Gareth Butterfield tests the bold and brash new Lexus RX450h
THESE days you can buy into Lexus ownership – a brand synonymous with the ultimate in Japanese luxury – in many ways.
From a sporty hatchback, to a wafting super-saloon, the Toyota-owned marque should and does offer up an air of sophistication, quality and prestige.
And so, its luxury SUV the RX, now the bigger of two pumped-up off-road models, couldn’t possibly get away with a few tweaks here and there when it came to a revamp.
In fact, it’s probably not too outlandish to suggest that the RX is an example of Lexus doing what it does best.
While it might not hold its own as the world’s greatest mud-plugger, luxury SUV buyers expect more in the shape of performance, comfort, space and, increasingly fuel economy.
For starters, it has plenty of wow factor. Big SUVs tend to either go for understated or ostentatious. The Lexus certainly falls into the latter camp.
It’s not what you’d call pretty, but its sharp angles, vast spindle grille, and “floating” roof created by the blacked-out C-pillar make it obvious you like to make a statement.
The interior is exactly as you’d expect. Build quality is nothing short of exquisite, the seats are extremely comfortable, visibility is better than you might think and there’s a dizzying array of equipment. Despite the absurd array of knobs and buttons, it’s all fairly easy to understand, too.
That said, it’s marred a bit by the principle control device which, in my test car was a floppy joystick thing, which works a bit like a mouse on the giant infotainment display. This has never been a good way to navigate menus and it still isn’t now. It’s the only thing I was disappointed to see.
Everything else is immensely likable. More than ever in a top-of-the-range Lexus, you’re left wondering, as you peruse the beautiful materials used around the cabin, if there is a nicer place to sit this side of a Rolls Royce. It really is lovely.
Lexus has remained steadfast in its anti-diesel approach to powering its cars. As such, you can have the new RX with a fairly capable 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and an updated version of the car’s current hybrid powertrain.
The latter has been retuned, and features a naughty-but-nice 3.5-litre V6 engine mated to an electric motor. The total output from this system, which was fitted to my test car, is more than 300bhp. And I can assure you, it’s more than enough.
There are five trims on offer – S, SE, Luxury, F-Sport and Premier but with all versions the equipment level is very generous.
Even in the SE, the lowest trim available with the hybrid powertrain, you get auto-dimming mirrors, leather upholstery, heated and cooled front powered seats, ad memory settings for the seat, mirrors and steering wheel positions.
In the top-spec versions you get the larger, 12.3in satellite navigation screen with DVD player, 20in alloys, a gesture controlled bootlid and a wireless phone charger. It really is a gadget-lover’s paradise.
It doesn’t stop there, either. There’s also Lexus’s remarkable safety system plus, which combines existing technologies such as pre-emergency braking, lane departure warning and automatic high-beam lights with a new lane-keeping assistance feature. This, along with the car’s adaptive cruise control, means it comes as near as Lexus dares to an auto-pilot function.
Of course, you’ll need deep pockets to own an RX, but not as deep as you might think – especially given its competition. A base model will set you back £40,000 while the full-fat Premier models weigh in at nearly £48,000 before you tick options.
However, if you’re a fan of the Lexus brand – and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be – these will seem like perfectly reasonable prices.
The truth is, the previous RXs were always appealing in their own right but, with the new RX, Lexus has showcased everything it does well in a bold and brave new car.
There can be no doubt that this is certainly the best RX that’s ever been produced, but because this is an example of the brand doing what it does best, in my opinion it’s probably also the best Lexus on the market.