We test drive the new Lexus RX SUV in the US ahead of its Australian arrival.
The Lexus RX SUV is a quiet, understated seller in Australia and this “95% new” version looks like it’ll pick up from where the last one leaves off when it goes on sale in early 2023.
It’s based on an uprated version of Lexus’s GA-K platform, which underpins the smaller NX SUV, and it remains the same size as the outgoing RX, at 4.89m long, albeit with wider front and rear tracks and a 60mm-longer wheelbase, which increases interior space. With more torsional rigidity because of some strengthening at the rear of the chassis, it has a new multi-link rear suspension system and, like the NX, MacPherson struts at the front.
Whereas the smaller Lexus NX rivals cars such as the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC, the Lexus RX is a BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE competitor. That shouldn’t phase Lexus, which says the R is “a complete reinvention of the large luxury SUV”.
That’s quite a statement – as is the new car’s styling, which is the first thing you might notice. Along with the NX and forthcoming RZ all-electric SUV, this RX will define the Japanese brand’s next chapter in terms of design.
We’ve seen the firm’s ‘spindle grille’ front-end before, but the RX evolves that into what Lexus is calling ‘spindle body’. The grille is bigger with the overall shape now integrated into the whole front end of the car’s body. There are slim headlights, sharp creases down the sides and a rakish ‘floating’ roof thanks to blacked-out C-pillars, plus a full-width light bar across the raked tailgate. It’s clearly an evolution in design terms, but still recognisably a Lexus.
The Australian line-up has been confirmed and will consist of the three core models: RX 350h hybrid with both front and all-wheel drive options, the turbocharged RX 350 as an all-wheel drive exclusively, and the range-topping RX 500h F Sport Performance which is also AWD.
The RX 350h has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder in-line petrol engine mated to Toyota/Lexus’s trusty hybrid system, which uses two motor generators and the petrol engine mated via a planetary gearset so that the engine and one drive motor can spin at whatever speed the electronics dictate, regardless of the wheel speed. (It’s incredibly hard to explain until you see a model of it.) In this guise, the petrol engine makes 140kW and the front electric motor 134kW, but there’s also a 40kW motor for the rear axle in the AWD version.
The hybrid uses an NiMH battery of undisclosed size. All up, the maximum power is 184kW. Then there’s the meat of the new range, the RX 350, whose 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine makes 205kW.
At the top of the range is the car “for the most demanding petrolheads”, the RX 500h, which combines the turbocharged 2.4-litre engine (205kW) directly linked to a single electric motor (another 64kW) where the flywheel would be, with a single clutch between them and a six-speed automatic transmission. At the rear axle is a 76kW electric motor, making a system total of 273kW and 747Nm.
With three available hybrids fuel efficiency is also a key number. Therefore the RX 350h claims 6.4L/100km according to WLTP testing while the more powerful 500h delivers a consumption of 8.2L/100km. The only non-hybrid, the 2.5L turbo, claims 8.8L/100km.
Moving inside, the interior is good. Solid of ambience and spacious in the back and the boot, with “less focus on ornamentation, more on texture and feel”, according to Lexus bosses, which means that the materials feel well put together and the switchgear is mostly clean. There’s a 14.0-inch touchscreen and Lexus’s latest infotainment system is a massive improvement on the old track pad-based setup in the previous RX, too. It works snappily, offers plenty of features and now integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both wirelessly. Our top-spec Takumi model we drove in the USA for this test drive also featured adaptive suspension, heated and vented leather seats, three-zone air-conditioning, a panoramic roof, 21-inch alloy wheels, a head-up display, LED headlights and wireless phone charging as standard.
There’s also, despite the relatively big differences in how they’re powered, a consistency to how RXs drive. The steering is smooth and the ride settled.
Refinement is really high, with low wind noise and just a little road noise. Under acceleration, the 350h hums a bit because Toyota’s hybrid system puts them in a high-rev range and leaves them there. The 500h, with its smooth six-speed transmission, is a little more rewardingly thrummy and responsive with quicker acceleration, moving from 0-100km/h in 5.9sec. The petrol turbo is no slouch either, getting from 0-100km/h in 7.2sec but being the thirstiest option available.
While there’s adaptive damping on the top-spec model to keep a firmer control of body movements, it’s still nothing like as rewarding or angry as, say, a Jaguar F-Pace SVR.
The new platform means the RX still acquits itself relatively well, however. Our test route in the US didn’t provide much in the way of challenging corners or surfaces, but the RX rides relatively nicely, with the damping control and comfort only breaking down over the worst transverse bumps and ridges in the road, where the extra battery mass becomes apparent. Otherwise, the suspension works smoothly to filter out imperfections and control the body.
The steering is light, but this helps manoeuvrability, as does the rear-axle steering, which offers up to four degrees of lock on the back wheels. However, the RX doesn’t feel like a big car. It doesn’t feel like a particularly dynamic one either, but there’s enough agility here by the same stroke.
In short, it delivers a decent balance between comfort and engagement, with the focus placed on the former, meaning the RX is a solid SUV from a driving perspective, given how it will be used most of the time.
The new Lexus RX takes known tech from the smaller NX and extrapolates this into a bigger package. There’s much to like here. The new infotainment is a huge step forward, while the Lexus rides and handles fairly well. However, it doesn’t fulfil its brief quite as well as its smaller sibling. In this large premium SUV class the Lexus is facing some very luxurious competition, such as the BMW X5, and we’d like a little more refinement as a result. Pricing will also be key to the success of the package.