtrusive in its operation. Towing capacity sits at 6,500 pounds.

Gas mileage is the biggest shortcoming with this powertrain. In short, it's not good – an EPA-estimated 15 miles per gallon city, 18 mpg highway, and 16 combined. It also demands premium fuel, further adding to the pain that will be felt at every fill up. To put these numbers in perspective, a Chevy Tahoe – also a full-frame, V8 SUV, though not as capable off-road – returns 15/22/18 mpg (city/highway/combined) on regular gas, while the similarly-priced and equally-capable Land Rover Discovery delivers an impressive 21/25/22 mpg.

Style

If the flagship Lexus LC coupe is a swimsuit model at an Amish convention, then the GX is an Amish spinster at a swimsuit competition. Though the SUV proportions are clearly defined, the detailing is a mess of shapes, bulges, and general incongruity. Not helping matters is the Lexus spindle grille that was haphazardly grafted on a few years back. It might keep the GX in line with the rest of the stable, but it's a mediocre nose job at best, and only adds to the sense of aesthetic disarray plaguing the homely SUV.

Having debuted in 2010, the current-generation GX is fast approaching its 10-year anniversary on the market. In the intervening time, it seems the interior hasn't been able to keep up with the ever-hastening pace of technology. For one, there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility, and the GX is also the only Lexus not to have full-speed automatic emergency braking. As for the available Mark Levinson sound system, it's worth noting that though it still boasts the same number of speakers as other Lexus models (17), it only musters a 330-watt output, versus the 800-something wattage ratings found in other models.

Still, it's not all doom and gloom. The base trim leatherette upholstery looks luxurious and durable, and the semi-aniline leather that's standard on the top-tier Luxury model is supple and soft. An eight-inch touchscreen keep things looking modern, though the sea of buttons that the dash is awash in helps remind buyers how long this rig has been around.

If you're sitting up front, there's excellent visibility, and the seats are comfortable for all-day drives, especially the semi-aniline thrones. It's a similar story for second-row passengers, but third-row riders may as well be in steerage. It's tight, uncomfortable, and awkward to get into; in short, best suited for children. The 65 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down is a lot of space, but a number of other SUVs easily surpass that figure.

The Best and Worst Things

The GX is capable and sumptuous; if Merrell made a dress shoe, this would be the automotive equivalent.

Not winning the big SUV any favors, though, is the disappointing gas mileage, lack of contemporary active-safety features, and bizarre styling.

Right For? Wrong For?

Lexus GX

For those who can't afford a Range Rover and are leery of the roulette-wheel reliability of a Grand Cherokee, the big GX is a strong choice for go-anywhere capability with leather-lined trimmings.

However, the lack of elbow room in the second row and the penalty-box dimensions for those stuck in the third row mean that the GX shouldn't be the first choice for those who plan to constantly ferry around passengers. And the mere 65 cubes of total cargo space mean those finding themselves frequently hauling things should also look elsewhere before visiting their local Lexus dealer.

The Bottom Line

It's fun to wax poetic about the old days, but park the 2019 Lexus GX next to any of its competition and the rosy mist that clouds the past suddenly dissipates. All that's left is harsh reality – the GX is simply too hampered by its uncompromising nature to successfully hold its own against other luxury SUVs. Until the GX can overcome its flaws without watering down its backwoods abilities, it'll remain the outdated curiosity it seems to have become.