One of the best-selling SUVs in the United States, and the Lexus brand's most popular individual model, the RX350 is the first of a revised product range for the South African market that will also see the introduction of the IS250, GS300 and LS460 this year.
The RX350 marks a significant improvement over its predecessor, the RX300, and comes in two specification levels, both of which feature a host of comfort and safety features as standard.
Aimed at established European products such as the BMW X5, the new Mercedes-Benz ML, the Volvo XC90 and Range Rover, Andrew Kirby senior vice president for sales and marketing, says the RX350 is the first step in revitalising the Lexus brand in SA in line with Lexus' global vision.
"Lexus is spreading its wings further into international markets, creating a stronger identity of its own, while building on its successes in the US market," he says.
The RX350's predecessor, the RX300, established itself as the best-selling luxury SUV in the United States, posting sales of 108 775 units last year in the face of the nearest competitor, the BMW X5 on just 37 598.
Lexus has also repeatedly dominated the customer satisfaction awards bestowed by America's prestigious JD Power and Associates.
Its rakish roof line emulates more of a coupe stance, reinforcing its sporty attitude towards the SUV segment.
The RX350's shape is unchanged from the RX300 and according to Lexus it shares the same levels of refinement established by the RX300.
The big change to this luxury SUV is under the bonnet where it gets an new all-aluminium quad cam V6 engine with dual VVT-i variable valve timing.
The capacity has been increased to 3 456 cc and, along with significant improvements in efficiencies, provides the RX350 with output and economy advantages over its predecessor.
Thanks to active engine mounts, the RX350 remains one of the most refined and quiet SUVs on the market.
And there's 35% more power and 21% more torque with even more significant improvements in fuel economy.
he 3.5-litre V6 engine develops 203 kW at 6 200 r/min and 342 Nm at 4 700 r/min, resulting in a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 7.8 seconds and a top speed electronically limited to 180 km/h.
Reduced fuel use
However, despite the extra wooma there's a reduction in fuel consumption over its predecessor.
Lexus claims 11.2 litres/100km in a combined cycle, giving the Lexus a range of over 640 km on its 72 litre tank in normal use.
The company says at cruising speeds the Lexus uses only 8.5 litres/100km.
The RX350 comes exclusively with Lexus's sophisticated five-speed electronically controlled ECT automatic transmission, with a manual sequential shift facility.
Independent suspension all round is based on MacPherson struts.
South African specification vehicles get a European ride and handling package that ensures enhanced steering and cornering characteristics, and a taut but supple ride in line with Lexus' comfort standards.
The RX350 has permanent four-wheel drive mated to electronic traction control (TRC) and vehicle stability control (VSC) to optimise grip even in low traction conditions like snow or mud, or during emergency avoidance manoeuvres.
All-wheel drive is as much a safety feature as the ability to give the RX350 surprising off-road ability. Ground clearance of 185 mm allows useful approach and departure angles for this type of application.
Further safety features include a total of seven airbags, including dual front and side airbags for front occupants, inflatable curtains for front and rear seat passengers, and a knee protection airbag for the driver.
The front seats feature pre-tensioners and force limiters and there are three-point seatbelts for all three rear occupants.
ISO-FIX child seat anchors are also standard. ABS anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BAS) ensures safe stopping abilities.
There are two models available in the RX350 range.
Lots of features
Both models are very well appointed, with automatic cruise control, dual zone climate control, electric windows, and automatic headlights being standard features.
All three rear view mirrors are electro-chromatic units that dim automatically and there is a multi-function trip information display that gives cruising range, time since start, average speed, average and instantaneous consumption, and distance since start.
The front seats are eight-way electrically adjustable and feature lumbar support, while the second row of seats allows great versatility.
The seat is split 40:20:40 to allow longer objects to be through-loaded with passengers on board right through to a completely flat cargo area with the seats folded all the way forward.
The rear seats also slide forwards and backwards individually, and have recline adjustment on the backrests.
Adding further to the interior versatility is the sliding front centre console. This features a large storage bin that opens and closes at the touch of a button.
Privacy glass, Optitron instrumentation and leather upholstery complete the comfort spec, along with a front-loading six-CD changer audio system with satellite controls on the steering wheel.
High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps with washers offer excellent visibility at night.
Over and above the standard specification, the RX350 XE adds two memories for the driving position, including an electrically adjustable steering column that adjusts for reach and rake and moves away when the ignition is turned off.
Rain sensing windscreen wipers and a tilt and slide moon roof also become standard on the XE along with an illumination entry system.
XE models also get driver and front passenger seat heaters and an 11-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
The Lexus RX350 now has a four year/100 000km full maintenance plan.
Services are required at 15 000 km intervals and Roadside Assistance is included for the duration of the maintenance plan period.
Lexus RX 350: R476 700
Lexus RX 350 XE: R508 500