The Lexus RX has been a favourite with Australian buyers since launching Down Under almost 13 years ago.
Cumulatively, the second- and third-generation RX SUVs have found almost 30,000 homes, accounting for somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent of Lexus’ total sales in our market.
The arrival of the all-new, fourth-generation Lexus RX, then, is naturally hugely significant for the Japanese luxury brand.
It comes roughly 12 months after the launch of the mid-sized NX SUV, which has been a bigger hit than Lexus Australia anticipated, outselling the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Range Rover Evoque so far this year.
The presence of the NX means the RX no longer needs to awkwardly straddle the medium and large luxury SUV segments, now focusing on the latter and rivals including the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Range Rover Sport, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Volkswagen Touareg and Volvo XC90.
As a result, the new model is 120mm longer than before (now 4890mm), and boasts more than an inch of extra kneeroom for back-seat passengers.
It’s also much more expensive than its predecessor, with prices rising between $7000 and $11,000 across the seven-variant line-up. The new turbocharged entry-level RX200t Luxury costs $73,000 (the old RX270 was $64,110), the top-selling RX350 F Sport costs $92,000 (the old model was $81,110), and the flagship RX450h Sports Luxury now tops the ton at $106,000 (its predecessor was $97,000) – all prices before on-road costs.
Despite the increases, the Lexus RX still has a lower starting price than all those competitors listed except the Touareg (from $67,990), with the others starting between $84,200 (X5) and $103,900 (Q7). The Lexus also has a lower top-end price than all these rivals, Volkswagen included.
You can get all the pricing and specification details here, but the simple story is the new RX remains impressive value for money.
Comparing base with base, the new RX200t Luxury gains larger 20-inch alloy wheels (up from 18s), LED headlamps, front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, electronic park brake, heated and ventilated front seats, and a wireless phone charging pad.
They add to a long list of standard features that includes an 8.0-inch central screen with satellite navigation and reverse-view camera, a 12-speaker audio system with DAB+ digital radio, 10-way power front seats and leather-accented upholstery, a power-adjustable steering column, power tailgate, and Lexus Safety System+ that comprises a pre-collision safety system, lane-keeping assist, active cruise control and automatic high beam.
RX350 and RX450h F Sport variants gain a high-definition 12.3-inch central display and 15-speaker audio system, along with adaptive suspension, head-up display, panoramic sunroof, adaptive high beam, smart key entry and the F Sport interior and exterior styling package, among other features, while the Sports Luxury variants trade the sporty add-ons for 14-way power front seats, power-folding heated rear seats, and laser cut interior trim details.
On paper the base RX200t Luxury and F Sport duo appear to deliver the best bang for your buck.
Delivering on paper has never been an issue for Lexus, though.
Colleague Matt left September’s international Lexus RX launch a little underwhelmed with the car’s ageing powertrains (new turbo petrol excepted) and average dynamics.
To recap, our market gets three powertrains: the front-wheel-drive 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol (RX200t), the 3.5-litre V6 petrol all-wheel-drive (RX350), and the 3.5-litre V6 petrol and dual electric motor AWD hybrid (RX450h).
Unlike all of the RX’s rivals, there are no diesel engines available, or a six-cylinder turbo petrol, or a V8, or a plug-in hybrid in the wings.
Unfortunately limited time at the local launch in Sydney meant we couldn’t get behind the wheel of the RX200t, though previous experience has shown the 175kW/350Nm engine to be a surprisingly good fit for the 1890kg SUV. Stay tuned for a more thorough garage test of this variant in the future.
Indeed, a tight schedule meant we only had time for short drives of the RX350 and RX450h.
Lexus expects 50 per cent of buyers to opt for the ‘conventionally powered’ RX350. The 221kW/370Nm V6 is quiet and refined and feels easily within its comfort zone hauling the 1980kg SUV off the line and up to highway speeds. Its partnership with the eight-speed automatic transmission is likewise silky and sophisticated.
Its fuel consumption is a worry, however. The RX350 is rated at 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle and 13.5L/100km in urban conditions – the latter being the domain of many luxury soft-roaders. Official testing data reveals the RX200t is more than 25 per cent more efficient on the urban cycle than the RX350, while both claim an identical 9.2-second 0-100km/h sprint.
The RX450h offers the best of both worlds, accelerating to triple figures one and a half seconds quicker and consuming 5.7L/100km both on the combined cycle and in urban conditions.
The RX450h teams a 193kW/335Nm V6 with a 123kW electric motor and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) at the front and a 50kW electric motor at the rear for a combined peak power output of 230kW, creating what Lexus dubs ‘E-Four AWD’.
It’s a decade since the second-gen RX400h became the world’s first hybrid luxury SUV, and that pedigree is evident in the 2016 RX450h. It can operate in near silence at low speeds in pure EV mode, and there’s no disruption as the petrol engine comes to life to provide extra assistance.
Though the quickest of the bunch, the RX450h doesn’t feel sporty, but it does react to throttle inputs with a unique immediacy thanks to the torque that’s available instantly from the electric motors.
The Lexus RX is unlikely to satisfy drivers with an emphasis on the ‘sports’ part of SUV.
The lightly weighted steering is nice around town but feels vague around the centre position and lacks precision through corners. It also feels rolly and unbalanced around bends, leaning rather than remaining flat and planted.
We suspect much of this can be attributed to the RX’s soft suspension setup. On decent surfaces the ride is smooth, though it does tend to bounce over undulations and take a second to settle. We were disappointed with how busy it felt over the coarser roads of Sydney’s Royal National Park, picking up little ruts and imperfections falling hard into bigger holes – even with the adaptive variable suspension (standard in F Sport and Sports Luxury) in their most comfortable setting. Perhaps sub-20-inch wheels could help in this regard…
It’s impossible to grumble about comfort inside the Lexus RX, however. The seats, both front and rear, are among the most comfortable and supportive in the industry. There’s loads of legroom for back seat passengers, though the sunroof (standard in F Sport and Sports Luxury, optional in Luxury) does compromise headroom for taller rear riders.
Smooth leather, quality fabrics and soft-touch plastics line most interior surfaces and create a truly premium ambience, though for this tester it’s spoiled slightly by some cheaper-looking painted plastic panels and the bland control cluster that’s a little too Toyota.
The same can’t be said of the high-end 12.3-inch screen, which dominates the top of the dash and displays information clearly. It’s a shame it’s controlled by the Remote Touch joystick, which is improved but still one of the more difficult tools for operating an infotainment system.
In addition to lacking a seven-seat option, the Lexus RX also has a small, shallow boot. At 453 litres, it trails the BMW X5 by almost 200L. It also has a high loading lip, making it harder to load in heavy and bulky items. Individually folding rear seats (40:20:40 split) create up to 924L with all pushed forward.
The RX is covered by a four-year/100,000km warranty and matching roadside assistance. Lexus doesn’t offer capped-price servicing, however the first service (12 months/15,000km) for all RX models is free. Most customers opt for the corporate program, which covers three years/60,000km of servicing and includes other perks such as reduced delivery fees, free service loan cars or pick-up and drop-off, and invitations to a host of exclusive owner events and experiences.
As previous generations before it, the 2016 Lexus RX is a good value car with refined powertrains, a comfortable cabin, a strong standard safety package and equipment levels to make its European rivals blush.
But in the highly competitive large luxury SUV class, customers demand and deserve an all-rounder, and the RX’s average ride comfort and road manners, unintuitive infotainment system, small boot and no third-row option, and its lack of a diesel engine see it fail to tick some important boxes.