Thanks to the current social distancing situation, off-roading, and overlanding is exploding, and everyone wants in on it! So, where do you start? First, subscribe to Ideal Media on YouTube! We have plenty of content to help you plan your perfect overlanding trip!
Alright, that’s taken care of. Now, listen here, because I’m about to tell you about a truly ideal deal. I mean, seriously, this is the dictionary definition of ideal. For less than $10,000, you can get the most capable, the most comfortable, and the most reliable mall-crawling, rock-crushing, trail-running 4×4 on the market today! Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the Lexus GX470!
Now you’re probably here because you might be considering buying a GX for yourself. Well, you should! Okay, cool! That’s the end of the article! Keep living that Ideal lifestyle! No, no, I’m kidding. Let me show you why I bought a Lexus GX470!
2004 – 2009 Lexus GX470 – 4×4 V8 Luxury SUV
That’s right, I have a new-to-me, 2005 Lexus GX470. And I firmly believe it is the best off-roading, overlanding, and daily driving rig you can get for under $10,000. Hell, a lot less than $10,000, but more on that in a minute.
Now, a little history. This is the first generation of the GX from 2003 to 2009, known as the GX470. GX apparently stands for Grand Crossover, but this is a freaking full-size 4×4, not a crossover. Now, the GX’s design is kind of insane. It’s a Lexus, so it has everything you’d expect: luxury, comfort, a smooth V8. But underneath its chrome and leather, this is actually a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, one of the most bulletproof and capable 4×4’s Toyota has ever produced!
The Toyota Land Cruiser badge is not one given out willy nilly. A Land Cruiser is the best that Toyota has to offer. It’s their point of pride. And this little Lex is that point of pride! The GX is built on the same platform, the Toyota 120 platform, as the 4Runner, the FJ, and the Land Cruiser! It’s like a wolf in sheep’s clothing! Ugly, weird, elephant-shaped clothing, but a wolf nonetheless. Yeah, it’s not a treat on the eyes from every angle, but it is a treat on the road and off!
Now, brand new, the GX470 was a $50,000 mall cruiser that squared off against the Mercedes ML320 and the Land Rover LR3. And let me tell you, I sold a Land Rover to get this GX and you do not want to go with the LR3. I think I spent enough money maintaining the Land Rover in two years, to buy this GX in cash.
And that’s really where the GX470 begins to shine. You see, this particular GX has over 250,000 miles on it. The odometer is sitting around 256,000, and will surely be higher by the time I finish this article! And when it comes to these rigs, that’s just getting warmed up. This is a million-mile vehicle! It shows, too! Driving this 15-year-old, high-mileage rig still feels like brand new.
The interior is immaculate. There’s buttons on the dash that have never been pressed. I don’t think the rear seat has ever been used. It’s a Lexus, so the previous owner probably never put the pedal to the metal in this car. I’d say 200,000 of the miles on this were probably spent driving back and forth to Starbucks or a yoga class.
And most Lexus owners never took their GX anywhere near dirt or mud, which is a shame, because the first generation GX is an absolute monster when you take it off the beaten path. Factory equipped with a full-time 4-wheel drive system, with a manual lever transfer case, hill descent control, a center-locking differential, good ground clearance, and an advanced traction system known as ATRAC.
Now, ATRAC is f***ing complicated, but my best understanding is that it uses a wheel speed sensor on each wheel, and when it detects a wheel slipping, like for example if you have one wheel in the air, ATRAC then applies the brakes automatically to that wheel and diverts power to the other wheels to get you over an obstacle. Sadly, I haven’t tested it, yet, but by all accounts, it virtually eliminates the need for expensive lockers unless you’re really getting into some sh*t. It’s kind of freaking incredible.
Another bonus of this thing having the soul of a Toyota, the GX470 shares tons of parts with vehicles like the Land Cruiser and Toyota FJ. That means it’s relatively simple to work on and parts can be had for cheap, not that you’ll need many!
Aftermarket brands have caught on, and now there’s a ton of aftermarket support for the GX for nearly anything you want to do to it! It’s even sparked a movement, GXOR, or GX Off Road.
Overlanding in a GX470
Alright, so it’s a great off-roader, but why is it a great overlander? Well, what is overlanding? Overlanding is the pursuit of a journey, reaching great destinations, but taking your time getting there, enjoying the sights along the way. Usually, this is done with the help of a capable off-road vehicle, and it’s pretty much gospel that you camp every night.
Basically, you’re going to be driving a lot, and on bumpy roads, and probably sleeping in, around, or on your truck. So, you better be comfortable! And this is a damn Lexus. It’s as comfortable as you can get! Step inside and you’re surrounded by high-grade leather and beautiful wood trim, buttons that feel good to press, switches that click, and enough sound deadening that you can block out the entire world, which is really important, because when you start running aggressive MT tires on your rig, you don’t want to hear them whirring down the freeway for hours at a time.
And you’re going to be sitting in the driver’s seat for most of the day, crawling rocks, cruising across state lines, or dancing down a mountain road to your next campsite. In my first week, I think I drove this car about 600 miles, and I could’ve done 600 more!
The interior is huge, it’s got three rows of seats, and you can fold the middle row down and take out the third row for tons of room for sleeping, a kitchen, a fridge, a drawer system, whatever you want! There’s even a power hookup in the back! I just cannot tell you enough how absolutely luxurious this thing is for what I paid for it.
And it’s good that it’s cheap, because there is one major cost of owning a GX470. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, or under the hood, rather. See, The 470 stands for the 4.7-liter V8 that powers the GX. It’s a 2UZ-FE designed for low revving, high torque output and it delivers on that promise. Compared to the 4.6L V8 in my old Land Rover, the GX screams, and you can hardly tell when it swaps a gear on you.
What you can tell is how fast that gas gauge goes down. She’s thirsty! In my tests so far, I’ve got around 18 miles per gallon, but it’s pretty much all highway driving. Reports from overlanders running big tires and crawling down trails say you’re looking at damn near single digit fuel economy. And that’s not helped by the relatively small gas tank in these. In fact, a very common upgrade is a long-range fuel tank and a few jerry cans of premium strapped to the back door.
And speaking of mods, yes, this is effectively a Toyota Land Cruiser. You can take this awkward elephant straight from the used car lot to your nearest trail and start crushing, no problem. But it’s also a Lexus , so it’s got some less-than-ideal luxury equipment, most notably, this cool-at-first-glance air suspension system.
On my first few drives, my mind was blown at how well the air bag suspension in the rear changed the ride, going from a waterbed to a taught off-roader with a few clicks. But after about fifteen minutes, I found that I just put it in Sport Mode and left it there. Everything else was pretty nauseating, as the softer ride bounced and rolled as I took turns and bumps.
And this trick system is probably the first thing you’re going to want to remove when you start exploring the off-road capabilities of the GX. Good news is you can sell the parts and use it towards the somewhat pricey delete kit.
What’s It Cost?
Now, if you’re just looking for a good, valuable, reliable SUV that’ll treat you right, leaving it stock and just driving the thing for a few hundred thousand miles, the GX is hands down the best choice at its price point. And let’s chat about that price point.
I bought this GX, which had only had one owner for its entire life, and had been in for service at a Lexus dealer every 3,000 miles, for $7,300. I think that was the cheapest one in the entire nation!
Anyway, at that price point you’re looking at a CR-V? A RAV4? Those won’t get you over any mountain! A Ford Expedition? That ain’t got no class. A Jeep Cherokee Laredo? Look at that interior, it’s out of a Tonka Truck. I mean, seriously, name a $7,300 SUV more reliable, more capable, and more luxurious and I’ll eat my socks. Okay, you sold? Ready to buy? Let me run you down what you need to know!
Prices are going to vary, from the very low of $7,300, to the high teens and even twenties. The first generation GX470 was sold between 2003 and 2009, but you’re going to want to try and get one from 2005 to 2009. The engine got a nearly 40 horsepower bump in those years. If that’s not super important to you, the 2003 and 2004 models can be had pretty cheap!
They were offered with a few options, like the fancy navigation system, which I have. You probably want to avoid these when possible, as your climate controls actually become part of it, so upgrading your stereo can become a bit of a nightmare. Same goes for the Mark Levinson speaker system, another pain the in the neck to upgrade. And of course, mine has it. If you really want the factory navigator, seek out the 2007 or newer, as it’s a little better.
You’re going to want to look out for dashboard cracks, these are pretty common, and you can imagine replacing a dash in a Lexus ain’t cheap. Also make sure the timing belt and water pump have been replaced every 90,000 miles. If you don’t see it on the service record, safely assume you’ll be spending the dough on it soon.
When you test drive it, give the center-locking differential a try. The previous owners probably never used it, so it could be seized, and that’s a pricey repair. Some GX’s came with a system called KDSS. If you plan on modifying yours, probably best to avoid it. You’ll know it has it if you look at the front sway bar and see a bellows tucked above the bar. If you plan on keeping it stock, the KDSS really adds to great on-road stability. It’s another amazing Toyota system.
And as always, look for one with a service record. Don’t be afraid of the mileage on these, half a million miles is pretty easy to achieve as long as it’s kept up in service.
And that’s it really it! I personally think you can’t go wrong with a GX470. It’s absolutely, without a doubt, one of the best vehicles ever made, and it’s just an incredible value right now. Hell, the prices may even go up, as the word is out about the GX!