The fourth generation Lexus RX looks a useful improvement on its predecessor. Jonathan Crouch reckons though, that'll it'll appeal to much the same kind of buyer.
Ten Second Review
Large, plush SUV motoring is personified by the Lexus RX. Since an original launch back in 1998, it's been finding a select but loyal band of buyers, usually with hybrid power - which is all that's been available here since the third generation version was launched in 2008. This MK4 model adds the option of a conventional 2.0-litre petrol turbo powerplant to the range, but the vast majority of buyers will still opt for the hybrid version, even though it doesn't feature the clever Plug-in technology now being used by other rivals in this segment. Either way, the car is longer, so more spacious inside than before. It's also more stylish and incorporates a great deal more technology. Let's check it out.
In an era where other brands trumpet hybrid engines in the luxury SUV segment as if they're the latest thing, Lexus can afford to feel rather smug. Toyota's luxury brand has been selling petrol electric power in its RX model in this market sector since 2005 and has further refined that technology in the fourth generation version we're going to look at here. Surprisingly, the brand has chosen - for the moment at least - not to follow rivals in offering buyers hybrid power with a Plug-in option, but it has that technology at its fingertips for the future.
Of course, not every buyer in this part of the market wants a hybrid, hence Lexus' decision to also provide RX customers with a conventional engine option this time round. From a sales point of view, dealers would doubtless have liked this to be the kind of turbodiesel unit that competitors offer, but this Japanese brand doesn't hold with black pump motoring. So instead, there's a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol model which we can expect to be a very rare sight indeed on British roads. Engines apart, this larger, smarter, more hi-tech-savvy MK4 model RX looks tempting, though it still won't be the first choice for those prioritising driving dynamics.
So what's it like? Well assuming you're in the 450h hybrid version that most will choose, you get in, luxuriate in the beautiful leather seats and enjoy the commanding SUV-style driving position before pressing the starter button to be greeted by.... nothing. The engine's running, true enough. It's just that at this point, it's doing so silently under battery power alone and if you've a gentle right foot, that's all it will continue to use at speeds of up to 30mph before the 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine kicks in, controlled via a six-speed CVT auto gearbox.
This mechanical package is much as it was before, though this time round, power has risen from 295 to 308bhp and there's a useful 335Nm of torque for towing. It sounds better too, thanks to a sound generator system that creates a performance-style air intake roar. The E-Four 4WD system's functions have been tuned for better response when accelerating through bends: there's no mention of off piste ability. Lexus doesn't think potential buyers will be interested - and they're probably right. If you are interested in the conventionally-engined RX 200t variant, you'll get yourself 235bhp and Lexus' proactive AWD system, assuming you avoid the entry-level 'S' version, which is 2WD-only. Across the RX range, the steering and suspension have been uprated but other rivals still offer a more involving drive. The RX is still one of the most comfortable, refined SUVs in its class though.
Design and Build
This fourth generation RX is completely new, its stiffened and extended all-steel platform a sizeable 120mm longer than the old version, with half of that extra length added within the wheelbase in order to deal with the previous model's major shortcomings: a lack of cabin space. It's sleeker-looking too, with stylish external creases and curves that capture the design language evident in the sheet metal treatment of other recent Lexus models, such as the IS, NX and RC.
At the front end, there's a fresh interpretation of Lexus's signature spindle grille, contained in a chrome-finished frame and flanked by LED headlights. The sharply tapering front and rear wing flares add muscle to the RX's appearance, while the main body section displays a diamond shape that flows out from the front spindle grille and back to the tailgate. Inside, there's a classier, more spacious cabin that sits its passengers 19mm lower for better headroom. Lexus has paid special attention to the comfort of rear seat passengers, and by lowering the rear floor section has produced a seating position that bears comparison with the LS limousine. Cargo capacity is much as before and remains slightly compromised in hybrid guise, though will be sufficient for most owners.
Market and Model
List prices start at around £40,000 for the RX 200t in base 'S'-spec form, a car which comes only with two-wheel drive. If you want drive to all four wheels in your RX 200t, you'll need the mid-range 'Luxury' variant, which is available for around £45,000, plus there's a 'Sport' model on offer for just under £50,000. As we've been saying though, most potential buyers will want the full-hybrid RX 450h petrol electric version. Here, 4WD is standard across the range and prices start from around £47,000 for the base 'SE' model, rising through the 'Luxury' and 'F Sport' trim levels most will want to the top-of-the-range 'Premier' derivative that'll set you back around £58,000. That's still decent value though, compared to notable rivals like BMW's X5, Mercedes' GLE and the Range Rover Sport.
All RX models, as you'd expect, are very well equipped. Across the range, you'll find standard features like dual-zone climate control, rear privacy glass heated front seats, the Lexus Navigation system with an eight-inch display screen, a nine-speaker audio set-up with DAB, a reversing camera, LED headlamps, roof rails and dual chrome-tipped exhausts. Hybrid versions get full-leather upholstery and powered seats.
Cost of Ownership
The returns on offer from this RX450h - 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and 120g/km of CO2 with 18-inch wheels fitted - look very good indeed and offer a big improvement on the outgoing model. Go for a conventional petrol-engined RX 200t petrol variant and you're looking at 36.2mpg and 181g/km with 18-inch rims. Go hybrid and you're essentially looking at diesel-style running costs with cheaper green pump fuel, plus the kind of CO2 figure that'll really make a difference when it comes to the bottom line figure on your tax return.
Of course, much of the time - when you're waiting at a traffic crossing for example with the engine seamlessly disabled and battery power in motion - you won't be emitting any CO2 at all. Electric-only use doesn't just eliminate CO2 dirtiness: it also gets rid of NOx exhaust emissions too, green-friendliness today's government wants to incentivise. As a result, Lexus reckons that ownership of this car could save higher-rate tax payers a considerable amount when they compare this car against some of its less efficient diesel rivals. At the same time, the companies they work for will benefit from a handy 20% write-down allowance against tax.
This isn't the most capable luxury SUV you can buy. It isn't the sportiest to drive. And it's not the most affordable to buy. But despite all of that, it will continue to attract a significant following in this segment. Once you've bought the thing, after all, its running costs can be usefully less than even the most frugal of its diesel competitors.
While other manufacturers dithered over hybrid technology, Toyota's Lexus division got on and developed it. Their first hybrid RX was an impressive achievement and this one has added a more stylish, spacious cabin and extra technology to existing strengths of comfort, refinement and a high specification. Overall though, the reasons you'll want to buy this car really haven't changed very much. Comfort, efficiency and class. As ever with Lexus.