SAN DIEGO -- Twenty teams of Lexus specialists will hit the road on Jan. 13 -- the start of a month-long process to prep dealership personnel on how to create buzz for the redesigned 2010 GX 460 mid-sized SUV.
Though the GX has been on the market since September 2002, managers at Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury division still believe retailers do not understand all of the vehicle's attributes. U.S. sales of the existing GX 470 fell 61 percent this year through October from a year earlier.
“A good part of our training is to teach the sales people how to relay the message,” said Charles Hubbard, a member of the Lexus College team.
The redesigned vehicle comes in two trim levels -- base and premium. It goes on sale in late December, but most of the initial units will reach dealerships in January.
Key new features include a 4.6-liter, V-8 engine making 301 hp. That compares with the 4.7-liter V-8 delivering 263 hp on the GX 470. Torque on the 2010 model rises to 329 pounds-feet from 323 pounds-feet on the predecessor.
Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the more-powerful new model also gets better fuel economy: 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, compared with 14/18 for the 2009 model equipped with a five-speed automatic. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, up from 17-inchers.
Inside, third-row seating is standard; the outgoing GX 470 has an optional third row. Cargo space in the new model shrinks by nearly 13 cubic feet, but legroom is up 4.4 inches in the third row. The transfer case is push-button compared with the current manual levers.
“We still think there is an audience that wants a more rugged vehicle,” said Mark Templin, general manager of the Lexus Division. “We made it more rugged and more fuel efficient.”
Many other goodies
The Lexus College folks have their hands full. High on the list is the kinetic dynamic suspension system, an optional feature since 2003 but one that few dealers ordered. The system helps keep the vehicle stable and gives it a firmer feel for better handling. Lexus made it standard for the 2010 model.
“Most dealers didn't understand it and wouldn't buy it. That's why we made it standard,” Hubbard said. “If you don't have it, it's a world of difference. Without KDSS, the car is floaty. It leans when you go into curves. With KDSS, the vehicle is flat.”
Another big story, Hubbard said, is the third row seats that fold flat with the push of a button. Because of the GX 470's solid rear axle, the seats could not fold flat. The floor was elevated three inches to allow for the fold-flat function.
“This is big news,” Hubbard said. “People have asked for this for years.”
The back window flips open for the first time, allowing people to access the cargo area without having to open the back door.
Other new features include optional crawl control for off-road driving. Drivers can manually input the speed from 1 mph to 3.7 mph, and the computer will automatically control the brakes and accelerator, allowing the driver to concentrate on steering. The computer guides the GX 460 through mud and ruts.
There are optional front- and wide-view side cameras, which can be manually operated for speeds under 6 mph, which helps with parking and blind spots.
New for 2010 on the safety side are active front headrests. Ten airbags are standard.
Standard entertainment equipment includes a nine-speaker audio system with a six-disc CD changer, Bluetooth, XM radio and iPod connectivity. Optional equipment includes a 17-speaker system and a rear-seat entertainment system with two seat-back mounted screens.
“The GX470 was very popular for us,” Templin says. “The segment has declined dramatically. This is the product that will continue to bring out young, affluent families.”