THE NEW 2016 LEXUS RX IS HUGE - IT MAY NOT LOOK LARGER IN PICTURES, BUT LEXUS HAS FINALLY SHIFTED THE RX SUV FROM AN IN-BETWEENER TO A PROPER LARGE SUV.
Conveniently, that puts the RX toe-to-toe with a pair of formidable German opponents, the Mercedes-Benz GLE and BMW X5.
But surely, Lexus doesn’t have the goods to tackle those two, does it? We’re pleased to report that for plush premium family transport, the greatly improved new generation RX does exactly that.
Vehicle Style: Large premium SUV
Price: $73,000-106,000 (plus on-roads)
RX 200t:175kW/350Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd automatic
RX 350: 221kW/370Nm 3.5 litre 6cyl petrol | 8spd automatic
RX 450h 230kW/335Nm (combined output) 3.5 litre 6cyl petrol/electric motor | CVT automatic
RX 200t claimed: 8.1 l/100km
RX 350 claimed: 9.6 l/100km
RX 450h claimed: 5.7 l/100km
The new Lexus RX comes with choice of three powertrains. One, the RX 200t, is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine - a new addition to the range that’s only available in entry-level Luxury trim.
There’s also the familiar, but revised V6 versions, the petrol-only RX 350, or the hybrid RX 450h. These two come as Luxury, F Sport, and Sports Luxury models.
The range has stepped up in price, with the entry ticket almost $9000 more than it was before.
But the new car is also larger, more refined, handles better, and comes with a long list of additional equipment.
Our introduction to the new model was only limited, but it left us with a warm feeling - one that we think will carry over to buyers looking for plush family transport,
- Luxury: 10-way power front seats, leather-accented seats, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless phone charger, 20-inch medium grey alloy wheels, power rear door with emblem touch control, power adjustable steering column, electrochromatic interior mirror, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, automatic heated exterior mirrors, tyre pressure monitoring, rear privacy glass, reversing camera with back guide monitor, smart entry and start
- F Sport: (in addition to Luxury) Five-mode Drive Mode Select, dynamic headlight levelling, F Sport interior and exterior styling package (front and rear bumper, seats, grille, pedals, steering wheel and gear shift knob), smart key card, panoramic view back monitor, panoramic moonroof with sliding roof, sequential LED indicators, head-up display, adaptive high beam system, headlight cleaner, intake sound generator, LED high grade head and tail lamps, sunshade on rear passenger doors
- Sports Luxury: (in addition to F Sport) 20-inch alloy wheels with selectable colour inserts, 14-way power adjustable seats, heated rear seats, power folding rear seats, luxury front seats, laser cut interior ornamentation
- Infotainment: 12-speaker audio, 8.0-inch multimedia display, satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, USB input (Luxury) or 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio, 12.3- multimedia display (F Sport and Sports Luxury)
- Cargo volume: 553 litres (to roof, seats up) 1626 Litres (seats folded)
While the previous RX wasn’t exactly short on space, the new one offers even more room to move.
Although it isn’t too tall to step into, the front seats give a high-perch and commanding view of the road ahead. The seats themselves are heated and cooled, with power-adjustment standard across the range.
They’re big and broad too, but with enough bolstering for a comfortable fit on rolling roads.
Move to the rear seat and there’s acres of legroom. And while the roofline looks comparatively low from outside the car, there’s still decent head space in the rear. Three passengers will fit across the back with ease as well.
There’s more leather and leather-look fittings throughout and the high-definition infotainment screen (8.0-inch on Luxury, or 12.3-inch on F Sport and Sports Luxury) is crisp and clear to view, and looks nicely integrated.
Unfortunately Lexus just can't get away from the nickel-coloured plastic dash highlights - you can find them in a Toyota RAV4, and they really fall short of the premium look Lexus is aiming for.
The instrument cluster is problematic too, with reflections rendering the speedo almost unreadable at times (on a very bright and glarey day).
Boot space for the new model grows from 496 litres in the old model to 553 litres for the new. Split-folding is standard, and the seats can be reclined, with power adjustment in the Sports Luxury.
ON THE ROAD
- RX 200t:175kW/350Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- RX 350: 221kW/370Nm 3.5 litre V6 petrol
- RX 450h: 230kW/335Nm (combined output) 3.5 litre V6 petrol/electric motor Transmission: RX 200t - six-speed auto, front wheel drive. RX 350 eight-speed auto, all wheel drive. RX 450h CVT auto, all wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double wishbone independent. Adaptive Variable Suspension on F Sport and Sports Luxury
- Brakes: four-wheel ventilated discs, 328mm front, 338mm rear
- Steering: Electric power steering, turning circle: 11.8m
- Towing capacity: 1000kg
While there are three engine options available, our limited introduction to the RX meant we only got to sample two, so we opted for the volume selling RX 350, as well as the new RX 200t.
Our drive route incorporated suburban Sydney, and a quick sample of the Royal National Park - just the thing to put Lexus claims of a more dynamic RX to the test.
Vitally, these two variants offer the same 0-100 km/h time of 9.2 seconds, however the RX 200t is only available with front-wheel-drive and a six-speed automatic, while the RX 350 comes with all-wheel-drive and an eight-speed automatic.
From behind the wheel, the RX 350 feels pleasantly strong, but, above all, in Luxury spec it is supremely comfortable, with an absorbent ride (despite the huge 20-inch wheels) and excellent isolation from wind and road noise.
Swapping into an F-Sport reveals that, despite the addition of Adaptive Variable Suspension, the firmer more-sporting ride takes some of the shine off the otherwise lovely ride of the Luxury.
One thing that doesn’t change is relatively crisp turn in, and well-managed body roll.
The eight-speed automatic is impressive; it's faultlessly smooth, and quick to react when left in drive, but dulled by a manual mode that can blatantly ignore driver requests to kick-down or hold a gear.
With 221Kw of power at 6300rpm and 370Nm of torque at 4600rpm, the RX 350 isn’t too far off the six-cylinder GLE and X5 for power, but both offer more accessible torque thanks to their turbo-plumped torque curves.
With 175kW of power from 4800-5600rpm and 350Nm from 1650-4000rpm the 2.0 litre turbo four-cylinder punches out decent figures. More torque than the RX 450h hybrid, and only 20Nm shy of the 3.5 litre RX 350.
You do miss out on all-wheel-drive, and the transmission has six forward gears only, but, according to Lexus, the 200t is just as fast as the 350, but uses 1.5 l/100km less fuel.
We found it a little ‘soft’ initially from a standing start, but rolling acceleration is far more urgent. Of course, if you’re not racing the stopwatch it motivates itself more smoothly.
There’s a little bit of torque steer evident, but it is minimal, otherwise this engine is perky and never feels overworked with the RX 200t’s minimum 1890kg kerb weight to lug around.
While the new RX range is clearly more dynamically capable than the model it replaces, it’s still a big, heavy SUV.
It doesn’t challenge the X5 for the mantle of ‘best handling SUV’, nor does it intend to.
With full family-sized load on board, the RX is comfortable (and if comfort is key, dodge the firmer F Sport), the road manners are quiet, the handling is secure, and there’ll be very few complains from either driver or passengers.
ANCAP rating: At the time of writing the RX is under assessment by ANCAP, we’ll report on the results once they are published.
Safety features: The RX comes with Lexus Safety Sytem+, a system that integrates pre-collision safety radar, all-speed active cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning with steering control, and sway warning control.
Blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and 10 airbags round out the standard safety suite.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
While the GLE and X5 are obvious competitors, the Volkswagen Touareg is also a contender on price and space. A less likely contender, but still worthy of consideration is Infiniti’s QX70.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There have been times where we’ve questioned the pedigree of the luxury offering from Lexus, but the new RX causes no such concerns.
While our introduction was only brief, the comfort and ease of the RX should make it a hit with families, while the plush high-end fit-out and strong equipment levels will shore it up with luxury buyers.
It feels good on the road, and it feels even better from one of the spacious passenger seats.
Both the four-cylinder turbo and the V6 sound pleasant, move the big SUV along smartly, and are suitably refined. The RX 200t in particular is a surprisingly competent package.
Almost as strong as the RX 350, but with less pain at the pump, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it grow into a more popular variant over time. Right now though, on past sales performance, the RX 350 is set to be the sales leader.
Lexus has set itself a new benchmark with the RX range, and buyers who try it out will likely agree.