Price: $77,900 to $100,900
Lexus has completed its new RX roll out with updated versions of the Lexus RX350 and Lexus RX450h joining the all-new, entry level RX270 on showroom floors.
The F Sport versions replace the previous Lexus RX350 Sports and Lexus 450h Sports models.
While the 2012 Lexus RX isn’t a new-generation vehicle, it’s a significant update on the old, with major styling changes across the range.
The most striking design change is the new-look RX grille and front bumper, bringing the model in-line with Lexus’ distinctive new corporate identity and bearing the trademark spindle grille.
To give buyers more choice, Lexus has even adorned each of the seven variants with its own unique version of the grille, bumper and lower spoiler.
The F Sport variants are easily identified by a larger front bumper and more pronounced spindle grille with honeycomb mesh air intakes, while the RX450h showcases more chrome highlights with the mesh intakes replaced by horizontal intake fins for a more prestigious look.
New-look arrowhead-shaped LED daytime running lamps further enhance the prestige look across the entire Lexus RX range.
Apart from the F Sport badges on the front three-quarter panels, it’s Lexus’ exclusive 19-inch alloy wheels in dark chrome that will make the F Sport models easily to spot.
Inside, the F Sport treatment is subtler. There’s a superb sports leather steering wheel that looks and feels vaguely like that from the Lexus LFA supercar, while the RX350 F-Sport is the only RX model to get steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters for better driver engagement.
However, we’re not so keen on the leather seat cushions with white-coloured perforations inside our Lexus RX350 F Sport test vehicle. It’s supposed to provide a ‘race-inspired feel’ but to us, it just looks a little cheap, despite the high-quality leather used.
That aside, Lexus’ new interior designs have leapfrogged previous Lexus models and by some measure. There’s a higher grade of soft-touch materials used inside the RX and a significantly cleaner and more organised switchgear layout.
The only criticism we have is with the possible overuse of metallic highlights throughout the RX cabin, particularly around the centre-stack. Too much bling perhaps, in comparison with the more elegant styles of its German and English rivals.
Not only has Lexus reduced pricing across the entire 2012 RX range by as much as $7880 on some models, the inventory of standard equipment is now even more generous.
The new Lexus RX models receive an 8-inch colour screen featuring satellite-navigation with traffic alert; reversing camera with park assist (no parking sensors); leather interior; power rear tailgate; eight-way power seats; 12-speaker audio system; Bluetooth phone and music streaming; smart entry and smart start; privacy glass; digital radio (DAB+); roof rails; metallic paint and second-generation Lexus remote touch system.
F Sport models also pick up High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, while the RX450h Sports Luxury receives LED headlamps, electro-chromatic mirrors and LED instrument lighting.
All Sports Luxury models are equipped with the latest generation head-up display, wide view side mirror and parking sensors – front and rear.
It’s an enormous array of standard kit and represents a compelling buying proposition all on its own.
As far as sheer comfort in the SUV world goes, it’s difficult to think of a more comfortable place to be than in the latest Lexus RX450h. The sumptuous leather seats, while not so heavily bolstered, provide a truly armchair-like comfort.
Even the look and feel of the combination wood/leather steering wheel is best described as luxurious with Lexus adding more tactility and grip in the new model.
With the second-generation Lexus remote touch, which allows navigation, climate control, phone and audio to be controlled via a computer-like mouse, Lexus has moved a step closer to the feel and functionality of BMW’s benchmark iDrive system.
The drivetrains for both Lexus RX350 and RX450h (hybrid) models are essentially carried over from the previous iterations, although according to Lexus, there’s a slight improvement in fuel-economy with the hybrid powertrain, down from 6.4L/100km to 6.3L/100km on a combined cycle.
The 3.5-litre quad-cam V6 in the Lexus RX350 remains beautifully smooth and free-revving. There’s plenty of punch too, with the engine developing 204kW of power and 90 per cent of its 346Nm peak torque from 2300 to 6100rpm.
Moving across to the RX350 F Sport and throttle response is more immediate and the steering weights up even more at speed.
The newly introduced paddle-shifters are a welcome addition to this model and are well mated to the carried-over super-smooth six-speed automatic transmission.
The RX450h retains its petrol/electric hybrid powertrain, which generates a thoroughly acceptable 220kW and 317Nm from its 3.5-litre petrol engine and the benefit of immediate torque from zero-rpm.
The introduction of a new ‘Sport’ mode on the Lexus RX450h model range means more mid-range punch and even more weight in the steering, at speed. The same six-step CVT (continuously variable transmission) is kept and although it’s relatively effective and of course, seamless, the fact that there are no real gear changes is less engaging that the RX350.
But the really significant changes to the RX model range lie with the handling and steering.
Lexus has revised the RX chassis with an additional 12 spot welds to each side of the RX body and chassis. The result is a vastly more superior handling SUV than the vehicle it replaces.
In fact, body roll has been all but eliminated on all new RX models, including the heavier RX450h.
It feels more balanced, especially during cornering – and the steering feel has been dramatically enhanced thanks to reinforcements around the dash panel and tweaks to the power assist unit.
Those improvements are amplified on the Lexus RX F Sport models, with the addition of performance dampers that have been specifically engineered to absorb minor vibrations in the body.
Apart from the roll-free cornering, even when driven enthusiastically through a series of off-cambered s-bends the ride quality across the RX350 and RX450h range is outstanding.
On the F Sport models the ride is around 25 per cent firmer than the standard variants, but all manner of bumps and potholes are completely ironed out by these two new Lexus RX models, regardless of their size, or depth.
With the new RX350 and RX450h models, Lexus has moved considerably closer to the kind of ride/handling balance achieved by premium German and English manufacturers in the same segment.
2012 Lexus RX pricing
Lexus RX270 – $69,900
Lexus RX350 Luxury – $77,900
Lexus RX350 F Sport – $85,900
Lexus RX350 Sports Luxury – $94,400
Lexus RX450h Luxury – $82,900
Lexus RX450h F Sport – $89,900
Lexus RX450h Sports Luxury – 100,900