At their core, the 2013 Lexus GX460 and 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon have one thing in mind: Safely transporting you and your family to areas far beyond the reach of the average SUV.
But in the 2013 Lexus GX460 vs. 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Off-Road Mashup Review, how can the rough-and-tumble Jeep’s refinement possibly hold a candle to the Lexus, whose interior is among the most opulent and refined I’ve ever tested?
Simple. The little Jeep has come a long way, baby, and it’s out to prove that it can play with the big boys not only in off-road ability, but also in day-to-day refinement and usability.
The 2012 Jeep Wrangler, which according to our spec sheet was last all-new for the 1987 model year, remains rigidly unchanged for a reason- every section of every panel serves a purpose off-road. The doors and top are removable, the windshield folds down, and the hood still releases with two rubbery tethers. But when you’re not off-roading it still looks great, and its short wheelbase makes tight maneuvering situations a cinch.
The Lexus GX460 is an anomaly within the brand’s 2013 lineup, as the corporate “spindle grille” finds no home on the SUV’s front fascia. Instead, the grille’s traditional horizontal slats integrate nicely with swept-back active xenon headlamps and a short front bumper with 28-degree approach angle (the Jeep’s is 44.3, for comparison). Overall, my GX460 Premium’s dark polished 18-inch wheels and Fire Agate Pearl paint contribute to a style that displays elegance and substance.
Inside, the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon two-door is a mixture of old and new. Nylon straps still anchor the full-sized doors, which house auto-down power windows. Worth noting, my tester is equipped with optional Bluetooth and navigation packages, as well as heated leather front bucket seats. The leather, like the rest of the interior, feels substantial and rugged, and the seats are marvelously comfortable on long trips.
The 2013 Lexus GX460 Premium’s interior is expectedly opulent, swathed in auburn Bubinga wood trim and semi-aniline leather. The crystal-clear infotainment screen features Lexus’ “Enform” app suite, and the 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is among the best I’ve ever heard. It’s a nice place to be, and continues Lexus’ recent tradition of excellent vehicle interiors.
Exterior Styling Point: Jeep
Interior Styling Point: Lexus
Under the hood, the Wrangler’s award-winning 3.6-L Pentastar engine makes its first appearance in a JK. In this application, it delivers 285 horsepower (a 40 percent improvement over the outgoing 3.8-L) and 260 lb.-ft. of torque (+ 10 percent) routed through its own version of the Grand Cherokee’s W5A580 five-speed automatic transmission. Compared to its 3.8-L predecessor, the Pentastar is turbine smooth and has gobs of power all the way up to its 6,600-RPM redline.
The Lexus features a standard 1UR-FE 4.6-L 301-HP V-8 and six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a smooth and refined unit, but when it’s asked to carry a full load of seven passengers along with the GX460 Premium’s 5,340 pounds of full-time AWD heft, it can feel a bit strained. The V-8’s sound under full throttle is intoxicating, however, and its 329 lb.-ft. of torque proves more than adequate around town.
In theory, the 2012 Wrangler Rubicon’s live front and rear axles, recirculating ball power steering system and knobby BFG all-terrain tires should hamper feedback and stability, but they don’t. Both on- and off-road, as well as on and off the highway, the Jeep always feels stable, sure-footed and communicative.
The 2013 Lexus GX460 Premium’s standard Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) with Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) and Adjustable Height Control (AHC) offers three suspension settings, normal, sport, and comfort. Although initial shock absorption can be met with some harshness, especially in sport mode, all three settings offer incredible high-speed stability and impart tremendous levels of confidence off-road.
With the rear seat installed and upright, cargo volume in the Jeep Wrangler two-door is 17.15 cubic feet, which was enough for one large suitcase and a backpack with a bit of room to spare. With the rear seat removed, the Wrangler’s cargo hold expands to an impressive 61.2 cubic feet.
The Lexus GX460 provides a marvelous way to haul your entire family and all of their gear. The standard power-folding third row seat accommodates adults more adequately than its 29.3 inches of legroom would suggest, and room in the first and second rows is cavernous. With second and third rows folded, cargo volume is a generous 91.9 cubic feet.
The 4,146-pound Jeep Wrangler Rubicon expectedly trumped the larger Lexus in economy, returning a 19.6-MPG average on regular unleaded fuel, compared with the GX’s 13.8-MPG average on premium fuel. It is worth noting that both cars returned excellent fuel economy (for their size and purpose) on the highway, where the Jeep regularly saw upwards of 23 MPG, and the Lexus between 19 and 20 MPG, respectively.
With an as-tested price of $36,640, my two-door 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon certainly wasn’t cheap, but given its excellent versatility and efficiency, as well as a historically strong resale value, it’s money well spent.
The 2013 Lexus GX460 Premium stickered for $66,715 as-tested , which compares favorably with its competition, such as the Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne, and Volkswagen Touareg- none of which offer a third-row seat option or quite as much cargo space with the second row folded.
Although the 2013 Lexus GX460 vs. 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Off-Road Mashup Review presents two different types of luxury off-roaders, it is the Jeep whose advancements in areas such as powertrain engineering and day-to-day useability have come the farthest. Given the need for a true luxury off-roader, the Lexus does provide a strong value proposition. But if it’s a truly rugged style of luxury which you desire, the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon will certainly fit the bill.
On the TFLcar.com recommendation scale of:
-Rent it or
I give the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon a BUY IT!
In the end, the Jeep provided an unexpectedly serene and luxurious driving experience without sacrificing its hallmark ruggedness or off-road capabilities. Given the Rubicon model’s historically strong residual value, I’d see no reason not to buy it.
I give the 2013 Lexus GX460 a LEASE IT!
The fact that there are still luxurious, body-on-frame SUVs like the Lexus GX460 around proves that this market segment is alive and well. Lined up against its competitors, the Lexus offers by far and away the best interior, replete with third row seating. The engine and suspension tuning, while excellent off-road, may not be right for everyone on-road. Regardless, it’s absolutely worth a test drive if you’re in the market.
Daniel Buxbaum has had a life-long passion for all things automotive. His background as a Porsche, Audi and BMW service advisor brings a more technical approach to his writing. Dan’s passion for automotive journalism secured him a position as regional manager and contributing writer for Parts & People, a multi-region automotive trade publication. Dan is also an active member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP) and Motor Press Guild (MPG).