The Lexus RX started life in 1997 as a mid-size crossover offering car-like comfort and driving attributes in a roomy high-riding body. It’s the first compact SUV in the luxury space, says Lexus. And they might be right. Excluding the Range Rover, which is much larger, there really was nothing else in the segment back then other than the RX. Sales took off to a good start in America and within years it was such a hit that it inspired similar competitors from rival marques.
Today the Lexus RX no longer has the pie all to itself. The field is now one of the tightest in the passenger car market with the BMW X5, Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Volvo XC90, Jaguar F-Pace and Range Rover Sport all fighting for a piece of it.
Naturally, the safe, bland and predictable approach taken by previous generations of RX isn’t going to cut it if it was to remain competitive in the segment. And thankfully Lexus is well aware of it. Just take a look at this new fourth-generation RX. Redesigned completely from the ground up, the latest RX is the boldest SUV we have seen from Lexus, and perhaps even on the road. Continuing the brand’s highly polarising and aggressive styling language of late, the new RX will not go unnoticed with its fresh and angular body style.
That spindle grille is truly huge and imposing, peeling back as the starting point for all the creases, edges and bold lines that flow and wrap around the entire exterior. It’s flanked by a pair of headlights with triple L-motif LED light clusters that look uniquely sharp.
The view from the side is no less dramatic. A truly distinctive styling cue is the blacked-out C-pillars, which provide the illusion of a “floating roofline”. While I’m never a fan of such design, it works brilliantly on the RX, making the SUV look sleeker and less “boxy”.
The rear puts up a treat, too, with creases cutting through the rear hatch echoing the outline of the spindle grille at the front. The concealed rear windscreen wiper is also a neat touch. But my personal favourite is how the shoulder lines flow so seamlessly above the taillights onto the slightly raised rear deck.
All models ride on 20-inch wheels, the top-spec Sports Luxury variant goes a step further with coloured inserts on its alloys. The F Sport grade tested here also has a few exclusive styling elements including a sportier mesh grille, front bumper lip, rear diffuser and multi-spoke wheels.
Inside, the Lexus RX feels right on for its asking price of between $73k and $106k. The cabin pays heavy focus on craftsmanship and luxury amenities, as evident by quality stitchings everywhere, lavish leather and creature comfort features. The interior styling is a lot less exuberant than the outside and can be best described as calming if not a little uninspiring. The centre console is busy but the curve up design of the trim next to the gear lever is a nice touch. And one other thing, the build quality is second to none.
The seats are beautifully crafted and sumptuously comfortable. The driving position is excellent, so is all round visibility. Front and rear legroom are generous but the RX is strictly a five seater, which means if you happened to over breed you will need to look elsewhere.
So, what’s the RX like to drive? Last year we sampled the mid-spec RX 350 variant powered by a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and thought it delivered good linear power and amazing refinement. It was, however, quite thirsty. This time around we got behind the wheel of the range-topping RX 450h, a petrol-electric hybrid packing a 3.5-litre V6 paired with an electric motor producing 230kW and 335Nm of combined system power.
The new powertrain represents a 10kW increase over the previous generation RX 450h and drives all four wheels via a continuously variable transmission. The notion of a big V6 assisted by electric power sounds pretty promising but the RX hybrid doesn’t seem to have the pull we expected, lacking the midrange punch of turbo petrol and diesel engines.
The dash to 100km/h takes about 8 seconds, which isn’t slow by any means but we are seeing sub-7 seconds from rivals. Unlike some modern CVTs we have seen, the old fashion unit in the RX still takes a lot of the driving feel away with its “rubber band” effect – the strange sensation of increasing speed while engine revs stay the same – though steering wheel mounted paddle shifters allow you to dive into eight virtual “stepped” ratios. In the F Sport model we tested, the constant revs of the engine is made worse by that fake engine sound synthesizer – why would you amplify something unpleasant?
As with most hybrids, brake feel is inconsistent and numb. Blame it on regenerative braking technology which harvests kinetic energy during deceleration to recharge the drive batteries. Elsewhere the RX’s steering serves up a precise steer but offers little feedback of what the front wheels are up to.
The RX 450h’s added weight from the battery and hybrid components contributes to more roll and dive than the RX 350 we sampled but it’s still able to maintain good grip and largely manageable. Set the F Sport variable dampers to Sport or Sport+ allows crisper turn in and dials out some understeer.
Drive the RX 450h without any enthusiasm – like the people who buy family SUVs – and the Lexus starts to come more into its own. The ride is superbly plush around town. The hybrid drivetrain is seamless in its transition from electric to petrol power and its smooth, jerk-free demeanor makes the daily commute a very relaxing affair. Cruising on the freeway, the RX 450h is whisper quiet, too.
Average fuel economy is said to have improved by 9.5 per cent to 5.7L/100km compared to the previous model. In the real world however, the RX 450h struggled to keep below 7.5L/100km over our week long test, despite significant freeway driving.
Typical of Lexus, the RX range is comprehensively equipped. The Luxury grade is equipped with LED headlamps, daytime running lamps and fog lamps.
Also standard are roof rails, heated and ventilated front seats with 10-way power adjustment and driver memory function, 8-inch display screen with satellite navigation and Lexus Inform connected mobility, 12-speaker audio with digital (DAB+) radio, keyless smart entry and ignition, wireless phone charger, power rear door, automatic rain-sensing wipers and front clearance and rear parking sensors.
The standard Lexus Safety System+ includes a pre-collision safety system with Autonomous Emergency Braking, radar-sensing all-speed active cruise control, lane-keep assist and automatic high beam. All models are also fitted with 10 airbags, reversing camera with back-guide monitor, blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
The F Sport model gains sports front seats and pedals, sports-tuned adaptive variable suspension, sports steering wheel with paddle shifters, 12.3-inch display screen, 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, colour head-up display, smart key card, rear passenger door sunshade and aluminium film ornamentation.
Other F Sport features include Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management system, a panoramic view monitor and LED “high” headlamps with adaptive high-beam system, LED rear combination lamps and sequential LED front and rear indicators.
At the top of the RX line, the Sports Luxury grade has unique alloy wheels with titanium-coloured inserts, 14-way power-adjustable luxury front seats with driver and passenger memory function, power-folding and heated rear seats, leather and woodgrain steering wheel and laser-cut aluminium wood ornamentation.
Design and Comfort: 8.0/10
Performance and Handling: 7.0/10
Equipment and Features: 8.0/10
Striking design and imposing looks aren’t the only attributes setting the Lexus RX apart from the rest of the crowd, for it also boasts a plush cabin and smooth ride. Standard kit is plenty and there’s no doubting Lexus’ impressive build quality and reliability.
The range-topping RX 450h retains an established hybrid drivetrain that is relaxing and refined but falls slightly short on delivering the promised fuel economy advantage.
- Standout design
- Comfortable and luxurious cabin
- Seamless hybrid powertrain
- Impressive build quality
- Sleepy powertrain
- Diesel rivals are more economical
- Disconnected driving feel
2017 Lexus RX 450h pricing and specification
|Price (Excluding on-road costs):||From $102,460
As tested: $102,460 (F Sport)
|Country of Origin:||Japan|
|Service Intervals:||15,000km/12 months|
|Engine:||3.5-litre Atkinson V6 petrol + two electric motors, 230kW, 335Nm|
|Power to Weight Ratio (W/kg):||106|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||Claimed: 5.7 / Tested: 7.6|
|Fuel Capacity (L):||65|
|Body:||5-door, 5-seat, SUV|
|Safety:||5-star ANCAP, 10 airbags, ABS, VSM, BA, EBD, Sequential LED indicators (F Sport and Sports Luxury), Autonomous Emergency Braking, radar-sensing all-speed active cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic high beam, reversing camera, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert.|
|Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) mm:||4,890/1,895/1,690/2790|
|Approach Angle (Degrees):||16.5|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||2,210|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||Braked: 1,500 / Unbraked: 750|
|Entertainment:||12.3-inch display screen, 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, CD Player, DAB+, satellite navigation, USB/AUX/iPod input|