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Hard to believe, but the Lexus RX has been taking its place in Australian showrooms for no less than 15 years – and now we’re behind the wheel of the 2018 Lexus RX300 F Sport to find out whether it still cuts the mustard.
Large SUVs are a real battleground, and every manufacturer wants a piece of the pie. Large, luxury SUVs are an even tougher focal point of the sales battle, and that’s where the RX300 (formerly RX200t) goes to work armed with the usual Lexus strong points – a broad array of standard inclusions, rock-solid build quality, and a smooth and luxurious driving experience.
As with nearly all Lexus offerings, the RX range is substantive.
The 2WD RX300 is powered by a 2.0-litre engine in three model grades – Luxury starts from $74,251, F Sport from $86,551, and Sports Luxury from $92,701. We have the middle of that range here, the F Sport, but we’ll get back to that in a second.
Step up to the RX350L in AWD guise and you get a 3.5-litre engine, in both Luxury and Sports Luxury specification, starting from $84,700 and $101,500 respectively.
Finally, there’s the RX450hL AWD, with the hybrid featuring the same 3.5-litre engine and two model grades – Luxury starts from $93,440, and Sports Luxury from $110,240.
Back to our tester here, we have the 2WD F Sport, with pricing starting from the aforementioned $86,551, and as tested there’s only premium paint ($1500) taking the starting price to $88,051 before the usual on-road costs.
Read our pricing and specification guide for the long list of standard equipment, and you quickly realise that the price isn’t quite as expensive as you might have thought.
Sure, more than $90K on-road isn’t cheap, but have you looked at the price of other luxury SUVs in this segment? The Lexus offering is, as it so often can be, the bargain option in the segment. The 2WD argument is an interesting one – one that I don’t quite understand.
If you want an SUV, I would have thought you’d also want an AWD, but it seems most buyers only care about the high-riding seating position. As such, the FWD SUV (even in this large segment) has become standard for a buying public that really doesn’t want much to do with SUV capability. In fact, it's almost like buying a dual-cab ute and never using it for work…
The shining light here, though, is the quality of clever electronics that ensure a 2WD platform is as safe and balanced in most situations as an AWD platform anyway. It’s tech like that eating into Subaru’s point of difference too, and the more buyers opting for 2WD, the more manufacturers will strive to offer even more tech to make them even safer. In that way it’s a win-win.
And safety is incredibly well catered for here. In F Sport guise, buyers get a rear-view camera with back-guide monitor, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, clearance and back parking sonar, pre-collision safety system, lane-keeping assist, all-speed active cruise control, automatic high-beam, 10 airbags and LED headlights.
Despite the obvious shortcomings of the Lexus infotainment system, which we’ve documented up hill and down dale, the cabin is beautifully premium and brilliantly executed too. It’s comfortable, quiet, insulated and luxurious. You can rabbit on all you like about bias in the comment section below.
You can rabbit on all you like about (insert manufacturer) paying us to diss Lexus. You can rabbit on all you like about how we hate the brand. I look forward to it actually, because you’re wasting your own time. The simple reality is that we compare vehicles to other vehicles in their competitive set, and the infotainment system that Lexus persists with is miles behind in terms of functionality and clarity.
The seats are as close to perfect as any manufacturer can muster, likewise the driving position and the adjustment on offer too. It’s not hard to get comfortable in the RX cabin, that’s for sure. The forward visibility is largely what the SUV segments are all about, and the sharply swooping bonnet line makes visibility even better than it otherwise might be.
There’s plenty of room in the second row as well, and it’s comfortable in there for adults into the bargain. The luggage space is likewise, expansive enough for the segment and useful in the real world too.
The second-row seats fold down neatly and liberate an expansive storage area for carrying things like bicycles and sports gear. Everything about the Lexus cabin has a carved-from-stone feel to it too, like it’s never going to wear out.
Despite the move in nomenclature – from RX200 to RX300 – the hardware under the bonnet remains the same. That is, a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol engine that while not as effortlessly smooth as the 3.5-litre V6, still gets to work in sophisticated fashion.
That said, there’s still a solid case to be made for the argument that there is such a thing as an engine being too small in a heavy SUV – even though it doesn’t really feel like it around town in this execution.
On paper, the 175kW power figure, the 350Nm torque figure and the 8.1L/100km fuel-usage claim all seem reasonable (adequate maybe) for the segment. You won’t get 8.1L/100km in the real world around town, though, think closer to mid to high 12s, with eights achievable on the freeway once you level out at cruising speed.
Still, 12.7L/100km as we used around town is more than acceptable for a large SUV with this much space. The four-cylinder engine also gets a six-speed automatic as opposed to the V6’s eight-speed auto. It’s not as technically proficient as the eight-speeder, but then you don’t really need eight ratios around town – and with 110km/h speed limits – either.
The ride around town confounds – in that any vehicle rolling on 20-inch wheels shouldn’t be able to soak up poor roads as effortlessly as the RX300. It’s a beautifully comfortable conveyance, the RX, and it rides better than some of the air-sprung competition.
The steering is nicely weighted, the brakes pull the large SUV up easily, and aside from a little bit of tyre noise on coarse-chip, there’s nothing to report that interrupts the sense of calm. There’s always that feeling when you jump into a Lexus that it’s going to be comfortable for all occupants, and the RX doesn’t disappoint.
The RX300 F Sport gets a four-year/100,000km warranty and has service intervals that span 12 months/15,000km, so the ownership experience once again matches the competition, and you just know that this thing will keep going and going.
I’ve got no doubt that the RX (regardless of engine choice) should be in your consideration set when you’re thinking of spending some money in the large SUV segment. Compare it to the European competition and its winning combination of standard specification, safety, quality and value for money means it will be right up at the top of the list.
It’s not the best large SUV in the segment, but it is one of the best value, and that’s a mightily important factor for every kind of buyer.