2012 LEXUS RX REVIEW
LEXUS RX 270
Vehicle style: Medium premium SUV
Engine: 2.7 litre DOHC four cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Fuel consumption (listed combined): 9.7 l/100km
LEXUS RX 450h F Sport
Vehicle style: Large premium SUV
Engine: 3.5 litre Atkinson cycle V6 with parallel hybrid drive
Transmission: six-step CVT automatic
Power/torque (combined output): 220kW/317Nm
Fuel consumption (listed combined): 6.3 l/100km
There's more than a new 'spindle' grille and sharpened on-road dynamics to the new Lexus RX range.
Sure, there's a bit more edge to the styling, and pricing has been raked over - you now get more for less across the range - but no big news there.
The real story with the launch of the new RX range is a new entry-point 2WD model, the 2.7 litre four-cylinder RX 270.
Nudging the till at $69,900 RRP, it comes in at a whopping $12,000 less than the previous RX entry-model.
Cheaper it is, not cheap (we're still talking premium buying), but it's in no way underdone, neither inside nor on road, and it's got some real surprises up its sleeve.
With the RX 270, Lexus now has a three-model RX range. There's 'junior', the RX 270; next up is the RX 350 that slips under the bar at $77,900, and above that the range-topping $82,900 RX 450h.
Each, while they look the same, are vastly different down below.
We drove both the RX 270 and RX 450h F Sport at launch in and around the ACT. (A report on the RX 350 will need to wait for the moment.)
Both are impressive cars for all the reasons Lexus impresses - my gosh it can build a quality car - and also for two less-expected reasons, the superior ride and handling they offer.
On road, the new RX range is surprisingly good, effortlessly comfortable, and imperiously untroubled by rough Australian secondary roads.
Lexus builds a simply beautiful interior. The quality of the trim, fit and finish, the soft-feel dash and real-wood highlights, the brushed metal facings - all are as good as faultless.
Seats are sumptuously trimmed, neither too soft nor too hard, and well-shaped for comfortable long-distance driving.
Front seats feature eight-way electric adjustment, complemented by an electrically-adjusted reach and rake multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel. (The all-new wheel, incidentally, is sized just right with a super feel and clear controls.)
Rear seat passengers are also well catered-for with the same attention to detail and exclusive quality touches. There is a fold-down arm-rest with cup-holders and shallow oddments bin.
Although rear seats are slightly short in the squab, accommodation there provides plenty of legroom and headroom and terrific vision.
Both the RX 270 and RX 450h are featured exactly as you would expect a premium car to be. Each comes equipped with smart-entry and push-button start, sat-nav with SUNA GPS 'traffic updates', reversing camera, park assist, climate control air-con, eight-way power seats and a powered tailgate.
Choosing the F Sport kit over the standard RX 450h (F Sport models are currently only available on RX 350 and RX 450h models) adds $7000 to the base cost.
The F Sport models can be identified by bigger 19-inch 'dark shadow' alloys, a deeper front grille, front and rear styling enhancements, performance dampers front and rear (that function like a damped strut-brace) and contrasting stitching to interior leathers.
All in the range also come with a full suite of safety features with ten airbags, a pre-collision system, stability control, traction control, ABS, hill-start assist, rear-guide assist with reversing camera, pre-tensioning seat belts, adaptive front lighting, and a stronger high-tensile steel body-shell among a range of active and passive safety features - the shorthand is, there's nothing missing.
On The Road
First up, we jumped into the new RX 270. It was the surprise of the launch; not only for its pricing and the full complement of premium Lexus features, but for the way it drove.
Front-wheel drive, with a 2.7 litre aluminium undersquare four-cylinder engine, and with 138kW of power @ 5800rpm and 252Nm of torque @ 4200rpm, its raw numbers and drive-configuration are well-shy of its AWD bigger brother, the 240kW and 346Nm RX 350.
But that long-stroke and incredibly smooth 'big-four' has no trouble whisking the RX 270 along. With a 0-100km/h sprint of 11.0 seconds, it's certainly adequate for a family car if no fireball off the line.
And once at highway speeds, it feels much more lively. It is beautifully matched to the six-speed conventional auto (with 'Sport' mode manual control if you want to take things in hand), it shifts crisply for both up and down-shifts, is untroubled by hills and overtakes briskly and safely.
It can also be hustled through corners; there's ample there for press-on driving if you keep the revs up in the meat of the torque and it turns in and tracks surprisingly accurately for a somewhat top-heavy SUV.
The RX 270 feels (strangely enough) just a little lighter on its feet and provides a really nice balance between handling verve and comfort.
Australian roads are, in the main, too rough for hard 'Euro-style' suspension tuning - on any surface we found, the RX 270 was stable and comfortable.
Despite being FWD only, we preferred the feel and balance of the RX 270 over the range-topping 450h. At its price and premium interior fit-out, for the relatively small 'real world' compromise in power and grip, it makes a lot of sense.
RX 450h F Sport
Gravel roads mostly behind us, we put the 450h F-Sport through some tight winding climbs on secondary back roads, a long swift section through the sheep-country plateaus south of Canberra, and then back through the city on its table-top arterials.
The RX 450h is a very interesting car. It's a hybrid, but, aside from the stop/start technology and the dash information, you quite simply forget it.
But it otherwise feels and sounds just like a conventional drive; a very responsive one at that.
It is vastly different to both the RX 270, and the AWD RX 350.
The RX 450h employs a 3.5 litre V6 Atkinson-cycle engine, producing 183kW and 317Nm of torque. It's mated to an electric generator-motor driving the front wheels, and a second 50kW electric motor driving the rear.
Combined output of the hybrid system is 220kW (it's not just a matter of summing totals).
There is no mechanical connection - no tailshaft - between the front and rear driving wheels. Instead, that second electric motor sits where you would otherwise expect to find the rear differential.
Its AWD is more sophisticated than an 'on-demand' AWD system. The 450h constantly monitors a range of dynamic data like yaw, body-roll, direction of travel, steering inputs - as well as slip and traction - in microsecond increments, and feeds drive to the rear wheels accordingly.
It is transparent, invisible even, in the way it operates. In some mechanical AWD systems, especially when on loose surfaces, you can detect the shift when the rear wheels chime in.
In the 450h, it is undetectable. You might only know it's there from the masses of grip and AWD stability.
The result of all that technology is a pretty quick SUV capable of a 7.8 second 0-100km/h blast. When overtaking, it can really pick up its skirts and bolt. It also pulls very strongly out of a corner.
But when pushing hard, you can become aware of its SUV weight and dimensions - it sits high and weighs over two tonne afterall.
While turn-in is surprisingly sharp, and the feel through the wheel provides good information as to what's happening dynamically, it can skate a little wide on the other side of the apex.
But crikey you've got to be really pushing things.
Normally a pet hate, this CVT responds quickly to the accelerator when left in 'Normal' automatic mode, and sharpens considerably should you take things in hand using the shift lever in 'Sport'.
It's not as sharp as a good conventional auto or DSG, but can be hustled through the ratios, and without the 'slipping clutch' moaning and groaning that bedevils some CVTs.
The 450h is - in any language - a quick, serenly quiet and immensely comfortable point-to-point tourer. It just happens to be an SUV, and a hybrid one at that, with an altogether miserly thirst for fuel (Lexus lists 6.3 l/100km for the 450h).
First Drive Verdict
Lexus has dropped at least two, and likely three, very good cars into Australia's booming premium SUV market with its new RX range.
They don't have the edge at the wheel of the logical German competitors - BMW, Audi and Mercedes - but both the RX 270 and RX 450h F Sport we drove handle supremely well, and are superbly refined.
They are effortless long-distance tourers, even the RX 270, and completely at home on an open road. They are also exquisitely trimmed and laden with premium features.
But of the two we drove, the RX 270 and RX 450h F Sport, it's the 270 that got into the head.
So, unless you are riotously overburdened with cash (and we each have our crosses to bear), and, equally, fiercely committed to having two electric motors and a petrol engine driving all four wheels, the RX 270 will likely surprise you.
There is little between the two in 'real-world-driving' performance, little to separate the handling, and not a heck of a lot you'd notice in the quality of the interior trim and accommodation, but a veritable gulf in the price of each.
Our pick of this exclusive pair is the less-exclusive RX 270. But each is strong buying in a strong premium SUV sector.
RX 270 - $69,900
RX 350 Luxury - $77,900
RX 350 F Sport - $85,900
RX 350 Sports Luxury - $94,400
RX 450h Luxury - $82,900
RX 450h F Sport - $89,900
RX 450h Sports Luxury - $100,900
Note: prices exclude on-road costs.
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