THE FOURTH GEN LEXUS RX DEBUTS SLASH-AND-CREASE STYLING, NEW TECH SPEC, SAFETY FEATURES AND A SUMPTUOUS INTERIOR SAYS CAMERON OFFICER
Lexus is exceptionally proud of the RX mid-size SUV. It has been a part of their range since 1998 and the arrival of the fourth generation model is a big way to end 2015 for what has been described as the world’s fastest growing luxury brand.
As far as the RX goes, the basics are the same but much has changed.
Now featuring the crease-heavy exterior styling we’ve already seen on IS and NX, the RX350 features a 3.5-litre direct injection petrol V6 which pushes out 221kW of power and 370Nm of torque; both figures have improved over the previous model, while combined fuel consumption is down to 9.6-litres/100km.
The RX450h gives you the same V6 but reengineered and augmented by the Nickel Metal Hydride battery to push out total system power of 230kW and 335Nm.
Combined fuel consumption is an admirable 5.7-litres/100km, which is an 11 per cent improvement over the previous RX450h. There are six RX grades in all — an entry level, an F Sport and a Limited version of both the RX350 and RX450h. Every grade features a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
The new car is larger than its predecessor; 120mm longer overall and 10mm wider. As a result there’s more room inside, with legroom up by 24.5mm in the front and 30.5mm in the rear.
The RX’s cabin is as interesting a place to sit in as the exterior is to look at.
Lexus seems at great pains to underline just how switched on it is at catering to the modern driver’s device-dependent lifestyle. This is admirable in terms of technology, but some aspects are lacking in execution. The wireless mobile phone charging tray is an excellent idea, although the tray is set so far forward in the centre console that the overhanging stack above makes it hard to get to.
There is also a separate hidden mobile phone compartment underneath the arm rest in the centre console, which would be a handy hiding place for your mobile when you’re not in the car. But then … so is your pocket.
And speaking of pockets, a dedicated tablet compartment in the front passenger footwell is another great idea, but is so shallow that anything larger than an iPad Mini is going to tumble out at the first roundabout.
Lexus’ Remote Touch Interface can be programmed for degrees of feedback to suit the user, but the joystick — although much improved over the previous toggle-tastic controller — still feels a bit belt-and-braces when compared to BMW’s intuitive iDrive rotary dial. Still, there remains some genuinely first class stuff aboard the RX.
The colour Head Up Display, which projects information for the driver into a corner of the windscreen, has increased in size; not intrusively so, but enough to allow more detailed information, such as turn instructions when using GPS. The central display on top of the dashboard has also grown to 12.3 inches and features new graphics, with a handy ‘quick access’ sidebar menu for your favourite functions.
Climate Concierge is a great feature if you’re partial to a warm or cool posterior; linked to the dual zone climate control air conditioning, this will sense cabin temperature and automatically turn on the front driver and passenger seat heating or cooling system if required.
RX F Sport and Limited grades feature an automatically-opening boot lid that requires a sci-fi-style wave of the hand across the prominent Lexus badge on the boot in order to open it. It’s a neat trick, although I can’t help but wonder if similar easy-opening systems from the likes of Ford and Mini are more practical, given that you merely need to waggle a foot under the bumper to deploy those.
If you need such an aid, generally you’ll have your hands full when approaching the car meaning a wave across the badge isn’t going to be easy to perform. Lexus suggests an elbow will work too, although I’m not sure I want to engage in supermarket car park tai chi to the bemusement of onlookers, when all I want is to dump my grocery bags in the boot.
Whichever way you get it open, the boot is decently proportioned. Despite the rake of its c-pillar, the RX has always had a good sized cargo area and, with the Nickel Metal Hydride battery reconfigured into three low-profile units that now sit under the rear seats, space in the boot has increased by 16 per cent over the previous generation car (to 519-litres).
Moving back outside, that c-pillar now features a stylish split in the sheet metal, resulting in a great-looking floating roof. You can’t go five character spaces from a mention of the RX’s exterior design without suggesting it’s a “love it or hate it“ affair. I’m in the former camp and, where previous RXs’ have looked a bit hunchbacked and dumpy; this new one benefits from all those origami creases, slashes and squared-off wheel arches. Lexus’ signature “spindle” grille also looks good on the RX, although the large slats of the entry and Limited grades don’t look nearly as interesting as the black honeycomb of F Sport versions.
Elsewhere the new RX has a bit of a light show in store. The SUV’s Adaptive High Beam LED headlight system uses a camera behind the windscreen to detect oncoming vehicle lights. It engages and disengages specific LED chips in order to distribute light accordingly so as not to dazzle the oncoming driver. Also, the RX’s indicators are now sequential LEDs, far more noticeable than flashing turn signals.
There’s a heap of safety kit: a comprehensive 10 airbag system, Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert alarms and Lexus Safety System +, which incorporates Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Crash System (PCS), Lane Departure Alert and the aforementioned Adaptive High Beam. The new RX also features a Sway Warning system which helps detect driver fatigue and a Panoramic View Monitor (on F Sport and Limited grades), which gives the driver a bird’s eye view of the car’s surroundings.
Once upon a time the hybrid premium SUV market was a niche built for one, with Lexus having the playing field all to itself. But in 2016 we’ll see the much-anticipated Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid arrive. Europe already has a plug-in hybrid Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid that can’t be far behind either.
It would seem that in Europe it’s trendy to be tethered to a charge station by a cord. Lexus disagrees, remaining with their established hybrid blueprint. It has been a successful one — RX sales are near enough to a 50/50 split between petrol 350 and petrol hybrid 450h in New Zealand — and Lexus suggests the bold new styling of the latest generation RX will find around 200 owners next year. Next to the smaller NX crossover, this is Lexus’ volume seller.
So there are some flaws, but the RX range is chock-full of goodies and remains unmistakably, proudly Lexus. And strangely enough, more than V8-powered sports coupes and maglev hoverboards, the evolution of the individualistic RX is to my mind the most tangible proof of a brand, which is still seen as a relative newcomer by many, finding its own voice and writing its own history.
|ENGINE:||3.5-litre V6 petrol (RX350, RX350 F Sport, RX350 Limited), 3.5-litre V6 petrol/electric hybrid (RX450h, RX450h F Sport, RX450h Limited)|
|PROS:||Modern exterior design will set you apart from the crowd, Toyota/Lexus knows how to put a convincing hybrid engine together. Even the base RX350 comes with plenty of kit and feels like a premium offering|
|CONS:||Remote Touch Interface joystick still not quite as good as iDrive-style dial, centre console feels cluttered.|