Nelspruit, Mpumalanga – Lexus has launched its fourth-generation RX, the manufacturer’s most successful SUV to date and accounting for about 18% of Lexus’ sold in South Africa.
The new RX has far more aggressive styling cues. The hard angles resemble a cut jewel, even the taillights look like glowing rubies. It’s also analogous to stealth fighter jets with their jagged radar-confounding lines, and the spokes on those rims bear more than a passing resemblance to the spinning blades of a turbine.
Gallery: 2016 Lexus RX 350 EX
Probably the car’s most noticeable exterior feature however is the enormous air intake. Lexus’ spindle grille has grown ever larger with each successive model and I don’t see how they can make it any bigger than it is right now – unless they remove the front-end of the next model entirely, leaving only a hole in its place.
Not everyone will like the extreme styling of the RX, and yet that’s exactly what the designers wanted.
The 2016 RX is meant to appeal to young professionals who seek an alternative to the conformist vehicles their parents drove. I personally find the RX to be extremely attractive, but not all the motoring journalists at the launch event approved.
Where the previous RX had a comparatively simple interior, this 2016 model really shines! The 10-way adjustable power front seats are both ventilated and heated, and connected to the climate control systems.
All the surfaces are either soft to the touch or crisp with sapele wood (from tropical Africa) and aluminium pinstripe laser etched by Yamaha Fine Technologies, the people responsible for Yamaha’s top of the range grand pianos.
The 12.3"-high definition infotainment screen is wide enough to display two systems side by side – perfect for hosting a satnav map while simultaneously scrolling through the contacts on your smartphone. The screen is also high up on the dashboard so you don’t have to divert your eyes from the road for long.
One criticism is the remote controller that one uses to navigate the screen: It is fiddly and inaccurate, and clicking on the wrong option is a common occurrence when driving along on bumpy roads.
Passengers in the rear certainly have nothing to complain about: The rear seats slide and recline and the foot wells offer ample legroom. There are also window blinds that pull out of the door frame and cover the angled glass panes perfectly.
The Lexus RX has an astonishing ten airbags that include dual-stage twin-chamber driver and front-passenger airbags, front passenger cushion airbag, driver knee airbag, curtain airbags and rear-seat side airbags.
The cargo area is reduced by the sloped tailgate. It’s by no means small but rivals like the Audi Q5 and Land Rover Discovery Sport offer more luggage space. It may be shallow but it’s wide and deep enough to swallow oversised suitcases.
The power-lift tailgate has a nifty trick: simply wave your hand over the Lexus badge and the hatch opens!
The Lexus RX 350 EX has a standard eight-speed gearbox – unlike the six-speed in the previous model – which improves fuel efficiency and reduces stress on the engine.
The 450h has a CVT gearbox which exhibits the typical characteristics associated with this technology: smooth gear changes but lacklustre performance.
Acceleration isn’t extraordinary but it is adequate to overtake slow moving traffic safely.
The RX – particularly the 450h – seems more intent on providing a smooth ride rather than a sporty experience. For a more stimulating drive you’d be better off with a BMW X3 or a Mercedes-Benz GLC.
Handling feels generally safe although the steering is a bit imprecise and slightly vague. The body weight also appear to overpower the suspension during hard cornering, resulting in perceptible body sway. It’s not atrocious though, and it’s really only evident when you focus on it. Unfortunately the sport-tuned suspension associated with Lexus’ F-Sport variants isn’t offered with the RXs sold locally.
Ambient noise is unusually low – it’s almost eerily quiet inside the RX – and when you are driving on batteries only (450 hybrid) it becomes quieter still!
I found myself neglecting the purportedly excellent Mark Levinson audio system because I enjoyed the silence so much.
The RX 350 EX is fitted with a 3.5-litre quad cam V6 petrol engine that produces 221kW at 6300 r/min and 370Nm of torque at 4 600 r/min. Fuel consumption is claimed to be 9.6 litres/100km and pollution is pegged at 223g of CO2 per kilometre.
The RX 450h SE has the same displacement engine as the 350 EX that delivers 193kW and 335Nm, but it also has two additional electric motors that send 123kW and 335Nm to the front wheels and 50kW and 139Nm to the rear wheels. The hybrid has a combined power output of 230kW and drives all four wheels through a CVT gearbox.
Fuel consumption is 5.7 litres/100 km and pollution just 131 g/km.
The driver has the option to engage only electric power – perfect for stalking leopards in a game reserve. Reversing is also handled by the electric motors.
• 12-speaker audio system with DAB+ digital radio tuner
• Heated and ventilated front seats
• Wireless charger
• 20" alloy wheels with Sonic Titanium colour inserts
• Power rear door
• LED Headlights
• Eight-speed automatic transmission
• Three-mode Drive Mode Select
• 12.3" high definition display with satellite navigation
• Power adjustable steering column
• Electrochromatic interior mirror
• Rain-sensing windscreen wipers
• Automatic heated exterior mirrors
• Tyre pressure monitoring
• Rear privacy glass
• Reversing camera with back guide monitor
• Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert
• Clearance and back parking sonar
• Smart entry and start
• Cruise control
• Electronic park brake
• Power, sliding roof
• 2000 kg braked towing capacity
• Full spare with alloy
The Lexus RX 450h SE builds on the RX 350 EX specifications by adding the following:
• Unique SE petal-style alloys
• Tri-LED headlamp clusters with integrated washer system
• Sequential LED indicator function which works in conjunction with the DRLs
• 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system
• Heated steering wheel
• Heads-up Display (HUD)
• Enhanced safety package - Vehicle Dynamic Integrated Management
RX 350 EX - R799 000
RX 450h SE - R999 000
Lexus expects to sell around 200 units locally per year and they also foresee that most of these will be the 350 petrol, not the hybrid. And as mentioned earlier, no F-Sport version of the RX is available in SA but Lexus may consider importing them if there is strong customer demand.
Service and warranty
Both the 350 EX and the 450h SE are sold with a four year or 100 000km warranty which includes roadside assistance.
Service intervals are every 15 000km and these are covered by Lexus’ “Distance Plan” which involves all services and maintenance performed, including brake pad replacement, during the four year warranty period.
In the case of the RX 450h, the hybrid battery pack is protected by an eight-year/195 000km warranty.