New Sasol GTC cars set for thrills

The iconic Grand Prix Circuit will present a new challenge to the GTC drivers as they tackle the country’s fastest racetrack on June 16.

Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

Suzuki kicks off its new model assault with an all new Swift hatchback and standalone sedan called the Dzire.

New Lexus SUV hits SA

2009-07-13 13:00

Hailey Philander

Lexus' all-new RX swans into SA in a show of quiet composure and absolute sophistication and with the added bonus that it boasts the manufacturer's latest generation hybrid system.

The RX is not a newcomer to South Africa. RX300 was introduced here in 2002 and the range was expanded in 2004 with the RX350 and again last year with a hybrid version.

Now the latest all-new model arrives with a high level of comfort equipment and gives Lexus the boasting rights to the only hybrid model in the premium SUV segment.

Styling of the new RX, when viewed in the metal, is exquisite. Two models are offered in South Africa - the RX350 and RX450h - and apart from the highlighted badging on the hybrid, these two models are also characterised by different front ends.

The hybrid has extra air intakes to cool the hybrid system while the headlamps are a row of three LEDs.

Further attention to detail is shown in the dominant shoulder line extending from the headlamps, across the flank towards the slash-like rear lamps. There's also a very dramatic crease extending from just ahead of the rear wheelarches and graduating towards the front that gives the large SUV a gentle sense of motion. The coupe-like roofline also significantly softens the SUVs bold stance.

The cabin is a classy affair with its mix of leather and soft plastics. There's a smattering of wood veneer with high gloss finishes that throw up a fair amount of glare in the cabin, though.

An elegant mix of wood and leather. Remote touch frees up much space in the dash.

The interior is also quite swish with the most dramatic feature being the geometric cut-out in the central hangdown section housing the audio and temperature controls.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment is the adoption of the remote touch system - not unlike BMW's iDrive or Audi's MMI systems - that frees up quite a bit of space up front since the display unit can now be moved higher up the dash and further back as it no longer requires a touch screen.

Remote touch operates like a mouse for your computer with two buttons along the top ridge and more along the sides to allow both the front passenger and driver easy access to the various functions.

The hard drive-based system governs functions such as navigation, information, vehicle setup and climate control and although the system did not seem too intuitive, it should become a whole lot easier the more one spends time with it.

One thing that may be a little more problematic is the positioning of the auxiliary jack. Housing the jack in the central cubby between the seats is a great idea. However, the twin power supplies and the audio jack are positioned right at the bottom of the spacious console.

Accessing it requires the removal of two storage trays and since the armrest/cover does not extend far enough, you are forced to twist your arm in a rather unnatural manner to access the jack. At least the device and all its wires are out of sight.

It is very easy to become accustomed to the power available, though.

Two powerplants

RX is powered by either a 24-valve 3.5-litre V6 engine or a second-generation hybrid system with two electric motors matched to a six-cylinder motor.

The V6 produces its maximum power of 204 kW at 6 200 r/min and has a peak torque figure of 346 Nm at 4 700 r/min, up to 90% of which is available at between 2 300 and 6 200 r/min.  

The petrol powerplant is mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission that is said to be the lightest and most compact in its class and allows the large SUV to sprint to 0 - 100 km/h in eight seconds and a top end of 200 km/h. Fuel consumption is quoted as 10.6 l/100 km on the combined cycle.

In comparison, the Performance Hybrid, which uses a combination of the V6 and a hybrid drive system consumes 6.3 l/100 km on the same cycle and produces 149 g/km of CO2 emissions. It is mated to a CVT 'box.

Total output is 220 kW with diesel-rivaling torque figures with up to 335 Nm generated by the electric motor on the front axle alone… Using the Atkinson's cycle to alter engine compression ratios and exhaust gas recirculation and exhaust heat recovery, the hybrid is even more fuel efficient that before.

As a full hybrid system, the RX450h is able to operate as a quiet and emission-free hybrid on its electric motors, a grunty petrol or combine the two.  

For such a high-riding SUV, RX's ride quality is really quite good with both models using a part time all-wheel drive system. The RX350 uses an Active Torque Control system that, for the most part, sees this SUV operating as a front-wheel drive vehicle. However, an electronically controlled clutch is able to channel up to 50% of torque to the rear wheels when slippage is detected or extra traction is required.

Similarly, the RX450h uses a part time all-wheel drive system too, with an electronically controlled rear motor.

The independent rear suspension using double wishbones has been significantly redesigned which has allowed for the wheel arches to be repositioned, freeing up space in the loading area. However, in South Africa, this gain in luggage space is negated by the very welcome inclusion, in response to customer demand, of a full-sized spare wheel.

Useful, both on and off-road, although those pretty 19-inch rollers may not enjoy more punishing off-road antics

Lexus also did not hesitate to mention RX's approach and departure angles, a lock switch to transfer the bulk of torque to the rear wheels when off-roading, and the fact that certain models are equipped with hill climb and hill decent assistance functions.

Although we were not required to tackle any demanding off-roading, we did cover a substantial amount of gravel surfaces and the RX did not lose any of its luxuriousness while trundling across roughly corrugated sections or sections with loose gravel.

In fact, dust was kept largely out of the cabin, which remained quiet throughout. And despite the regulation shudders and bumps while traversing the rougher sections, none of this translated into real-life shakes once back on the blacktop.

On road, the RX's wide track and imposing stance ensure road holding that is very good. Dynamically, this SUV is not quite on par with the superlative BMW X5, but the X5 is also unlikely to acknowledge things like approach and departure angles.

However, the RX, in both petrol and hybrid guises is an extremely accomplished, and comfortable, cruiser. The quiet operation of the hybrid as low speeds remains an eerie experience and the lack of a rev-counter (which is replaced by a charge meter) is jarring at first, but the hybrid's seemingly endless torque reserves are a saving grace. 

Bountiful cabin

The engine derivatives are offered with two specification levels with a very high level of trim. All cars are finished in leather with wood trim, power seats, keyless entry and go, reverse camera, and 19-inch wheels in different designs for the two models.

As for safety, 10 airbags are used throughout the cabin, Isofix child seat anchorage for the rear seats and active front headrests. Electronic aids include ABS, EBD, brake assist, vehicle stability control and traction control.

Lexus foresees big things for its big SUV. Rather than merely being brand builder, it imagines the model fulfilling a core position behind the IS compact sedan in the four-model range.

It is supremely comfortable, has a high riding position that will allow even the shortest driver to see as far as forever, and the ride quality of a luxurious sedan with just a little bit of body roll thrown in to keep things interesting.

RX comes with a four year/100 000 km maintenance plan and a three-year/100 000 km warranty.


RX350 SX - R633 400
RX350 SE - R682 000
RX450h SX - R698 700
RX450h LXE - R769 300


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