First Drive: The facelift Lexus RX ups the luxury ante
What is it?
With the premium SUV market more packed than ever, it’s easy to forget a few of the stragglers that exist in the segment. In a world of Mercedes GLEs, BMW X5s and Audi Q7s, taking a healthy slice of that cake is a difficult task for anyone else at the party — and arguably that’s been the case with the latest Lexus RX.
Despite offering class-exclusive hybrid technology for a long time, and a reputation for reliability that’s unrivalled by its main rivals, buyers have generally failed to be swayed by the Japanese SUV. That’s something Lexus is hoping to rectify, with a refresh for the fourth-generation RX that aims to bring modern pizzazz to an ageing product — but has it got the tools to succeed now? We find out…
We’ll forgive you for taking a glance at the car if you’re already familiar with the Lexus RX, and not immediately recognising this as a new car. Its design remains much the same as before, albeit with tweaks to both the front and rear bumpers, revised headlights and a new mesh pattern for its grille.
It’s inside the car things become noticeable. There’s now the option of captain’s chairs in the middle row to maximise passenger comfort, while a repositioning of the third row in ‘L’ cars sees 95mm of extra legroom for those farthest back.
Chassis tweaks have been made in a bid to improve the car’s handling, with a host of new safety tech introduced as well. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay finally arrive on the car, too.
What’s under the bonnet?
No powertrain changes have been made as part of this refresh to the RX, meaning its 3.5-litre hybrid setup remains. The unit produces a total of 308bhp, with 335Nm of torque coming from the engine which is matched with the electric motor. Power is delivered to all four wheels via a CVT gearbox.
As a result, 0-60mph is covered in 7.5 seconds with a top speed of 124mph possible. Lexus claims 35.8-31mpg is possible in mixed driving conditions with CO2 emissions weighing in at 180-172g/km.
Much as before, the new RX’s powertrain proves to be impressively smooth across the board. The switch from electric to internal combustion power is one that’s done seamlessly, and vice versa, while its CVT is a rare occasion of the technology proving refined and quiet in almost all driving conditions.
What’s it like to drive?
In terms of overall comfort and refinement, the Lexus RX is a tough one to beat. This was previously the case, but its new suspension setup only aids its ability to glide over rough road surfaces — perfect for covering long distances.
It’s also exceptionally quiet inside the car too — you could probably hear a pin drop in the cabin at 70mph if you’re doing without audio for a bit.
Our F Sport test car also wears new dampers that aim to make the car a little more engaging to drive. These, in combination with the new chassis tweaks, do make it a little more involving — though it’s certainly no sports car when things get twistier.
How does it look?
As we touched upon earlier, styling changes to the RX are fairly minimal but enough to write home about.
Up front, its front bumper is a little less chrome-filled and arguably more elegant in its execution, while slightly slimmer headlights add a more upmarket air about the car. Its large ‘spindle’ grille up front is still the centre of attention though, for better or worse.
Changes at the back are pretty subtle, with just a tweaked rear bumper present. The overall look is an impactful one, and certainly has something of a presence compared with other offerings in the ever-flooded SUV segment.
What’s it like inside?
As to be expected from a Lexus, the cabin of the RX is very simple in its execution but is very effective when it comes to delivering on quality and luxury. Soft-touch materials and leather upholstery are splashed all over the place, though switchgear does feel a little outdated — particularly the still-horrible touchpad infotainment controls.
In terms of boot space, the RX in its five-seat form boasts 453 litres — an area compromised by its hybrid powertrain. That’s almost 80 over a Ford Focus for example, but in a car of a much bigger size. That said, it certainly feels a spacious place to be sat in.
What’s the spec like?
At launch, pricing for the Lexus RX kicks off at £52,705 — securing a base model with the premium pack. Standard equipment includes 20-inch alloy wheels, heated/ventilated electric leather front seats, keyless entry and start, a 12.3-inch infotainment display with support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and a heated steering wheel.
Our F Sport test model weighs in at £55,205, and adds performance dampers, adaptive suspension, a model-specific styling pack and ‘blade scan’ automatic LED headlights.
It’s a respectable level of kit for the money, and to be honest, we think the F Sport additions aren’t particularly necessary in a car that’s so comfort-oriented. If you want more luxury, there’s the £61,705 Takumi grade which ramps things up considerably — though has the price tag to match.
As far as model revisions go, alterations to the Lexus RX are impressive overall. It’s more comfortable than before and drives a little bit better too — though we’ll assert the fact this is no performance car and those wanting something more engaging should look elsewhere.
That said, boot space continues to let the car down and that’s something that will likely take a whole new generation of car to remedy and keep it up with competitors. If practicality isn’t your main concern though, this is a comfortable and well-kitted choice to make.