Thoroughly revamped Lexus RX heralds swoopier direction for its SUVs
It is hard to believe that the RX model from Toyota’s luxury car arm has actually been with us since 1998, reports Iain Robertson, which may signify that it was as right for market then, as it is today, when it needs to meet even more exacting demands.
Lexus wanted to ‘break the mould’, when it devised its first RX during the late-1990s. With the brand seeking to play hardball in the competitive prestige end of the 4×4 sector, its initial offering satisfied in build quality terms but little else in reality. It was a case of all mouth, no trousers, as some critics might have said of the chunky but fairly ordinary 4×4. Yet, within four years of its introduction, it led the market with its hybrid model and became the first in its class to enter the London congestion charge zone free of charge, even though that situation would alter somewhat several years later.
Yet, it established a precedent and became a darling of the company director set, whether London-based, or not. In some ways, Lexus has majored on its slightly avant-garde approach to the new car scene. The next generation coupe-ised the bodywork, full in the knowledge that the RX model was more design than work conscious, which did no harm at all to the car’s reputation, which was being bolstered heavily by a consistent top spot performance in the annual JD Power Reliability study. Buyers loved the RX and a steady run of improvements every couple of years has ensured that it remains in high-end SV sights.
The all-new RX and seven-seat RX L variants are due to go on sale this autumn, although prices and full specifications of the UK range will be announced nearer the on-sale date. Retaining a powerful, sporty image, greater emphasis is given to the character line that runs the full length of the vehicle to generate a more flowing form. To be fair, it is subtle but park an original RX alongside the latest version and it is abundantly clear that visual improvements have been made and the car’s aerodynamics are also enhanced.
In terms of driving character, the focus has been on achieving a more engaging performance, while building on the experiences that Lexus has gained in engineering the LC coupe and LS saloon models. Every part of the RX has been scrutinised to see where gains could be made, leading to enhancements in both body rigidity and suspension performance. Driving pleasure, which may sound marginally amorphous, arises with vastly improved steering geometry, which ensures that the RX goes where it is pointed without questionable feedback. The combination of new anti-roll bars that are now hollow in section but 1mm greater diameter, with more rigid hubs, assists with more faithful responses to driver input.
To increase structural rigidity, greater use has been made of laser screw and spot welding, together with the more extensive application (4.2m) of high-strength adhesives in key areas. The beefed-up body and substructure means that the suspension can work more effectively. The car is also equipped with Active Cornering Assist, which suppresses understeer, should the driver step on the throttle in mid-bend. Significant improvements in the tuning of the electric power steering result in a more linear feel and truer line tracing in the majority of driving conditions. The latest design of dampers also removes some of the low-speed ‘shuffling’ that was transmitted to the helm.
The latest RX also benefits from additional technologies, with the latest Lexus Safety System+ portfolio of active and preventative electronic safety systems and the adoption of a new multimedia touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, which helps to modernise (and standardise) the cabin architecture. Up front, the car’s signature spindle grille has a new L-patterned mesh and frame that blends into the front bumper to create a smoother profile. Slender headlamps add a sharper edge, while the rear lamps are arranged in an L-shape motif. In the seven-seat RX L, the third-row seats now have two different settings to enhance legroom.
Lexus is a pioneer of automotive lighting technology and now introduces the intriguing BladeScan LED headlamps system, which operates by shining light from the LEDs onto a pair of blade-shaped mirrors rotating at high speed, before it is transferred onto a lens to illuminate the road ahead. The resultant wide-spread illumination is controlled precisely by synchronising the spinning of the blade mirrors and, as they spin at very high speed, it is almost impossible for the human eye to see what is happening. It is an adaptive type, which means that glare levels are reduced and, as a measure of their improved performance, nocturnal pedestrian recognition has been enhanced from around 32m to 56m with the BladeScan system.
As mentioned earlier, the new RX also benefits from the latest Lexus safety systems, with advanced safety and accident prevention technologies that warn the driver of a collision risk and help them either to avoid, or mitigate, the severity of an impact. Allied to the new touchscreen, by using voice control, customers can access Apple Siri, or Google Assistant, via their smartphones and they can also choose whether to use the Lexus Navigation system fitted to the vehicle, or an alternative service via their smartphones.
As the new RX is not scheduled to go on sale until later this year and an all-too-brief scan around the car does not tell the full story, I am afraid that you will need to wait for confirmation about the dynamic improvements and also the forthcoming prices, let alone the full model line-up. Having set the pace previously with a hybrid model, a plug-in version is sure to be available, as will a petrol alternative. The trim levels are likely to remain much as before, although the full technical specifications are yet to be confirmed.
Conclusion: The biggest influence Lexus wants to project with its new RX is increased flexibility, in the process responding to the very few criticisms that were levelled at the previous model. There is no tight-rope walking for Lexus, so the surprises are sure to be few in number.