Car reviews - Lexus - RX - range
Serious bang for your buck, luxurious front seats, easy-to-use smartphone mirroring via new touchscreen, hybrid efficiency, comfortable adaptive suspension, improved body control
Room for improvement
Sharper styling is still divisive, cabin feels older than it is, third row is more spacious but still an afterthought, turbo-petrol performance, jittery standard suspension, slow steering
Lexus plays the value card again with wide-ranging facelift for key RX large SUV
11 Oct 2019
WHILE the $70,000-plus large-SUV segment has been in decline for the last few years, the Lexus RX has been on a roll, moving from seventh position to third during that time and therefore increasing its share along the way.
But, as always, automotive life comes at you fast, so it’s time for the RX’s mid-life facelift, and unsurprisingly, Lexus has gone all in with an array of upgrades that improve styling, connectivity, ride and handling.
Having attempted to address several of the criticisms levelled at the fourth-generation RX, has Lexus struck the right balance that will see its large SUV climb another rung or two in its class? Read on to find out.
First drive impressions
Ever noticed how most premium large SUVs start from at least $90,000 plus on-road costs? Lexus did, a long time ago, in fact. And it’s once again leapt at the opportunity to widen the gap with its entrant, the RX, which is now in showrooms in facelifted form.
The entry-level RX300 Luxury variant is now $1632 more affordable, at $71,920, which sees it priced in line with models from the segment below. Let that sink in for a moment.
Granted, pricing for all other variants has increased between $728 and $1198 as part of this facelift, but the RX still represents exceptional value for buyers in need of the extra space it affords.
The cynics among you would assume that Lexus has achieved this sharper price point by cutting back on the RX300 Luxury’s standard equipment, but you’d be wrong, very wrong.
It, among all other variants, has gained four more USB ports (for a total of six) and hands-free functionality for its power-operated tailgate.
A small victory, perhaps, but the price leader and its siblings also pick-up a long-awaited 12.3-inch touchscreen that sits 137.9mm closer to the driver than old central display.
Hooray! Lexus’ infotainment system is widely regarded as the most frustrating to use in the automotive industry, so it’s done us a solid and introduced a much more user-friendly input method that avoids the dreaded touchpad controller.
While the infotainment system itself isn’t crash hot, either, Lexus has done everyone another favour and introduced smartphone mirroring. It goes without saying that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are preferred here. Thanks for listening to our pleas!
As always, safety is a key focus for Lexus, and so the RX benefits from the addition of night-time pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection to its autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system. It also threw in active lane-keep assist, road-sign recognition and rear AEB for good measure.
Still not convinced? The RX300 Luxury once again comes standard with keyless entry and start, satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, wireless smartphone charging, dual-zone climate control, a power-operated steering column, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, high-beam assist and 10 airbags. It’s a pretty comprehensive list…
Some buyers may be deterred, though, by the RX’s fussy exterior styling, which is certainly not going to appeal to everyone. Lexus has tweaked a fair bit of this design, and the result is a sharper-looking large SUV. As always, this the most subjective element of any vehicle.
Step inside, and it’s pretty much the same RX story as before. Look closely and you’ll notice paddle-shifters and better storage for larger smartphones, but that’s about it… unless you opt for the RX L that gains a second seating position for its third row.
Claimed to increase legroom by 94.3mm and headroom by 16.2mm, it’s certainly a much-needed improvement, but this is still a tight space, even for children, with toe room non-existent. The RX L may be a seven-seater on paper, but it’s still a pinch-hitter at best.
That said, the driver and front passenger do have the pleasure of sitting on some of the best seats we’ve sampled. Oozing comfort, these pews make you quickly remember that you’re sitting in a premium vehicle.
At the RX’s national media launch in the Blue Mountains, we drove two of its variants, the aforementioned RX300 Luxury and the $111,070 (+$830) RX450hL Sports Luxury, both of which have been subject to several suspension and steering upgrades that are claimed to improve ride and handling.
As before, the RX300 Luxury has the jitteriest ride of the two, despite Lexus’s attempts to improve comfort, with it never really settling on uneven roads.
This is in contrast to the RX450hL Sports Luxury that benefits from adaptive dampers, which produce a much more luxurious and composed ride. Now with a wider gap between their softest and hardest settings, they are a comparative dream.
Handling-wise, Active Cornering Assist for all variants attempts to suppress understeer on winding roads by braking the inside wheel. Without driving the old and new RX back to back, it’s hard to say how much of a difference it really makes.
What is noticeable, though, is how much flatter the RX sits when carving up corners thanks to Lexus’ aforementioned efforts. Don’t get us wrong, this is not a large SUV that defies physics, but it has come some way when it comes to body control.
While the RX’s performance in the twisty stuff is surprising, it is still let down by its slow but light steering, despite Lexus’ claims that less driver effort is required in these scenarios.
Feedback is allegedly better, too, but again, we struggled to pick the difference during our brief drive. Either way, the RX still isn’t the first word in feel in its class.
The RX300 Luxury makes do with the same 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine as before, mated to a six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission and front-wheel drive.
As far as entry-level combinations go, it’s a decent one. With 350Nm of maximum torque available from 1650-4000rpm, there’s decent shove off the line.
But it can exposed on a steep incline, where revs need to built up closer to its 175kW of peak power from 4800-5600rpm, otherwise progress is lethargic to say the least.
Either way, gear changes are smooth but slow, which is also reflected by the less-than-rapid claimed zero-to-100km/h sprint time of 9.2 seconds. Stick to the city limits with this one.
As such, if you can afford the $20,000 it costs to get into the petrol-electric RX450h Luxury, do it. Lexus sweetens the deal with extra kit like heated and cooled front seats, so you’re not getting the raw end of the deal.
Why? Well, the RX450h is smooth and relaxed to drive thanks to its full hybrid powertrain, E-Four all-wheel-drive system and continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Pairing a 193kW 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 with a 123kW electric motor, it has a combined power output of 230kW, making it the most potent of the RX’s three powertrain options, with this positioning reflected by the 7.7-8.0s it takes to hit triple digits.
Thankfully unchanged, this powertrain’s transition between petrol and electric is seamless and typically enables zero-emissions driving in urban environments, which plays a key role in its fuel efficiency.
Lexus claims the RX450h drinks 5.7-6.0 litres per 100 kilometres, so it’s definitely kind to the wallet and mother nature when compared to the RX300’s 8.1L/100km effort.
There’s no doubting that this facelift has done wonders for the fourth-generation RX. It certainly isn’t the driver’s pick in its segment, but for value-focused or environmentally conscious buyers, it’s a bit of a no-brainer.
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Model release date: 1 October 2019
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