Lexus goes for bold with dynamic new RX
- Credit: Lexus
Lexus set out to make the RX experience more dynamic while honing the luxury feeling and hi-tech features, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
You have to admire Lexus for sticking with its faith in petrol hybrids while prestige rivals pressed ahead with diesel power.
Lexus has always said that one day the world would wake up to nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions – virtually zero for petrol hybrids – not just carbon dioxide (CO2). That came with the 'dieselgate' scandal and has helped the Lexus (and parent company Toyota) cause.
Now, with other prestige manufacturers getting on the hybrid bandwagon, Lexus has a decade of experience, borne out by its RX luxury sport utility vehicle just launched in its fourth generation – the third with hybrid power. It's the most successful Lexus with 2.2 million sales since 1998.
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Longer and wider, the dramatic new RX picks up the family styling first see on the IS saloon and smaller NX SUV – dominated by a huge version of the Lexus spindle grille – but makes an even bigger impression.
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It's all about curves and contrasts and strong crease lines, really shown off in the best light in dark colours – especially the even bolder F Sport version – and, in a new design cue for Lexus, the rear pillars' blacked out gloss finish give the impression of a floating roof.
But Lexus has also honed the luxury feel and features, intelligent innovation and enhanced the driving dynamics.
Under the bonnet
The RX 450h uses a 3.5-litre V6 petrol, now uprated to 259bhp, with an electric motor on each axle, giving all-wheel drive and the ability to run in pure electric mode for short distances with the drive battery topped up while braking and slowing and charged by the engine. CO2 emissions also drops to a low of 120g/km.
Despite a combined 308bhp, this sumptuous SUV is more about wafting along uncannily quietly, thanks to even more sound-proofing measures, which will help economy. But, mated to a CVT automatic gearbox, when you floor the throttle it gets rowdy, despite a sound generator to create a sportier intake noise, and nor does it feel as quick as the figures suggest.
The RX also now shares the NX's 235bhp 2.0-litre turbo unit with four-wheel drive in all but entry level S – a model clearly created to get the starting price under £40,000 by a fiver.
I found the RX 200t more involving to drive, partly down to the conventional six-speed automatic gearbox, but it's thirsty and will account for only 10% of sales.
How does it drive?
One of the key aims was to make the RX better to drive with a more rigid body, enhanced steering feedback, suspension tweaked for better cornering stability and handling and improved braking.
The RX is also very much about technology and all versions get Drive Mode Select to alter suspension damping, engine output and throttle response to match driving conditions with normal, eco and sport modes and, on F Sport and range-topping Premier versions which also get adaptive variable suspension, Sport S and Sport S+ modes.
Despite all the electronic wizardry the RX's forte is as a mile-munching cruiser, effortlessy ironing out poor surfaces. While more entertaining to drive, it's now considerably bigger which you notice on smaller, twisty roads.
Space and comfort
Bigger is better for accommodation. It's 120mm longer and 10mm wider and the longer wheelbase means more legroom in the back, further boosted by lowering the rear floor.
It hasn't been at the expense of boot space which, while not vast at 453 litres and with quite a high floor to accommodate the drive battery, is enough for most people's needs. Rear seat backs split 60/40, released from the boot or the cabin, and fold almost flat.
Popular Luxury, F Sport and Premier models have a power tailgate that opens via a motion sensor in the Lexus emblem.
The interior oozes quality with top-notch trim and finish making it a very pleasant, light and bright environment.
The fascia and displays – you get a bigger 12.3in dashboard monitor with the premium navigation and what is claimed to be the world's largest colour head-up display on Premier grade – are relatively easy to find your way around once you master the menus.
A clever drinks holder adapts its depth to a cup, can or tall bottle.
Bristling with equipment, safety kit, technology and now even more road presence, this Lexus is very likeable and will appeal to drivers who want a big luxury car that's also kinder to the environment.