It’s sporty, sleek and safe, but the RX 450h may need to shed the Toyota shackles to really push its automotive boundaries
There is something about the current generation of Lexus vehicles that makes them desirable despite some flaws. They do all the things they have to do so well, yet annoy with a thing here or there that eventually fades as you get used to the car.
The RX series is this, and perhaps even a little more. It is a large SUV brimming with technology, class and talent. It is incredibly competent on the road and comes backed with the knowledge that no brand can match Lexus owner satisfaction ratings.
This new RX arrived a little while back, oozing its new style and class to shed the dowdy image of the Series 2 RXs which was when we first saw the car in Australia. We have a metamorphosis of design so significant it warranted a new badge, but with the Lexus nomenclature we were left with RX as an abbreviation of Recreation Cross Country.
The prices start in the low $80,000 zone and stretch into the $120,000 range, and all levels you get a great and very safe car. At the upper reaches you get something a little special.
There are a few engine and trim combinations for the RX, but we started with an RX 450h F Sport. F is short for Fuji, which is the home of one of the most iconic motor racing tracks in the world, and while the RX in this guide is not a true sports car—it is an SUV—it carries enough sporting upgrades to do the badge justice.
The three trim levels are Luxury, F Sport and then Sport Luxury. And they come with either the 2.0L turbo engine (RX 300), a 3.5L V6 (RX350) and then a 3.5L V6 with a hybrid drive (RX 450h). So from there you can mix and match across the board. We had the F Sport version and drove both the V6 options and there is a lot to like in both.
Given they were both F Sport models, this was good for my pampered little life. It means a few little goodies like stunning 20 inch wheels, a powered tailgate, LED headlights and fog lights (with daytime running lights), keyless entry, roof rails and rain-sensing wipers which all come with the luxury models. Then you can add a large 12.3-inch infotainment system and an awesome set of Mark Levinson speakers that pump out killer tracks like few car systems, and there is also a colour Heads-Up-Display (HUD) for the driver.
The seats are heated and cooled in the front, and heated in the rear. The backrest of the rear seats is electrically adjustable too, meaning even your passengers can get truly comfortable. Which, in reality, is not that hard give the space and headroom. Have a growing family? This could be the perfect car for you.
With any luck, the design aspects of this car along with the LC we tested a few months back will stretch across the Lexus range in a subtle evolution. The Spindle Grille is, as ever, a dominant feature of the car, but the rest of the clothing wraps around the car in and interesting manner, flowing with lines all the way to the balanced rear end. The headlights are impressive units with plenty of ability to light the road ahead and think for you, and that is always a good thing, I even like the way the LED indicators move rather than blink, and hitting the unlock button and watching the lights always made me smile.
Inside it is all about size, and the rear seats can swallow very large human beings easily. The front seats adjust in all sorts of ways and have an easy entry and exit mode that moves the seats and steering wheel out of the way, which would most likely be great for those of us that aren’t so tall.
The dash is simple and works well with the HUD, although I kept wanting to customise it a little more. Most of the switchgear is simple if occasionally a little clumsy to reach, but it does the job. Changing driving modes is simple and dash reflects the choice with changes to the display, Sport mode for instance brings a tachometer into play instead of a fuel economy type of gauge.
There is no Apple Play or Android whatever, and for me that is not a bad thing because I don’t like them. For some thought, that will be an issue. It does have a charge pad for wireless charging if your phone is up to it, I read somewhere you need a special case for the Apple but I think mine worked OK without it.
Just locking off the safety equipment, if you’ve read some tech somewhere that is useful, you can have it here. And remember, not all tech is worth having, but that is another story for another day.
The standard cars are five-seaters, but there is a seven-seat option although with the swoopy roofline and huge pillars at the back I’m not how nice the third row would be.
The grip limits for such a big car are very impressive, and it just felt like it would keep going no matter what. Obviously that is not true, but on the road it is a very impressive SUV. The hybrid as a constantly variable transmission (CVT) which I truly detest in all its guises, it slurs the gear changes like you have a slipping clutch.
Yes, I understand the engineering advantages and theoretical fuel savings, but it is enough for me not to buy a car. I am in the car market at the moment, and a CVT is the first thing I check for and the first reason I dump a car from my list.
For mine, a hybrid engine with a normal gearbox would be a winner, but I can’t get that I’ll take another engine in the range.
It is quick without feeling that way, which is why having the HUD is important for keeping an eye on speeds. The brakes are great, delivery feel and massive stropping power. Combined with the suspension that does everything asked of it, I drove with enough confidence that my active safety levels were as high as could be in a car this big.
Driver engagement for an SUV, for me, is not a big factor. I’m not going to go flying through the Dandenongs pushing to find handling limits, that is not what there are for, all I want is enough engagement to know where the wheels are going and what is happening underfoot. And here is another tick, and all from a very commanding cockpit. It is large, but it never feels it.
It is not an off-roader but it does have an all-wheel-drive system on the V6 models.
I am waiting for Lexus to shed the Toyota shackles and really push its automotive boundaries. The RX450h is a great car, one I could own and live with every day and be perfectly content in the knowledge that I was driving one of the best large SUVs on the planet. I do think the luxury and how it does most things could even help me overcome the CVT, but I think I’d go for the model that boasts a traditional gearbox.
I’d even like looking at in the garage depending on the colour. I’d love its reliability and build quality and size, and its safety would have me happy my family was driving around in it. I’m, not sure I’d be inspired by the drive though, but then that is not the point of an SUV.
So in the end, my left brain would win and I’d be a brand convert safe in the knowledge that this is one of the best and most competent cars of its type at any price point. I just want a little less Toyota but I feel that is coming too.
- RX 300 – 2.0L turbo and the start point of the range. Luxurious, but not outrageous and starting at $84,000
- RX350 – Quicker V6 engine and a touch over $90k
- RX 450h – V6 engine with hybrid drive and the top of the 5-seat range. $100K
- RX 350L – V6 engine and 7 seats for $4000 more than the 5 seats
- RX 450hL – Uber luxury, 7-seats and hybrid with the same uplift for the extra seats.
- BMW X5 – Sportier than most
- Mercedes GLE – Big and it is a Mercedes
- Audi Q7 – Beautifully made large 4×4
- Volvo XC90 – safe and beautiful
- Range Rover Velar – Stunning in every way
- Range Rover Sport – Luxurious and great in and off-road
- Land Rover Discovery – Not as luxurious as its Range Rover brother
- Volkswagen Touareg – Good all-rounder
Next Up – Alfa Romeo Giulia QV