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Car reviews - Lexus - RX - 350 Sports Luxury

Our Opinion

We like
Long-distance cruising ability, cabin space and comfort, pumping audio system, build quality, refinement
Room for improvement
Fussy steering-tugging lane-keep assistance, not as silky smooth as previous-gen RX, Toyota instruments, improved but still thirsty fuel consumption, small boot

Gallery

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Lexus logo24 Mar 2016

Price and equipment

AS THE third most expensive RX variant and most expensive non-hybrid, the $98,000 (plus on-road costs) RX350 Sports Luxury tested was, in typical Lexus fashion, packed to the gunwales with equipment.

Occupants are treated to perforated leather upholstery with heated, ventilated, 14-way power-adjustable front seats with memory plus heated, power-folding and reclining rear seats and a power adjustable steering column.

The 12.3-inch high-definition multimedia display plays host to a number of functions including satellite navigation, reversing camera and panoramic 360-degree view function plus DAB+ digital radio and a long list of other audio and connectivity options piped through a thumping 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system. There is even a wireless smartphone charger pad.

Other equipment odds and ends include a head-up display, electro-chromatic interior mirror, automatic heated exterior mirrors, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and dynamic levelling for the dusk-sensing LED high grade headlamps with high-beam assist, tyre presure monitoring, keyless entry and start, rear privacy glass with sunshades on rear passenger doors, adaptive variable suspension, five driving modes to choose from, all-round parking sensors and 20-inch alloy wheels.

Also standard is the Lexus Safety System+ comprising pre-collision preparation, lane-keep assistance with self-steering and adaptive cruise control. There is also blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert.

The only option at this spec level is $1500 premium paint.

Interior

The first time sitting in a new RX is quite an event, especially with the Ivory and Topaz Brown colour scheme as fitted to our test vehicle. Compared with the previous-gen RX, it’s like upgrading from a Nokia 3210 to an iPhone 6S.

Lexus has really gone to town with its multi-layered dash design and cockpit-like driver compartment where wooden trim with metal pinstripes creates a sweeping upward curve as it wraps around from beside the gear selector toward the inside of the central stack.

Protruding from the plateau-like dash-top above is a huge 12.3-inch widescreen that can display two sets of information, dual sat-nav viewpoints or the car’s extremities via the many cameras dotted around the body.

More information is delivered through one of the better head-up displays we have encountered, making up for the instrument panel below that too closely resembles that of SUVs from the lowlier Toyota brand for our liking in what is an otherwise bespoke-feeling environment. The F Sport gets its own digital instrument panel, so why not the higher-spec Sports Luxury?Considering the size of the screen, we question the number of buttons remaining on the dashboard in this age of minimisation, but given Lexus persists with its clunky mouse-like method of navigating the infotainment system, we were thankful for the various shortcut keys. We do look forward to the day when Lexus and several other brands stop placing so many buttons in the area above the driver’s right knee, though.

Like its predecessor, the RX majors on interior space, comfort and storage for drinks and other travelling necessities. It’s at least as comfortable in the electrically reclining rear seats as in the almost infinitely adjustable fronts, and even the central-rear pew is usable by adults. We placed a baby capsule there, installation of which was a cinch.

It’s roomy in all directions and our four passengers enjoyed its opulence without complaint across more than 1200km during a long-weekend road-trip between Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Granite Belt and Lamington National Park.

A lot of that is down to the excellent interior quietness and refinement that enable hundreds of kilometres effortlessly slip by.

Unlike some European rivals, Lexus has cheekily resorted to some cheap-feeling hard plastics on the lower dash and door trims but no matter how rough the rural Queensland roads got, the RX cabin felt as solid as the towering granite formations of Girraween National Park.

Outward visibility was typically SUV-good, although the RX has a deceptively long bonnet and the third row of side windows are tiny portholes within the glazed C-pillars. Just as well the RX is well covered with cameras and sensors, which we put to regular use.

Our main gripes with the car’s interior and technology were the lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control. They combine to provide semi-autonomous driving, but the result is more like a belligerent drunk at the wheel.

Irritatingly, the steering twitches about in the driver’s hands, regularly misinterpreting road markings and fighting the driver with increased steering weight as the car’s digital brain and the human’s analogue mind try to correct each other. Having swapped out of a Mercedes-Benz GLC with a similar system directly into the RX, we know the Germans have developed this technology far better.

Also, the navigation, while doing a mostly good job of guiding us to unfamiliar and far-flung destinations, had an incredibly pessimistic journey time estimate. It also directed us to a very rough-looking and rocky 4x4 track that even with the RX’s 200mm of ground clearance we weren’t game to tackle given it rode on 20-inch alloy wheels with 235/55 rubber and only a skinny space-saver spare.

Result? Almost two hours of back-tracking and detour to find our destination once we had reached mobile reception and made a telephone call to our accommodation to ask a human for directions.

While the RX’s rather high-to-access boot swallowed the luggage required of a self-catered four-night trip for five in its well-shaped boot, the 453-litre seats-up capacity below the cargo blind is seriously miserly and around 200L smaller than, for example, a BMW X5. It also still lacks a third-row seating option, which may be a deal-breaker for some.

Engine and transmission

Lexus has boosted the venerable direct-injection 3.5-litre petrol V6 to 221kW and 370Nm (15kw and 24Nm up on before) and the eight-speed automatic transmission has two extra ratios.

Similarly loaded with people and luggage on long road-trips with the air-conditioning cranking against summer heat as our previous-gen RX350 review, the new model returned better on-test fuel consumption of 10.2 litres per 100 kilometres compared with its predecessor’s high elevens. Officially the new RX350’s combined consumption figure is 9.6L/100km.

Typically of Lexus, the engine is smooth and quiet but compared with the old model we missed its sonorous note when the pedal was planted to overtake slower traffic. In a world of forced-induction engines, the naturally aspirated V6 felt a bit weedy on uphill overtakes unless revved, but it’s a willing engine and overall performance was more than adequate. Again, refinement in this department meant that progress in the RX350 was best described as effortless.

Where we felt Lexus had taken a real backwards step was the eight-speed transmission’s occasional clunkiness and indecisiveness, which conspire to make smooth driving difficult. The old six-speeder was such a well-resolved unit by comparison and was mated perfectly to the V6 engine. A couple of running software updates will no doubt iron out these glitches by the time the current RX reaches its first facelift.

Ride and handling

Significant revisions have been made to the RX chassis and suspension, which show in the way the latest model comfortably and capably carves its way across mountain passes, without reducing the rear passenger footwells into a vomit pit (a passenger threw up, luckily at the roadside narrowly avoiding an echidna, during our drive of the old model) even in comfort-oriented Eco and Normal modes on the five-way drive-select dial.

Fully loaded as our RX was, it soaked up the miles with imperious indifference on motorways, mountain roads, gravel tracks and in country towns.

The new adaptive dampers respond to accelerator and brake inputs as well as detecting road-surface conditions, working seamlessly from our perspective in the driver’s seat. On the Sports Luxury variant tested (as well as F Sport) there are also three increasingly aggressive Sport modes, but in most driving scenarios they just made the RX feel a bit touchy and nervous, with their heightened responses to all driver inputs.

For its size, the RX is nippy and nimble around town and while solo blasts on a twisty road demonstrate that Lexus has moved the dynamic goalposts a few inches for its popular SUV, the Germans still have it licked in this department. We doubt this matters a jot to the majority of buyers and least likely the average Lexus customer.

What they will mind, however, is the sometimes unsettled ride that we expect is due to the fitment of 20-inch alloy wheels. If the RX was more exciting to drive we would be more inclined to overlook a firm ride but in this case, more comfort would suit the rest of the package much better.

Safety and servicing

Standard safety kit on all RX models includes 10 airbags, active head restraints and seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters. Crash-prevention tech includes ESC, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, brake and hill-start assist.

Also standard is Lexus Safety System+ comprising pre-collision preparation, lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control. There is also blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert.

Safety watchdog ANCAP awarded the RX a maximum five-star crash-test rating, scoring 83 per cent overall for adult occupant protection, 82 per cent for child occupant protection, 74 per cent for safety assistance technologies and 79 per cent for pedestrian protection.

Lexus provides a four year, 100,000km warranty and roadside assistance pack and the first years’ servicing – intervals are six months or 10,000km – is free.

Verdict

Asked by an interested bystander for an off-the-cuff response as to how we’d view the new RX350, we said it was two steps forward, one step back.

The old car’s dated interior has been replaced with an environment that feels up-to-the-minute fresh and cosseting in its luxurious appointments. Prominent and largely effective on-board technology fits the modern luxury brief. Better – but far from class-leading – fuel consumption is another win, while interior space and silence quite literally expanded on what went before.

For such a big car it is remarkably easy to drive, just as the old one was, and with such a long standard equipment list plus better warranty cover than most, the value-for-money equation is hard to ignore.

But the sometimes erratic eight-speed transmission disappointed, as did the occasionally lumpy ride quality and the awful steering-tugging lane-keeping assist system drove us to – please excuse the pun and irony – distraction. We also felt that in extracting more power and torque from the V6 petrol engine, some of its character had been lost.

These otherwise forgivable faults were only made glaringly obvious to us because the RX mostly nails the Lexus ethos of effortless refinement, quietness, comfort and, above all, relaxed mile-munching. We and our passengers could think of few other cars in which we could spend 1200+ kilometres across four days and remain on speaking terms with one another.

Perhaps the development team didn’t have time to fully resolve everything after an unhappy Akio Toyoda tore up what was going to be the final RX design and asked them to start again, with a month do achieve what would normally take six.

With that in mind, the RX represents a valiant effort.

Rivals

Mercedes-Benz GLE 400 4Matic ($109,900 plus on-road costs)Refreshed and renamed ML gets two turbos one more gear ratio than the RX350 in its least-expensive petrol variant, which costs more than the better-specified Lexus and suffers for its comparatively dated interior.

BMW X5 xDrive35i ($109,900 plus on-road costs)Like the Benz, this is BMW’s most affordable petrol contender in this segment and uses forced induction to out-pace the Lexus while consuming less fuel.

Apart from a similarly huge infotainment screen to the Lexus, the X5’s cabin feels dull in comparison.

Audi Q7 3.0 TDi Quattro ($103,900 plus on-road costs)Audi's big SUV is diesel-only and provides heaps of effortless performance for modest amounts of fuel as a result. Like the Lexus it boasts a design-led cabin, high technology and is eerily quiet on the move. See the pricy options list for Lexus-like specs though.

Range Rover Sport TDV6 SE ($102,300 plus on-road costs)Because the cheapest petrol Rangie Sport is $130,100, we have selected a diesel RX competitor. Apart from the disappointing touchscreen this Brit’s interior feels special in this company. It’s also the only car in this analysis that offers both sparkling road manners and genuine off-road talent.

Volvo XC90 T6 Inscription ($100,950 plus on-road costs)Breathtaking cutting-edge cabin, gob-smackingly potent four-cylinder petrol engine and spacious seven-seat accommodation make the big Volvo a serious luxury SUV contender. Like the Lexus, this first iteration is a bit flawed but the quality of the overall package makes its foibles forgivable.

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