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Lexus GX550 vs. Land Rover Defender 130 vs. Mercedes-Benz G550: Luxury SUV Comparison Test

It’s great to be an off-road fan with cash to burn. Automakers have been hard at work improving their established 4x4s. Pole position is now held by Lexus with its new GX550. So we took one to Pennsylvania along with a Land Rover Defender and a Mercedes-Benz G550 to suss out which rock-crawls past the others in this high-brow, high-luxury, high-profit wheeling segment.

Comprising 8000 acres of reclaimed mine land, the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA), just outside Shamokin, Pennsylvania, has miles of trails suited for everything from dirt bikes to our luxury trio. The goal was to find both the most capable wheeler in the bunch and uncover which machine best blends 4×4 capability with real-world comfort.


I started our drive behind the wheel of the latest Land Rover Defender 130 in Outbound spec. This extended-wheelbase model is identifiable by body-color panels that replace the truck’s rear glass and 20-inch wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires. The 130 is large, measuring 211.7 inches with the full spare tire hanging out over the tail—a whole inch longer than Chevrolet’s Tahoe. The truck’s high beltlines complicate attempts to snake around New York’s evening traffic (and brazen pedestrians).

The plentiful headroom and large panoramic roof emphasize the sense of space. But that size doesn’t come with the added usability of the third row other trims get. It does, however, maximize rear cargo capacity in this trailbuster. The Rover’s 36 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row easily swallowed up our recovery boards and ropes from Maxtrax USA, and our set of Harbor Freight off-road tools. All necessary gear in this daring adventure.

Equipped with the optional Premium Upgrade Interior package, the test machine had extended leather wrapping and 18-way heated and cooled front seats. The leather is worth the $1400 upgrade, though it’s not as soft as what the Germans provide. The Rover corporate shifter remains as annoying as ever when a quick gearchange is required. That said, good on Land Rover for not sticking paddles behind the wheel. In the center of the dash sits Land Rover’s 11.4-inch infotainment screen, which is not a strong point. It means digging through menus when it comes time to adjust drive modes, including the optional Electronic Active Differential. Android Auto/Apple CarPlay capability minimizes infotainment frustration.

Slinking out of the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey, the virtues of the Defender’s turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six mild-hybrid powertrain emerged. Supplying 395 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque with a surprisingly pleasant soundtrack, the truck never lacks for power. And that is helped by well-spaced ratios in the eight-speed automatic gearbox. However, it doesn’t have the endless grunt of Mercedes’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 with its 416 hp and 450 lb-ft.

The Lexus, in contrast, is the least powerful of the bunch. Toyota’s twin-turbocharged 3.4-liter V-6 found in other TNGA-F platform products (Tundra, Sequoia, LX600) is also aboard the GX, delivering 349 hp and 479 lb-ft. Despite having all of that torque and a 10-speed automatic behind it, the GX lacks some of the get-up expected from such a premium product. The truck isn’t inordinately pokey, but it doesn’t carry a sense of purposeful power. The V-6 does sound great, even though that is the result of speaker-modulated trickery.

What the Lexus lacks in pace it makes up for with on-road character. The Overtrail model came equipped with an adaptive-damper setup, as well as the new Electronic Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (E-KDSS), which includes detachable front and rear sway bars. When combined with the 18-inch wheels, the Lexus provides a better ride and less noise than expected for anything wearing 33-inch Toyo Open Country A/T III all-terrain tires. Without the roof rack or spare-tire carrier fitted to the others, there was little buffeting by comparison. However, the hood did wind-flutter in the flow of highway traffic. That’s frustrating on a luxury product.

The Lexus is harsher over medium-size road divots than the Land Rover with its air suspension, but the GX is more comfortable than the G550 on highway journeys. The Lexus has interior materials in line with the regular Rover trappings. There are plenty of physical buttons to use in the cabin, including toggles for the off-road and differential lockers.

Even the Lexus infotainment setup, with a 14.0-inch display, was the favorite of the bunch. The screen provides excellent contrast and is easy to navigate. The 12.3-inch digital cluster ahead of the driver is also configurable, with a head-up display projecting essential info onto the windscreen. The view out is great, and hood bulges indicate exactly where the front tires are sitting. The new GX is simply easy to live with both on and off the road.

While the G550 is the least comfortable highway companion, its interior solidifies the Mercedes’s place as a luxurious wheeler. Use that gloriously chunky door popper and enter a leather-lined affair, in this case featuring swaths of striking red. Our tester did come equipped with a $12,400 interior upgrade package, which brings with it extensive napa-leather wrapping.

That fancy stuff might prove more difficult to clean after a day in the mud, but G-Wagen buyers probably aren’t afraid to call the detailer. The front seats in the Geländewagen lean toward the sporty side, with adjustable bolster and lumbar support. The optional seats also feature massage capabilities, which the other two testers are lacking in their respective trim levels. Those will be important at the end of the day after the SUV’s stiff adaptive dampers and awkward ergonomics take a toll. This model has the Professional package featuring a cherrywood paneled floor for the trunk that feels criminal to even use. It’s utterly gorgeous and seriously silly, as so many of this truck’s buyers may well be.

That package doesn’t just bring some high-end patio materials to the trunk, however. The G550 came equipped with downsized 18-inch wheels, which come wrapped in Falken Wildpeak rubber. There’s a full-size spare on the new rear tire mount, flanked by a ladder up to the rooftop storage tray. While we didn’t have a chance to test any rooftop storage options, the rack itself was a major source of wind noise on the highway. So while the package brings the right look to the SUV, that’s $25,350 better spent at REI. For reference, Mercedes-Benz offers the 18s for $1000, whereas items like the black exterior badging are tied into much cheaper visual packages.

The G550’s infotainment system is familiar modern Mercedes stuff, which is somewhat unfortunate. The system itself is feeling old and remains frustrating to use. That said, the clarity of the screen and the digital gauges are well above average. The amount of shove that the non-AMG V-8 provides does call into question the sanity of G63 customers. The G-Class is a stylish brand icon that feels nearly as expensive as it is.


Pennsylvania doesn’t scream off-roading paradise to the uninitiated, but the Appalachian Mountains are home to some unique wheeling opportunities.

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The coal industry had chewed up much of the area over the previous two centuries, leaving the AOAA with everything from spill-filled trenches and an ongoing mine fire to SUV-sized boulder gardens. With some help from the team at the park and the experts at onX Offroad, we mapped out an 11-mile route designed to test the SUVs. The trek was not meant to simulate the rigors of the Rubicon, as even off-road-oriented press vehicles are expected to return home damage-free. That said, the AOAA is home to a variety of routes with varying levels of difficulty, which allowed us to tackle specific obstacles well suited for stock trucks. The route was easily viewed through all three of the SUV’s infotainment systems thanks to onX’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, mirroring the looks of a more traditional navigation app. With guide vehicles on either end of the convoy, we headed out into the woods under the cover of a drizzly sky.

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DW Burnett

The OnX app seamlessly integrates the infotainment system through Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Almost immediately, the Defender 130’s size was awkward. The more appropriately sized 110 model is 14.2 inches shorter than the 130 when both are equipped with a spare-tire carrier, but no 110s were available. Land Rover equips the truck with cameras that assist the driver in the tighter spots, as well as a dedicated off-road page with side and front bumper views. I found myself driving through the center screen more often than in the other vehicles, a result of my inability to see out of the cabin at times. This included a dive down a steeply graded slope, in which the Defender inspired the least amount of confidence of the trio. The air suspension setup does provide the SUV with a healthy 11.4 inches of ground clearance in the off-road mode, allowing for approach, departure, and breakover angles of 37.5, 28.5, and 27.8 degrees. Its water-fording capabilities are also far above the other two SUVs, with 35.4 inches of maximum depth. The Mercedes and the Lexus muster identical figures of 27.6 inches. On paper, the Land Rover is the most capable vehicle in the group, but things are a bit different in the real world.

Due to its unibody structure that is supposedly three times more rigid than traditional body-on-frame construction, the Defender 130 can only provide 16.9 inches of wheel articulation. For reference, the new GX550 Overtrail offers 24.5 inches of articulation. This disparity was put on full display during one of our trickier articulation tests, in which the Land Rover was the only vehicle to pick up its front wheels. Getting the Defender through the gulley required a bit more finesse than the badge might promise, though the brand’s Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system didn’t lack for traction. That said, the truck’s two differentials shuffle power around almost constantly unless you manually limit their locking. The system is smart, but it gives you the impression that the truck is working hard underneath you.

The G550, on the other hand, felt unbothered by every obstacle thrown at it. Like the Defender, the G features a double-wishbone front suspension with a multilink solid axle in the rear. There’s no air setup here, however, with fixed springs and adaptive dampers at all four corners. That suspension is bolted directly to the ladder frame in a G-Wagen, helping the SUV provide its impressive off-road specs. Mercedes says the SUV has a minimum ground clearance of 9.5 inches, as well as approach, departure, and breakover angles of 30.9, 29.9, and 23.5 degrees. That suspension setup works in tandem with the brand’s full-time four-wheel-drive system, bolstered by three locking differentials at your disposal.

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As might be expected from the Mercedes-Benz, the ride is notably stiffer than that of its competitors. While this has surely helped improve the truck’s on-road manners in comparison to its predecessor, you do pay for it slightly out on the trails. The truck bounds over the bigger rocks in a controlled manner, but the impact will find its way up your back. Even smaller stones that make up many of the pathways at AOAA were translated through the body structure. The grunt of a V-8 engine doesn’t hurt driver confidence, however, with the SUV simply idling over rocks without much help. Having three differentials to lock bolsters one’s faith in the truck’s ability to get through more difficult lines up the trail. The diffs are controlled by three hard buttons located in the center of the dash, making sure that capability is always front of mind. The G-Wagen feels more in line with its long-standing icon status than the 130, but it’ll take a seriously confident owner to get the most out of the SUV on the trails—or simply one with endless piles of money at their disposal.

Like its competitors, the GX550 utilizes a double-wishbone front-suspension setup, with a four-link solid axle out back. The TNGA-F platform is further bolstered by adaptive dampers at all four corners, a locking center differential and a locking rear differential, and Toyota’s multi-terrain monitor system. The setup allows for an approach angle of 26 degrees, a departure angle of 22 degrees, and a breakover angle of 24 degrees. The ride provided by the adaptive dampers isn’t as plush as the air setup in the Land Rover, but it’s more comfortable than the G-Wagen both on and off the pavement. Controls for both the drive modes and the rear locker fall easily to hand, making on-the-move adjustments simple and straightforward. The truck also features both crawl control and a downhill assist control system, which make ambling along a trail at consistent speeds as easy as touching a button.

With a proper upright seating position you have a great view out the front of the GX550, which allows for easier placement over obstacles. The Overtrail does come equipped with an off-road camera suite for extra help.

While none of that GX hardware is cutting-edge in today’s 4×4 market, the package works together cohesively in a way that outshines the other two SUVs. The Lexus inspired confidence when faced with tricky obstacles, helped along by a good amount of surface information coming through the electric power steering. Control weights are well suited for two-footing your way up and over rocks, and that V-6 falls into its sweet spot at lower trail speeds. The G-Wagen made easier work of the trails, but the GX induced less anxiety upon dropping in. This is a well-built machine that is ready for trail duty, finally with the looks and interior technology required to compete with the big boys.

That this GX550 was far and away the cheapest model in the test wasn’t lost on us either. This particular tester carried an as-tested price of $71,620, compared to $95,938 for the Defender 130 Outbound. The Mercedes-Benz exists in an entirely different pricing stratosphere altogether, carrying an as-tested bottom line of $188,650. This new Lexus brings the Toyota 4×4 know-how in a much nicer suit than ever before, and it manages to do so at a great value. While the G-Wagen is outright more capable, the off-roading experience of the GX550 isn’t far behind. It might not have the best powertrain or on-paper performance of the bunch, but it’s the SUV I’d be most eager to take on the trails again.

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Headshot of Lucas Bell

Born and raised in Metro Detroit, associate editor Lucas Bell has spent his entire life surrounded by the automotive industry. He may daily drive an aging Mustang, but his Porsche 944 and NB Miata both take up most of his free time. 

Headshot of Aaron Brown

A native of the famously car-loving city of New York, Road & Track’s digital director is constantly surrounded by beat-up old project cars. His fleet currently consists of a problematic manual-swapped 1991 BMW 325i sedan, an E34 M5 of the same vintage, an M2, and a Lexus GX470. Before R&T, Brown worked at Jalopnik, The Drive, and Business Insider.

Headshot of Mara Balagtas McIlwrath

Mara is an associate creative director with Hearst Autos. Her writing has appeared in Road & Track, Car and Driver, Autoweek, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Condé Nast Traveler, and more.

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