Lexus RX300 2020 f-sport

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2019 Lexus RX300: Holiday coastal chariot

Lexus is on the charge at the moment. Its cars are more interesting than ever, and there's no questioning the quality of its cabins.

But the prospect of spending Christmas and New Year period in an RX300 wasn't all that exciting, if I'm being brutally honest.

After all, it's not quite as small as a BMW X3 nor quite as large as an X5 or Mercedes-Benz GLE, and the interior is a bit more country club, in keeping with Lexus's traditional fan base, rather than the 'Berlin disco' vibe on offer in the latest Germans.

Which is why the big, blue SUV's standout summer performance was such a pleasant surprise. The RX300 is downright excellent – I'm a convert.

Don't be fooled by the 300 badge. This is the same four-cylinder engine previously powering the RX200t. That means you get 175kW and 350Nm from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.

It's the smallest engine on offer in the RX line-up, but it still packs a punch. The 100km/h sprint takes a claimed 9.2 seconds, but that isn't really relevant here.

Instead, it's all about torque. Peak twist comes on tap at 1650rpm and hangs around until 4000rpm, giving the RX300 plenty of in-gear punch.

Economy ranged from 9.0L/100km to 11.0L/100km depending on who was on board and where we were heading, which is acceptable for such a big car – and a serious improvement on the 12.9L/100km we saw in the RX350 with its larger, naturally-aspirated V6 engine.

Most of what I did with the RX300 was on the highway, between home and the airport, and down Victoria's Mornington Peninsula. Rather than feeling like a big car with a little heart, it's surprisingly muscular on the open road.

It's also surprisingly spacious. I'm six-seven, my mum and dad are both six-two, and my girlfriend likes to think she's tall, but we all fit comfortably.

Up front, there are generous door bins and two cupholders on the transmission tunnel, along with four USB charging ports and a wireless charge pad.

In other words, there's no issue keeping everyone's devices charged.

In excellent Toyota tradition, the air-conditioning can make the cabin feel like a blast chiller in a matter of minutes, and the rear vents deliver that chill effectively to kids, parents, or partners in the back.

Even the infotainment works well, thanks to the addition of Apple CarPlay. It works flawlessly on the RX300's widescreen display, and using it with Lexus's touch-based controller is remarkably simple, which serves to underline how poorly designed some elements of the standard infotainment system are.

The only real issue with CarPlay is the screen itself, which is a bit pale and washed out. It's presumably been designed to work with the black and purple colour palette of Lexus's own system, but it means the beige, grey and white details in Apple/Google Maps are seriously tough to discern in sunlight.

Lexus has done a brilliant job with the ride and noise suppression of the RX. It won unprompted praise from multiple passengers, and made the car a brilliant place from which to chew up the miles. Radar cruise locked on 104km/h, the RX swiftly and silently hoovered up slow traffic on the Frankston Freeway.

It can feel a bit wooden over sharp low-speed bumps or drops (the rounded kerbs at the entrance to some suburban sports grounds, for example) but otherwise Lexus has done an excellent job.

It's testament to the small changes Lexus has made to the RX at its mid-life update. The company claimed 10 engineering updates to the car, all designed to dampen vibrations and reduce body roll.

The only real knock on the RX's practicality is the boot, which was fine for a weekend's worth of soft bags, but struggled to swallow two decent-sized suitcases and a ski boot bag. Blame the sloping roofline, which looks surprisingly sharp in person but limits the vertical space available.

Sliding the rear bench forwards helps, but also makes it tough to carry a carload of leggy passengers – worth bearing in mind if you need to lug tall teens and their kit around.

I didn't expect the RX300 to get under my skin, but it did. It's a well thought out, comfortable, attractive family hauler with an attractive price.

After all, BMW won't sell you an X5 for less than $100,000 before on-road costs, but the RX300 F Sport offers a luxurious drive and practical cabin for $86,800 before on-roads.

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