Here's Everything I've Done With My Lexus GX470 Off-Road Project So Far

Illustration for article titled Heres Everything Ive Done With My Lexus GX470 Off-Road Project So Far
Photo: Spencer Abbott
Truck YeahThe trucks are good!

At this point, you probably already know that the Lexus GX is for the most part a 120-series Toyota Prado, and that makes it a pretty solid starting point for an off-road project. You may not know that I have one, so I’m going to walk you through my truck and what I’m doing with it.

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Around this time last year, I decided I needed a dad-mobile. After imagining myself trying to keep the back seat of a CTS-V wagon free from Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies crumbs, I decided it should be something cheap and reliable that could get thoroughly toddlered without it causing me a lot of stress.

I also want to take my kids to one national park every year while they’re in that zone where they’re old enough that they can remember things, but young enough that they don’t curse my every breath. The goal was, “build a truck that could get me to a slightly better campsite than the other dads.”

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I ended up on a one-way flight to Palm Beach, Florida, where I’d pick up a scruffy but rust-free GX470 that came with complete service records. I drove home to Detroit stopping only for gas, which was...harder than it used to be.

Jeep vs Lexus GX Off Road
Photo: Spencer Abbott

After a long researching and list-making process, I started turning wrenches. If you’ve lived the “multiple project cars” life, you know that nothing will bring one project to a halt like the introduction of a new, easier project. So while the 911 and the Willys gather dust, the GX has been gathering parts like the Katamari Damacy.

Let’s start with the lift. After a lot of agonizing, I went with a simple two-inch lift kit from Icon Vehicle Dynamics. I looked at some cheaper kits and some vastly more expensive adjustable setups, but ultimately went with Icon based on a recommendation from my friend Bryon. The kit was easy to install, the little pieces like fasteners and bushings were of high quality, and now that it’s settled the ride is almost as good as it was with the stock airbag system. Crucially, it also allowed me to install bigger tires.

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I spent hours on forums comparing photos and referencing this excellent chart before finally ordering a set of five 32-inch BFG KO2s on 17-inch Method 701s from TireRack. I’ve been very happy so far; they’re good tires.

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The only real downside to the big tires is that they’re big. The spare won’t fit in the stock spare location, so right now it’s ratchet-strapped to the passenger side of the rear cargo area. I bought an incredibly well-made carrier from Rigd supply that stuck into the trailer hitch and held the tire very steady, but it was too heavy for my petite wife to open and close easily. The Rigd carrier is in the garage now.

The GX isn’t huge inside, so traveling with two child seats and a big dog means I’m going to end up stowing some stuff on the roof. I probably could have built a halfway decent rack out of 80/20 aluminum extrusions, but that seemed like a pain in the ass so I ordered one from Prinsu. The rack itself is nice and sturdy, but the fasteners they provided were cheap junk. They also could have been a little more clear about the need to absolutely douse the mounting holes with caulk, lest you discover your seat belts end up wet and musty after every rain. Now that it’s installed, I’m sure it’ll be fine.

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Illustration for article titled Heres Everything Ive Done With My Lexus GX470 Off-Road Project So Far
Photo: Spencer Abbott

After I broke one of Andrew Collins’ rules by installing a rack, I knew I’d have to break another and install some lights. The bumpers got Baja Designs Squadron Pros in amber. They’re great, but a late-night run through some densely wooded trails convinced me that they might not be enough. I also mounted Baja Designs Rock Lights on the rack rails and a Lightforce ROK 40 flood light over the rear tailgate to provide scene lighting. All of it is controlled by an sPOD system that makes wiring — one of my most hated car tasks — incredibly simple.

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Lexus GX Wheels Tires
Photo: Spencer Abbott

The pandemic kept us from hitting our national park goal this year, but we have been able to do a little off-roading, including a trip to the Holly Oaks ORV park here in Michigan last weekend. We watched plenty of more serious-looking trucks struggle and fail on obstacles that didn’t even come close to slowing the GX. Is it a Wrangler Rubicon? No. But so far, I’ve been shocked at what the GX is capable of. I’ll probably add some better recovery points, and maybe a winch, if I plan on going somewhere really remote, but I don’t know that I’ll go nuts with lockers, etc. My brief was the better campsite, and I think the truck is probably done from that perspective.

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I hope I’ll be able to actually use it for its intended purpose before too long.

Jalopnik EIC '48 Willys CJ-2A, '84 Porsche 911, '15 VW GTI, '07 Lexus GX 470.

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DISCUSSION

Looks like a great setup for comfortable highway cruising and offroad capability. I have a very similar setup in a 4Runner with a small lift and 34" tires. The 4Runner has a few advantages in terms of rear locker, higher clearance body plastics, and such - and I can fit a 34" tire in the spare location :), but no v8 :(.

The biggest thing that might be worth adding IMO - is a winch and rock sliders. Sliders are obvious and amount to cheap insurance for your sill plates. For the winch - you don’t need to go for a full bumper. I use a custom hidden winch mount, but I think there are aftermarket vendors for the GX you could use. I’d go that route before lockers or pretty much any other 4x4 stuff. It’s basically a get-out-of-jail free card in most situations. And it gives you a lot of piece of mind going to places that you probably wont - but might get stuck. You won’t have the anxiety of going out on that sandy beach and hoping for the best. You know you’re covered if you happen to hit a soft spot. Especially with kids. Having an easy out is pretty nice, even just for the psychological benefits. I do use mine a lot - but I probably push a bit harder than most.

I think you could setup a hidden winch all-in with an off-brand winch for under $1000. Mount is about $500. An off-brand winch is perfectly fine for occasional use, but get one with synthetic rope. IMO that’s a lot better way to spend that $ than traction mats, fancy jacks, and “rated” tow hooks.

I think you have a great setup for spending most of your time using it and less time wrenching! And that’s the goal for most of us.