Rising interest in off-road vehicles and strong resale values have pushed the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser out of reach for most used car buyers. But some are finding a happy alternative in an unlikely package.
The Lexus GX, especially the GX 470 made from 2002 to 2009, offers similar off-road chops to the Land Cruiser. But it comes at about a 30 percent discount.
Land Cruisers from that era with less than 100,000 miles typically sell for upward of $32,000, according to available listings on AutoTrader.
But GX 470s of the same model year top out around $22,000. The vast majority list below $20,000. Many have only 80,000 miles on the odometer. Or less.
BABIED FROM NEW
GX buyers have discovered that original owners typically take excellent care of the luxury SUV. Many owners babied them with low-stress miles to the country club or grocery store. The vehicles land on the second-hand market with a steep reduction in price and ready for a long life of off-road fun.
“The platform is great for everything from extreme rock crawling to casual camping,” said Justin Green of Wenatchee, Wash. Green purchased a 2004 GX 470 with only 60,000 miles in 2014. He paid $18,900 for it but quickly spent more than that on modifications.
The car now has all-terrain tires, recovery equipment and a rooftop tent. Green swapped out the standard air suspension for an advanced setup by Australian company Old Man Emu, commonly fitted to the most extreme Jeep Wranglers. It provides a 2-inch lift and runs about $1,000.
Owners like Green are leveraging the off-road capability, reassured that the renowned reliability of Lexus will provide many years of adventure.
“The backbone of it being a Toyota is everything,” Green said.
TOUGH AND COMFORTABLE
The Lexus is tougher than its lavish trimmings suggest.
The GX is known globally as the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, a shorter and narrower alternative to the Land Cruiser. Off-roaders specifically covet the 120-Series Prado, sold in the U.S. as the GX 470 from 2002 to 2009, for its V8 power. Some are taking them to the extreme.
“People are shocked that it’s off-road-worthy,” said Lisa DeLuca, the owner of a 2009 GX 470. The model has 263 horsepower and 323 pound-feet of torque from its 4.7-liter V8 engine.
Immediately after buying her GX 470, DeLuca upgraded its suspension and fitted beefy tires. She recently added an aftermarket steel bumper, rock sliders and tow hooks for additional off-road protection. The GX looks ready to conquer anything in its path. But it is still a family car. DeLuca drives it every day.
“The GX is the perfect balance of power, size and seats,” she said. “The luxury interior was the icing on the cake.”
THE GX APPEAL
Traditional off-roaders are raising their eyebrows as Lexus owners join suped-up Jeeps and Land Rovers on dusty trails across the U.S.
“You started seeing the GX off-roading about three years ago, and then it really blew up,” said David Metzner, a technician at Toytec Lifts in Denver. Toytec carries lift kits, skid plates and lockers for the GX. Demand for GX parts has reached new heights, Metzner said.
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And the trend continues to grow. One look at the #GXOR hashtag on Instagram reveals a treasure trove of extreme Lexus GX vehicles scraping their way through challenging terrain. GXOR stands for “GX Off-Road.” Enthusiasts use the hashtag to show off custom builds or salivate over epic journeys.
Social media has proved to be a powerful driver for widespread acceptance of the off-road GX, according to owners and aftermarket professionals.
“There’s an inside joke about GX owners picking up lattes with fully built, long-travel front and rear suspension,” Metzner said. “It’s pretty funny to see a family vehicle do this kind of stuff. Honestly, this is just the beginning.”
The vehicle is helped by a good combination of size and power. Some off-roaders bemoan the 4Runner’s low power. They also don’t like the Land Cruiser’s obtrusive size. The GX fixes both problems. And it is more affordable to buy.
“It’s a V8-powered 4Runner with heated and cooled seats,” said Bryon Dorr, an outdoor enthusiast in Reno, Nev. Dorr bought a 2013 GX 460, which carried a new 4.8-liter V8 for that model year. He quickly outfitted it for rugged adventurers.
“They look new and different,” he said. “Social media likes crazy and obscure. And especially when you can make a soccer mom car look badass off-road.”
Some off-roaders are just discovering the benefits baked into the Lexus GX. But Green, the GX owner in Washington, read about the first-generation GX in an off-road magazine back in 2004. Writers challenged the GX against established competitors like the Land Rover Freelander.
“The GX won the dang shootout,” Green said. “I remember thinking, ‘I want one of those someday.’”
Green and his family took the GX over rock, mud and snow through several national parks. Onlookers are often shocked when the hardcore Lexus arrives on scene. But they also offer nods of approval. Recently, an officer pulled Green over and wanted to know everything about it. Green got off with a warning.
“The popularity is definitely skyrocketing,” he said. “What’s cool is everyone is building them for different reasons, whether it’s crawling or overlanding or everything in between.”
The rise of the GX off-roader is unlikely to slow. Strangers have approached him at gas stations and offered to buy the rig, Green said.
“They told me to name my price,” he said. “I told them it’s not for sale.”