Lexus RX: Driven


Slowly but surely, Lexus is winning over the hearts of true enthusiasts. The journey began with the cruelly underrated but sublime LFA supercar and the flawed but charismatic IS F saloon. It of course continues today with the bloated - but still enjoyable - RC F coupe.

2.2 million sold across three generations
2.2 million sold across three generations
All demonstrate what's so easy to love about the brand - its single bloody mindedness to go its own way and do its own thing, to hell with the opposition.

That's why the RC F comes with a naturally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 - a glorious two fingered salute to the down-sizers - and offers a far friendlier driving experience beside the now edgy, highly strung (and borderline terrifying) BMW M4.

Clipping apexes and the perfect lap time? Pah, leave that to the silly Germans, the Lexus super coupe suggests - and it seems there's plenty more where that came from.

Our favourite recent rumour (that could be a complete fabrication) from the Lexus 'F' division involves engineers at loggerheads over the new GS F flagship. Instead of using the 477hp 5.0-litre V8 from the RC F, the team lobbied management hard to bring the LFA's old 560hp 4.8-litre V10 out of retirement and squeeze it under the bonnet of the big saloon.

The costs of doing that, of course, would have been outrageous but this demonstrates the obsession, passion and enthusiasm bubbling under the surface of the Japanese manufacturer and it really does feel we're just one car away from Lexus having its B7 RS4 moment - when everything just comes together in one BMW-beating package.

How about slotting in the V8 from the RC F?
How about slotting in the V8 from the RC F?
Money maker
The RX, alas, isn't that car.

It's far more important. It's the car that will bankroll Lexus and enable it to continue to dip its toe in performance car waters.

So far, the BMW X5-rivalling SUV has racked up 2.2 million sales worldwide over its three generations, easily becoming Lexus's bestselling vehicle.

Despite this, the fourth generation SUV isn't all-new. Instead it's a completely restyled and comprehensively re-engineered development of the old car.

Adopting the striking scalpel-sharp angular look and 'spindle' grille from the smaller NX SUV, the new RX is some 40mm lower and, with a drag coefficient of 0.33, is unusually slippery for an SUV.

Under the skin the old architecture is stretched 120mm. Significantly, this has also been accompanied by a wheelbase increase of 50mm plus the front and rear tracks have been widened by around 10mm. While marketeers talk about more leg and shoulder room, engineers describe enhanced agility and stability.

A crushing indictment of the old RX is the new car's body; thanks to some extra spot welds, adhesive and additional high tensile steel, it is an astonishing 30 per cent more rigid.

As before, the RX's suspension uses struts up front and double wishbones at the rear. With a stiffer structure to work with chassis engineers were able to use thicker anti-roll bars and uprated bushing. To reduce roll, there's also an active anti-roll feature that counteracts lean.

Finally, there are bigger brakes all round and new adaptive dampers that, on F-Sport models, are also said to reduce roll further in its stiffest Sport + mode.

Surprisingly... PH opt for the hybrid
Surprisingly... PH opt for the hybrid
Out with the old...
For the UK we get just the choice of two engines - the 235hp 2.0-litre turbo that's already used in the NX and a far more powerful 313hp 3.5-litre V6 hybrid that 90 per cent of buyers will opt for.

Forget the old model's bland and uninspiring interior; the new radical external styling has rubbed off on the inside too, with a beautifully made cabin that looks classy and sophisticated. Our car came with the 12.9-inch infotainment system that is so large it's almost overwhelms. It's just a shame that it doesn't offer a clearer and more intuitive navigation system.

For the first time, Lexus will sell you a front-wheel drive version of the RX with the new 2.0-litre turbo in the cheapest S model, with all-wheel drive standard on all other specifications.

The 2.0-litre turbo is smooth and enthusiastic, but ultimately slow, especially if you're used to the effortless low-down torque of a large capacity diesel which nearly all of its rivals will have.This is also reflected in its lacklustre 0-62mph time of 9.5 seconds.

Reaching a stretch of tight, twisting country lanes though and the RX is barely recognisable over the car it replaces. There's now impressive front-end grip you can lean on when pushing hard. But even on the smooth Portuguese roads we drove the ride seems far too busy, especially for something that isn't sporting.


Hybrid hope
Losing faith, we reluctantly swap for the 450h and realise it's the hybrid where the chassis engineers have spent all their time. Not only does it ride better, but beside the wheezy 2.0-litre, the 3.5-litre V6 hybrid is a revelation.

It's still not quick, mind, but the front and rear motors perfectly fill in the gaps where a conventional petrol, even a largish V6, lags behind a torquier diesel.

Flatten the throttle and there's impressive thrust throughout the engine's rev range and the RX 450h feels quicker than the 7.7 seconds it takes to reach the 62mph benchmark.

Of course, what I haven't mentioned is with that 'impressive thrust' comes intrusive droning - the sound of a V6 held at its redline. It's not a bad noise, but it feels artificial and that's exactly why we're not fans of CVT gearboxes.

Mercifully, it's only really annoying when driven flat out and most of the time you're compensated by moments of serenity and quietness when you're pottering along, especially on electric power alone. The new RX seems to do more of that than the old model at higher speeds.

Quite a grown up place to sit
Quite a grown up place to sit
Now for the big surprise. Along the same roads we've already driven the turbocharged 2.0-litre, the RX 450h is by far the more enjoyable car to drive. I'm not saying the heavier hybrid is better dynamically, it's just more fun. Lots more fun.

Weight, for once, is your friend here. The heavier hybrid suffers initially from more understeer that the 2.0t, but a solution is at hand; all that weight of a heavy battery pack hangs over the rear axle.

Now I'm not going to tell you that an RX can be driven like an old 911, but with the added weight there's bizarrely far more agility than you'd ever believe. If only the ESP could be fully deactivated, you begin to think, but throw in some nasty cambers and it's probably best it can't as things can get very ragged and you being to deal with understeer that it seems no amount of lifting will cure.

All the cars we drove came fitted with the active anti-roll bars that seem to work well but, for whatever reason, Lexus UK isn't optioning it for the cars we get so, ultimately, we might have to drive the RX again for a definitive verdict.

Despite that, it's clear there is fun to be had even in non-F Lexus models, but would you have one over a similarly priced Range Rover Sport? Of course you wouldn't; the Sport steers better, has sharper handling and is much quicker. But the thing is, it's also a hell of a lot more expensive; Lexus claims, like-for-like, as much as Β£15,000 pricier.

Factor in the RX's lower running costs and it means there are still reasons to buy the big Lexus SUV. However, it remains very much a car to buy with head rather than heart. Oh well, just remember, every car you buy brings Lexus closer to performance car greatness.


LEXUS RX450h F Sport
Engine:
3,456cc, V6 Hybrid
Transmission: E-CVT, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 313@6,000rpm (combined output)
Torque (lb ft): 247@4,600rpm
0-62mph: 7.7secΒ 
Top speed:Β 124mph
Weight:Β 2,100-2,210kg (kerb weight)
MPG: 51.4 (NEDC combined on 20-inch wheels)
CO2: 127g/km (on 20-inch wheels)
Price:Β Β£52,995





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Comments (35) Join the discussion on the forum

  • cmoose 08 Dec 2015

    Ermeferkinggerd.

    But in all seriousness, the interior / dash is strangely dated, non?

  • burningdinos 08 Dec 2015

    A face only a mother could love...

  • Quhet 08 Dec 2015

    Those boxy wheel arches do it no favours

  • gumsie 08 Dec 2015

    cmoose said:
    Ermeferkinggerd.

    But in all seriousness, the interior / dash is strangely dated, non?
    That made me laugh out loud.

    Why is it in the Uk that we seem to get a significantly reduced range of engine options?

  • StickBreitling 08 Dec 2015


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