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First look: Surprise local preview for new Lexus RX

Sharp language: The third-generation Lexus RX, as simultaneously presented in LA and Sydney.

Australian media gets first taste of new-generation Lexus RX350 alongside LA debut

20 Nov 2008

LEXUS Australia this morning showed the new RX350 and RX450h to a select group of local media in Sydney, including GoAuto, in a product reveal timed in unison with the international debut of the vital new SUV at the Los Angeles auto show.

The third-generation RX, shown to journalists here just minutes ahead of their colleagues in Los Angeles, has clearly grown in almost every dimension and features a sharper design language than its predecessor.

Aside from the new body and interior, the new RX has revised engines, new suspension, a new all-wheel drive system and new features such as active radar cruise control.

Lexus says that the three key areas it focussed on for improvement were efficiency, safety and comfort.

There will be a realignment of the model line-up to include additional specification grades for both models when the RX350 arrives in March and the RX450h hybrid by mid-year.

The new SUV is a key model for Lexus, with the RX series traditionally taking 45 per cent of the brand’s sales, and with a strong retention rate.

According to Lexus boss John Roca, the new model should account for “between 2000 and 3000 sales”.

Mr Roca says that these estimates are so wide because the new model is still four months away from launch, so pricing has not been decided and the current market volatility makes it hard to predict sales expectations so far ahead.

“We’re now discussing GPIs [General Price Increases] with Japan, so what we thought was indicative in the past has changed,” said Mr Roca. “We expect a price up, frankly.”

31 center imageLeft: RX350 and RX450h.

He also noted that the price increase inevitably would come at the cost of volume. Lexus has not hedged on exchange rates for 12 months due to their volatility and, given the Australian dollar’s decline in recent months, it will clearly influence new RX pricing.

The existing hybrid RX400h accounts for 24 per cent of RX sales but the Lexus Australia boss expects that to double.

“We’ll look at model variants with hybrid that we haven’t had in the past,” said Mr Roca.

While the existing line-up consists of two variants of the petrol RX and one hybrid, Mr Roca says that he wishes to broaden the new range to three petrol models and two hybrid variants.

The two cars displayed to Australian media in Sydney were pre-production models used for local accessory development and dealer training. While the quality of some material was clearly not in a production-ready state (such as smooth interior plastics rather than grained plastics), the improved quality and more contemporary design over the current model was obvious.

Noteworthy new features include active cruise control, full Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management, electric power steering, new rear suspension and Lexus Remote Touch, the new Lexus central controller similar to BMW’s iDrive.

Keyless entry and start will be standard, as will 18-inch wheels, while the upper-spec petrol and hybrid models will feature 19-inch wheels.

Currently a sunroof is standard at entry level, but that may be replaced by satellite navigation.

Toyota and Lexus product planning manager Peter Evans said that, from a technical standpoint, the RX450h is the greatest step forward of the two new models “in terms of increased performance and economy, and it is therefore now a true Lexus performance hybrid like some of the other hybrids in our range”.

An exhaust heat recovery system has been introduced to reduce engine warm-up time, allowing the petrol motor to be switched off earlier, more often and for longer periods to improve fuel economy and emission control.

Lexus also says that a cooled exhaust gas recirculation system reduces engine pumping losses to improve economy.

Petrol power for the RX450h comes from a new 3.5-litre V6 Atkinson-cycle engine, in place of the current RX400h’s 3.3-litre V6, with total power output from the 2GR-based engine and electric motor expected to be 220kW – 20kW more than the present model.

The RX450h has some unique styling cues, such as a curved grille, a front bumper with an extra cooling slot, a blue-trimmed Lexus hybrid logo, blue-tinted tail-lamps and AFS LED headlamps, as well as 19-inch wheels.

The RX350’s petrol V6 engine, also based on the 2GR family used in RAV4 V6, Aurion, Kluger and others, is said to have been improved, with a slight increase in power to about 205kW.

A new six-speed sequential-shift transmission arrives for the RX350 and combines with the Active Torque Control system, which transfers torque depending on driving conditions and features a driver-operated centre diff lock.

While the MacPherson strut geometry has been revised at the front, a new double wishbone rear suspension has been designed, with Lexus saying that it provides an increase in cargo space of 22 litres. A temporary-use spare wheel is fitted, with a full size spare optional (which reduces the cargo floor depth).

Some of the peripheral technologies Lexus has fitted to its third-generation RX include a newly-designed wide-angle side view monitor system, which feeds the driver visual cues from a camera located under the passenger-side rear view mirror.

Upper-spec RX models will also feature a new heads-up windscreen display.

The Lexus Remote Touch navigation system is described as a breakthrough in improving interaction between the driver and the vehicle and uses adjustable “Haptic” feedback to assist the driver with selecting the appropriate function.

Safety equipment is covered off with ten standard airbags, including a twin-chamber front passenger airbag, and driver and front passenger knee air bags.

The RX range will also offer adaptive lighting, which swivels the headlights when turning, and a pre-collision system that relies on radar technology to recognise a possible frontal collision and primes the brake assist and retracts the driver’s and front passenger’s seat-belt in anticipation of the crash.

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