WHISTLER, BC, Canada – While unibody-based CUVs continue to outnumber and outperform sales of body-on-frame SUVs, Lexus is seeing success this year with its GX.

Sales of the midsize SUV more than doubled through June, rising 135.1% to 5,369 units.

Although the GX is a small piece of the luxury brand’s total 73,604 U.S. deliveries in the first six months, Lexus officials still are pleased they’ve been able to turn around what had been a flagging model.

GX sales spiked to 16,450 in 2010 after the current generation debuted, but fell below 12,000 sales annually in 2011 and 2012, WardsAuto data shows.

Adding a lower-priced base grade for the GX’s ’14 refresh, by substituting fake leather for real leather and deleting some content, was key to this year’s sales jump, putting the SUV’s starting price on par with 3-row midsize CUVs.

“That was our target in terms of positioning, to bring a true SUV down to a (CUV) price point,” Brian Smith, vice president-marketing for Lexus in the U.S., tells WardsAuto in an interview here.

However, the base model GX, starting at $49,085 for ’14 vs. the $53,445 entry point in ’13, is serving more as an attention-getter.

“We’ve been successful with that (base grade), however it’s not the biggest chunk of our volume,” Smith acknowledges, adding only 20% of total GX sales are the entry model.

Buyers prefer the more contented $53,795 mid-grade GX Premium, which Smith says is a similar scenario to midsize CUV competitors.

“With the (Acura) MDX, though they’ll advertise a cheap price they’ll trade in the high $40,000s for their well-equipped vehicles,” he says.

Lexus officials have been studying switching the GX to a unibody platform, but Smith is tight-lipped on the topic here.

However, he says Lexus is pleading the model’s case with its parent company.

“I think there’s a need for towing capability, without having to go all the way to a (fullsize) LX,” he says. “So we’re doing everything we can to continue to keep Toyota focused on the need for GX.”

Despite an industry belief that CUV and SUV drivers are two different demographics of people, the GX is seeing some cross-shopping with unibody utility vehicles.

“Sometimes if people do actually test drive both (CUVs and SUVs), they’ll realize the body-on-frame GX drives much better than they thought. So that probably makes a number of people go, ‘Boy, you can really get towing capability with it, you can load it up and it’s got a power third row if you need that.’”

In his own Southern California neighborhood, Smith says he sees many women driving the GX as a daily commuter, which he says reflects the refreshed model’s easy-to-drive nature.

“The latest-generation GX has amazing handling capabilities,” he says. “It drives really, really well and doesn’t feel like a truck at all.”

Among midsize SUVs, the GX is the No.1 seller this year, edging out the Land Rover Range Rover Sport’s 4,983 sales in WardsAuto’s Middle Luxury SUV group.

Still, the GX’s 5,369 January-June units widely trail luxury 3-row CUV competitors. In the U.S. this year the MDX leads with 30,664 units sold through June.

Acura says cumulative sales of the model over its nearly 15-year lifecycle make the MDX the best-selling luxury 3-row CUV ever.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com