Lexus' premium SUV, the RX, has received a few updates and we drove the newcomer at its local launch in George.
The RX is one of Lexus' most successful products – the Japanese premium brand has sold in excess of 3 million of its premium SUV range. Now in its 4th generation, the RX has been subjected to a mild update and the changes are far more than skin deep. The range comprises 4 versions: the 350 EX, 350 L EX (7-seats), 350 F-Sport and 450h. All Lexus RX derivatives feature all-wheel drive, as well as an automatic transmission.
The Lexus grille is big and bold, and we love it. Note the blue tinge around the Lexus logo, which signifies hybrid power.
The updates to the RX are both cosmetic and technological. The bodywork's subtly revised, but the best representation of the changes can be found in the new 350 F-Sport, which really looks the part! When festooned in bold paint finishes such as Heat Blue or White Nova (exclusive to F-Sport range and seen on performance models such as the IS-F), the 350 F-Sport endows the luxury SUV concept with a healthy dose of sporty attitude.
Granted, a family-oriented Lexus and "sporty attitude" is an unlikely pairing – the LC and RC F are different stories – but we think it works (besides, Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz have been emblazoning their performance divisions' names on SUV models for years). To that end, the F-Sport derivative features striking 20-inch alloys and bumpers, a bold grille and black plating, while the cabin can be trimmed in gorgeous red leather.
The RX450h has a unique dashboard with the traditional rev counter replaced by a power meter.
It's under the sheet metal of the revised Lexus where you will find the most significant changes, however. The RX's fascia gains an updated infotainment screen, which measures 12.3 inches, has been positioned closer to the driver and incorporates touch functionality. In a significant development, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility is standard; the RX is notably the first model in the Lexus family to sport this feature.
All Lexus models also now feature in-car wifi with 15 Gb of data, which can be topped up on the Vodacom network. The cabin also receives a mild nip and tuck, with 4 additional USB charging ports and a smartphone holder. The previous model introduced a wireless charging pad and we're happy to see it's still part of the extensive standard equipment list.
Mechanically, there are some mild changes such as a friction control device fitted to the front and rear shocks to improve the ride quality; it's a bonus, really: the RX has always offered an exemplary smooth ride quality. The suspension has also seen changes to the front stabiliser bar and the lateral rigidity has been enhanced. The body structure has also been tweaked, with additional spot welds to enhance the ride comfort and handling.
There are 2 engines on offer: a petrol 3.5-litre V6 and 3.5-litre V6 hybrid. The former features an 8-speed automatic transmission and produces 221 kW and 370 Nm. The hybrid has the same naturally-aspirated motor, but, in combination with an electric motor, it puts out 230 kW. Interestingly, a torque figure is not given, but we'd figure there's well over 400 Nm. Lexus claims a sprint time of 7.7 seconds from 0 to 100 kph for its flagship.
The Lexus RX's build quality and finishes are excellent.
What is it like to drive?
We had the chance to drive the 350 F-Sport and 450h derivatives. Our prior experiences with the RX range have left us impressed with the Lexus' refinement and comfort levels. With our cellphones connected via Android Auto (to replace the traditional route guide), we headed off on some scenic roads from George to Oudtshoorn via the majestic Robinson Pass. Our first test unit was a White Nova RX350 F-Sport and as we hit the pass, we engage its sportiest mode to see if there was any fun to be had and to see if the suspension tweaks have made a huge difference.
In terms of dynamic ability, the 350 F-Sport is sufficiently wieldy; its 3.5-litre non-turbo V6 sings a lovely tune as you make the most of the willing and eager motor. You can actuate gear shifts using the steering-wheel paddles, but we preferred to leave the vehicle's transmission to its own devices. Speaking of steering, the revised RX's tiller still doesn't offer enough feel or directness to be classified as sporty, but that's acceptable in our eyes as mountain-pass carving is not what it was designed to do. The Japanese premium SUV's body does roll a bit if you pitch it sharply into fast corners.
You do lose some luggage space in the hybrid, but the additional features of this derivative are likely to win over buyers.
The RX really excels, however, in terms of on-road refinement and cruising ability. When we switched the driving mode from Sport+ to Normal, the engine note settled down and we cruised leisurely across the Karoo. The suspension does an outstanding job of soaking up road imperfections – all of which makes the RX one of the finest family vehicles for touring, especially when you consider most derivatives ride on large sporty alloy wheels. You can see that extensive attention to detail has been applied; even something as mundane as opening a window is completed in near silence.
Interior noise levels are remarkably low, but perversely, we made the multi-speaker Mark Levinson system work overtime. Fitted as standard on higher grades of the RX, the excellent in-car entertainment system effortlessly links with Android Auto streaming services such as Spotify. We're also exceptionally thankful for Android Auto/Apple Carplay functionality as the standard infotainment system is a touch frustrating and unintuitive to use. The cabin itself is practical, with plenty of spaces to place your phone, keys and other paraphernalia; all in all, it feels exceptionally well-made.
The hybrid RX450h derivative, meanwhile, additionally features electric assist and swaps out the 8-speed auto transmission for a CVT. The powertrain is optimised for economy and refinement in an urban environment, so don't be surprised when the petrol engine suddenly goes quiet. Providing you don't accelerate too briskly, you can pull away in silence, with the electric motor doing all the work. It does lose some appeal on the open road, as the CVT blunts responsiveness and causes a bit of a drone, but the gearshift paddles do afford a modicum of driver engagement.
F-Sport trim brings some visual punch to the Lexus RX range.
The perennially underrated Lexus RX continues to impress in most facets. Even with the aesthetic upgrade, the premium SUV's looks won't be to everyone's taste, but its standard equipment list is exceptional – there are no optional extras and the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility brings it up to speed with modern connectivity requirements. Comfort and refinement (and after-sales support) are its main strengths.
Should you buy one? Here's the thing: in the Premium SUV segment we're truly spoilt for choice – in fact, there are several seriously accomplished performers that can match the Lexus' abilities. We suspect that some rivals offer a touch more luggage space and are a bit more involving to drive, two factors that are critical in this segment. The hybrid derivative is unfortunately compromised because the battery pack takes out a sizeable chunk of the load-carrying ability, but the cabin is well-thought-out and there's still enough luggage space for 2 suitcases. We also reckon that turbodiesel-powered rivals may ultimately edge out the hybrid's efficiency. It's tempting to opt for the hybrid given the projected fuel-saving/emissions benefits, but until the government subsidises green(er) cars, we'd rather stick with the perfectly accomplished and refined RX350, preferably in F-Sport trim.
Lexus RX Price in South Africa (November 2019)
The Lexus RX comes with a 7-year/105 000 km warranty and full maintenance plan. The warranty on the RX450h battery is 8 years/195 000 km. Service intervals are every 15 000 km.
RX350 EX R1 012 000
RX350 EX L R1 087 000
RX350 F-Sport R1 132 200
RX450h SE R1 315 800