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Car reviews - Lexus - RX - range

Our Opinion

We like
Strong design translates well on the road, astonishingly low NVH levels, perky engines
Room for improvement
High loading sill for hatch, proliferation of buttons around driver

Lexus logo24 Nov 2015

By TIM ROBSON

LEXUS essentially invented the luxury SUV category here in Australia, with the RX arriving decades before the likes of the Audi Q5 and BMW X5. It was wildly successful for Toyota’s luxury arm, too, and has gone on to sell more than 30,000 examples over three generations.

Recently, though, its halo has slipped. The third-generation car soldiered on perhaps two years too long, with outdated driveline and chassis technology that saw its European rivals steal a march on it.

Fortunately, Lexus saw the writing on the wall and, with a little push from the top brass, it’s gone for broke with the new RX.

Outside, the RX is a riot of edges and crease-lines, dominant shapes and startling elements. The hourglass grille, for example, dominates the front of the car to the point where it’s easy to wonder whether Lexus could have actually gotten it any larger, while the side vents on the bumper bar could swallow a fairly large dog.

The way the roof droops into the C-pillars, too, is an eye-catcher. It settles down around the rear end, though the tail-lights look like they’ve come straight from concept car central casting.

In pictures, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, but on the road, and in the presence of other cars, the crazy-cool RX actually works very well. It’s fresh and modern, sure, but it’s not out of place, and it’ll date well.

Of course, it’s not all about the looks – and Lexus has a reputation of luxury motoring to uphold. After a very short test loop in the new RX200t and the RX350 F Sport, we’re pleased to report that Lexus has nailed it.

The ride in the RX350 F Sport is sophisticated and composed, with excellent roll suppression and only a hint of sharpness from the stock 20-inch rims in evidence.

It’s fitted with an adaptive damper set-up that does just what it says on the tin, without tipping the RX into overly sporty mode.

The electric steering system has undergone significant revision, both in tuning and in mechanical enhancement, and it shows. It’s direct and reasonably feelsome – it still is a high-riding SUV, after all – and feels great underhand.

The performance from the new-spec 221kW/370Nm 3.5-litre V6 is spritely and responsive in town, thanks in part to a quick-witted eight-speed transmission that plays along nicely. It’s equally as composed on the open road, too, with enough urge for overtaking if required.

The turbo-petrol 175kW/350Nm RX200t entry level machine is also a spritely performer when asked, though the lighter engine and drivetrain adds a slight fussiness to the ride that the RX350 didn’t have, and the stock suspension set-up isn’t as accomplished as the adaptive system in the 350 (it’s also fitted to the 450h, which GoAuto didn’t get to test).

Perhaps the standout feature of the new RX is its exemplary levels of noise suppression. Even at 100km/h, the silence in the cabin is almost overwhelming very little wind rustle around the mirrors, almost no tyre noise on smooth surfaces and no engine presence at all. It’s a return to form, for sure – the first and second RX was widely praised for just this attribute.

The interior itself, too, follows on from the exterior treatment in its use of curves and shapes. It looks brilliant and still manages to be functional, with generously proportioned front and rear seats, plenty of headroom even with a panoramic roof fitted and lots of clever storage spots.

There are still too many small buttons controlling a million different functions festooned across the console and steering wheel. Lexus also adds a mouse-like controller between the seats to control even more functions, while a drive-select knob also adds more control surface. It’s hard to get a handle on it all at first.

Another unusual oversight from the Lexus engineers – big tick for having an inductive charging pad for suitably equipped smartphones in the centre console, but the pad itself is too small for the current generation of size-large phones to sit on and charge… and they are not getting any smaller. There is a pair of USB ports up front, but none in the rear, which surprised us.

And while there is plenty of space – 519 litres with the seats up and 1592 litres with the seats folded down via boot-mounted levers – the high load lip is obvious.

We’re looking forward to a longer test in the RX – at first blush, it’s a solid response to the onslaught of European rivals that have entered the game that the RX essentially started.

It’ll be interesting to see how customers respond to the styling – the smaller NX is roaring along for the brand, so there’s obviously a taste for the unique already instilled in the buying group. Watch this space…

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