Lexus has unveiled the second generation of its mid-size SUV, and the newly renamed GX 460 rolls onto the scene with more power, greater efficiency, improved versatility and enhanced standard safety systems compared to the outgoing GX 470 it replaces. While L-finesse styling cues impart a bit more visual presence to its still angular sheetmetal, the second-generation GX 460 retains the same 109.8-inch wheelbase and similar relative exterior dimensions as its predecessor -- along with rugged body-on-frame construction.

Inside, the redesigned, wood/leather-lined cabin now offers standard seating for seven, where 10-way heated/ventilated power front buckets team with a new 40/20/40 folding center bench that now includes 4.1-inches of fore/aft adjustability and a 50/50 third row perch that power folds at the touch of a button. In keeping with Lexus tradition, the new GX 460 comes with a megaload of other premium features, from dual-zone auto climate control and a power moonroof to a nine-speaker audio package with integrated iPod/USB/Bluetooth/XM Satellite Radio and a rear-view camera. The standard airbag count has also risen from eight to 10. Options on both the base GX 460 and a new-for-2010 Premium variant run the gamut from a Mark Levinson audio package and a dual-screen rear DVD entertainment setup to the Lexus Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

The GX 460 also benefits from numerous powertrain tweaks, not the least of which is the new 4.6-liter V8 that's responsible for its name change. While slightly smaller than the previous 4.7-liter, this all-aluminum engine has variable valve timing on both its intake and exhaust valves, and makes 301 horsepower and 329 lb.-ft. of torque compared to the 263/323 stats for the larger V8. Matching it with a new six-speed automatic in place of the former five-speed transmission nets the GX 460 13 percent better overall fuel economy -- an estimated 15/20 mpg on the EPA city/highway cycles -- and enhanced throttle response while maintaining a 6,500-pound maximum tow capacity.

Rounding out the GX 460's mechanical package are a comprehensive array of elements designed to endow it with genuine go-anywhere capabilities. For openers, there's a sophisticated all-wheel drive system with a TORSEN center differential that can vary the front/rear torque split from 30/70 to 50/50 to match changing grip conditions. It's teamed with a newly-upgraded version of the firm's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDDS) that can limit body roll by up to 50 percent. While A-TRAC active traction control, VSC stability control, Downhill Assist Control (DAC), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution also are included in base GX 460 mix, Premium kit also brings Adaptive Variable Suspension with auto-leveling and rear air shocks. Hard-core off-roaders also can opt for Crawl Control in either trim. Operational only in low range, it automatically regulates engine/braking forces to assist the driver when the vehicle is negotiating steep or rugged terrain.

The 2010 GX 460 is set to make its first public appearance at upcoming L.A. Auto Show next week and arrive in dealers later in December. Pricing for the base model starts at just under $53,000 while the Premium variant opens at closer to $58,000.

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