IAIN ROBERTSON 

Lexus RX

Lexus RX

Look hard, look closely, your eyes may deceive you, suggests Iain Robertson, because, despite an extensive redesign for the luxurious Lexus RX, the latest model looks virtually identical to the outgoing version, even though it definitely is not!

When Toyota formulated its Lexus brand, it was determined that its focus would be unswerving. The LS400 luxury saloon gave good reason for Europe’s senior league players to look judiciously to their former laurels. Despite looking similar to a Merc S-Class, which was the primary intention, the big Lexus established astonishingly high levels of comfort, blended with unerringly superb chassis dynamics and a build quality that was beyond criticism.

The simple truth was that nobody anticipated it. When LS400 arrived in 1989, nobody could quite believe it. Typical of the category, if you wanted an early Lexus today, a few hundred quid would secure it. Intriguingly, despite high levels of electrification (not of the drivetrain at that stage), you will find that each of the systems still works perfectly today, such was the integrity woven into that new model that has become an unwritten signature for the Lexus brand that is ‘imprinted’ heavily in every model since.

Lexus RX

Lexus RX

It demanded the resources of a world giant, like Toyota, to launch an entirely new brand. The company’s ‘softly-softly’ approach was laudable. Much like Audi within the VW offering, it was sold initially from Toyota showrooms, from a subtly curtained and more luxuriously equipped end of the dealership. Eventually, Lexus was able to stand on its own four wheels, as a separated and more mature brand direction was pursued. Interestingly, several Lexus models were also badged as Toyota mainstreamers for other markets (not the UK). However, Lexus became a standalone brand, with the added bonus of an unrelenting run of top consumer awards for its customer satisfaction and levels of dependability; a top-of-the-shop pedestal from which it has never been toppled.

As a measure of Lexus brilliance, the Nissan luxury alternative, Infiniti, which does have a stronger following in the North American markets, has become so much of a flop in the UK that it is no longer sold here. It had nothing to do with consumer fickleness and everything to do with Nissan’s stupidity in entrusting its marque development to a dealer network…incidentally, the same dealer network entrusted with and that failed with Cadillac in the UK. Honda never bothered with Acura and Mazda’s Xedos range enjoyed limited success but was also dropped after just a few years. Oh well….

In the 21 years of its existence, the RX model has become Lexus’s best-seller worldwide. It has changed profile significantly in that time, resulting in a coupe-like appearance that not only defined its place in the luxury SUV scene but led to a raft of sportier looking ‘high-riders’ across the sector. Yet, a brief glimpse of the new-generation 4.89m RX (and the 5.0m RX-L version) belies the fact that the new model is actually quite different.

Lexus RX

Lexus RX

It not only heralds several technological advancements in lighting, dynamics and electronics packages but also several key dimensional and design alterations. In the latter aspect, the styling is more rounded and less angular; many of the former sharp edges have gone. While the rear window-line appears similar, rear seat occupants (which includes the third row in the RX-L) benefit from greater head and leg space, because the roof line is less steeply raked. In fact, look a bit closer and you will find that the complex ‘spindle’ front grille is also more rounded on the new car, while the headlamp arrays are positioned more horizontally, gifting a stronger frontal aspect to both RX and RX-L models.

If you have become a fan of other recent Lexus interiors, a similar sporting angle has been provided to RX. Most noticeable is the 12.3-inch touchscreen, which retains its centre console touchpad but is positioned to be more user accessible. The configurable instrument panel is broadly similar to that of the RC coupe, while the supportive seating, with a choice of colour combinations, follows a similar pattern. The quality is simply fabulous.

Featuring an exciting new headlamp development, known as ‘BladeScan’, which improves illumination by around 60% and uses a revolving mirror to project a non-dazzling light pattern, its ability to highlight obstructions, pedestrians and animals nocturnally is outstanding and enhances night-time driving safety to new peaks. The LED clusters also provide a new daytime running-lamp signature at the front and L-shaped tail-lamp graphics.

Lexus RX

Lexus RX

Yet, it is what cannot be seen on the new RX that hikes the car onto a higher plateau. Comprehensively revised construction techniques, such as the application of laser screws and high-strength adhesives, have increased structural rigidity, which allows innumerable suspension alterations to work more coherently. In the process, they provide the RX with levels of handling agility and comfort that none of its previous generations could muster. While their handling characteristics were basically sound, they were biased heavily towards comfort, at the expense of precision. In fact, the F-Sport trim level (Premium and Takumi are the other UK market trims) now features a variable performance damping system that reduces body roll and both dive and pitch levels, thereby enhancing stability to a significantly more sporting level, befitting of a car in this class.

The range of standard safety features and electronic safety programs is extensive and, combined with high connectivity levels, ensures that the Lexus RX is ready for a future of autonomous motoring. Powered by a 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine, combined with a hybrid electric motor, the total power output is 308bhp, which enables 0-60mph in 7.4s and a top speed of 124mph, driving through an eCVT stepless transmission.

It is a heavy machine, partly due to its NiMh hybrid battery pack, which tips the scales at between 2.1 and 2.27 tonnes (dependent on model). Given as 35.7mpg (WLTP figures), its overall fuel consumption is fine for the class, while its 134g/km CO2 rating helps to keep taxation levels more affordable. It has 10,000-miles service intervals and a conventional three years/60,000 miles warranty, supported by a five years/60,000 miles hybrid package warranty.

Conclusion:     Price-tagged from £52,705 to £62,605, the new Lexus RX and its longer-bodied L variant are pitched into the heart of the upmarket SUV sector. Unbeatable reliability and modest hybrid running costs maintain its status.

Lexus RX

Lexus RX