Launch Drive: New Lexus RX 350 and hybrid
Over the last four years Lexus saw a steady rise in global sales with more than 650 000 new vehicles finding owners in 2015 and a big contributor to that achievement is the Lexus RX SUV. Since coming to market in 1998, Lexus RX has been nothing but a sales’ success accounting for more than 1.2 million units to date.
In order for Lexus to make the fourth-generation RX more appealing to existing and prospective clients, the engineers focused their efforts on establishing the RX as a benchmark for the Lexus brand, a vehicle that would showcase the very latest from the Japanese carmaker.
On the design front the Lexus RX does little wrong, appealing to the eye while maintaining some drama. The extrovert design ethos undertaken with this luxury SUV is perhaps the most striking in its class compared to more sedate designs. The Lexus RX is streamlined and although the pictures do not necessarily show it appears sporty as well…always in motion. Dimensions have grown over its predecessor; the latest Lexus RX is 120mm longer, 10 mm wider and rides 20mm lower than before. The wheelbase has been extended by 50mm.
Inside the new RX Lexus didn’t take the same daring approach as with the exterior but the bigger size does carry through to the interior. Still, leather and sapele wood emit a sense of high quality and in true Lexus fashion comes well equipped.
A 12.3-inch HD screen takes centre stage atop the dashboard and gives the driver all the information needed on the RX. Lexus was keen to point out that their 2016 RX is equipped with new innovations; the boot can now close at the touch of a button, the brake-control system has been bettered, Blind Spot Monitor helps to detect oncoming traffic from the rear… but these systems have long been de rigueur in this premium segment. Only the wireless smartphone charger caught our attention.
Driving the two models available to the local market – the RX 350 EX and RX 450h SE hybrid – there is a sense that these vehicles are rather accomplished across all conditions. Both feature a 3,5-litre V6 engine and send power to all four wheels via either an 8-speed automatic (350 EX) or CVT (450h hybrid) transmission.
The RX 450h SE hybrid develops, in conjunction with its two electric motors, a somewhat sporty (and 10 kW stronger) output of 230 kW. This equates to the big SUV being hauled from standstill to 100 km/h in 7.7 seconds with a claimed fuel hybridisation of 5,7l/100 km/h.
The naturally aspirated engine in the RX 350 EX develops 221 kW and 370 Nm of torque – 17 kW and 24 Nm more than the previous generation – and this translates into adequate in-gear acceleration and enough power to tackle any mountain pass paired with all-wheel drive confidence. The downside of this big engine fossil fuel engine is a claimed fuel return of 9,6 L/100 km.
The roads in Mpumalanga aren’t rolled from the smoothest bitumen but the RX 450h SE hybrid didn’t lose any of the composure that Lexus is known for. The RX 450h handled both tar and gravel roads with aplomb and the ride quality didn’t disappoint. On the gravel the 450h hybrid behaved well and absorbed most bumps to ensure a composed and effortless drive.
The Lexus RX 350 EX performed slightly better than its hybrid counterpart. Though both vehicles are essentially the same, the RX 350 relies purely on its petrol engine, ensuring a smoother and grunty power delivery. When encountering a few twisties on the designated route the 8-speed gearbox would, at times, struggle to pick the right gear. Though it hits the sweet spot when shifting up, hesitations on the downshifts prevented one from attacking corners with gusto. Neither of the two RX’s come equipped with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel reaffirming this car aims to relax rather than involve.
At R799 000 for the RX 350 EX and R999 000 for the RX 450h SE Hybrid, these two Lexus newbies are fashion leaders but performance and innovation followers. When measured against some of their German counterparts, on paper, they offer a greater perceived value for money but this segment still favours diesel over hybrid.