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Epic SA road trip: What it's like to tour awesome Montagu behind the wheel of a Lexus RX SUV

2018-05-11 06:00

Ferdi de Vos

Image: Ryan Abbott


Lexus RX 350L

2018-02-27 11:44

Lexus presents the all-new RX 350L.

The new seven-seat Lexus RX has recently migrated from the US and Europe to South Africa. For motives perhaps not so obvious at first glance, Ferdi de Vos took the gracious, spacious luxury SUV on a Montagu adventure.

Montagu's Harrier is a small raptor which in Summer breeds across Europe, up to West Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia, before migrating to West Africa or the Eastern fringes of Africa, and all the way down to South Africa, in the European Winter months.

Driven: Lexus SA's first 7-seater RX350L

This bird of prey is a long-distance migrant, covering roughly 12 000km during its annual migration down South, and about the same distance returning to its breeding grounds.

Birds from Eurasia start their migration at the beginning of August and most have left by mid-October. Their Spring return peaks in April, with most birds back in Europe by May.

                                                                         Image: Ryan Abbott

But what has this harrier species, named after the British naturalist George Montagu (1753 to 1815), to do with the RX model from Toyota’s Lexus luxury brand? Well, the original RX was actually based on a mid-size crossover SUV called the Toyota Harrier.

It was named for the Eastern Marsh Harrier, or **chuki** in Japanese, a bird of prey common to Hokkaido and northern Honshu and sported a stylised bird's head on the grille.

It was earmarked for the Japanese domestic market only, but the more luxurious Lexus derivative was exported. 

RX exports to the US and Europe started twenty years ago, in March 1998, but the original model was never available in South Africa.

Only after the second-generation model was introduced six years later did the RX migrate here. However, several (in some cases illegally) imported Toyota Harriers found their way here before the Lexus derivative became available locally in 2004.

Seven seats

The RX, now in its fourth incarnation, has always been available with five seats, but for the 2018 range a seven-seat version has been developed, apparently in response to frequent requests from Lexus customers and dealers.

Visually, the only real difference between the 350L derivative and its normal siblings is the length of the floating window-line behind the C-pillar, in my view according it a more balanced look, while 20-inch alloy wheels with a distinctive design enhances its stance.

                                                                         Image: Ryan Abbott

The L-version retains the external width and wheel base (2 790mm) of the normal derivative, but its interior is 543mm longer, 155mm wider, and 20 mm higher.

Its body is also extended by 110 mm to accommodate the third row of seats, the roof is raised by 10mm, and it has a steeper power-operated tailgate. This means more space, flexibility, and convenience, and the redesigned interior provides excellent head and leg room for the third-row passengers.

The third row can accommodate a child seat and can be folded completely flat at the touch of a button, liberating 432 litres of luggage space (enough for all our travel bags and bulky camera equipment), measured to the tonneau cover.

                                                                         Image: Ryan Abbott

With one-touch levers folding and sliding the second-row seats forward by as much as 45mm, it is easy to access the third row of seats, and they are quite comfortable too, thanks to the slightly raised second row seats creating more foot room, as well as separate controls and dedicated vents for the aircon.

Having sampled the roominess of the new luxury seven-seater, we decided to take it on a Montagu adventure – in search of Montagu’s Harriers on our way to the quaint little town of Montagu in the Western Cape, and also to traverse the picturesque Montagu pass, close to George.

Cogman’s Kloof

Our route included a good stretch of N1 highway up to Worcester, and here the smooth petrol-fed V6 and slick eight-speed sequential shift intelligent automatic transmission, coupled to a permanent AWD system of our Morello Red RX really impressed.

We literally glided down the freeway in Normal driving mode, before turning off onto the R62. Comfortably ensconced in the leather upholstered seats with 10-way power adjustment (the third row of seats are covered with durable synthetic material to support regular folding), we tried out the fuel-saving Eco mode on our way to Robertson.

                                                                         Image: Ryan Abbott

Soon we were at the entrance to Cogman’s Kloof, situated at the confluence of the Keisie and Kingna rivers. Here we stopped for some pictures, and patiently waited at the stop-go zones, due to ongoing roadworks in the Pass, before entering Montagu.

The town, founded on the farm Uitvlugt, was named after the secretary of the Cape Colony from 1843 to 1852, John Montagu. It is known for its hot mineral springs and scenic mountains, the nearby rock formations making it a major rock climbing venue, as well as a great kloofing and mountain biking destination.


With the sun starting to set behind Bloupunt peak, we turned the distinctive spindle grille of the RX in the direction of Touwsriver to get to our overnight destination – Goedemoed Farm Cottage, situated at the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains in the beautiful Keisie Valley.

Here we were met by the hospitable owners, Jean-Pierre and Leatitia de Villiers. It turned out the whole family was avid off-road bikers, busy preparing their steeds for the next race.

                                                                            Image: Ryan Abbott

They invited us for a braai and regaled us with some tall biking tales (including how a motorcycle got on the bar counter), while we sampled some of their muscadel wine over supper.

It was an enjoyable evening, but early the next morning we were on the road again, ready to tackle the Wildehondskloofhoogte pass, the pass with the longest name in South Africa, and the Op de Tradouw pass, ascending the pictographic ravine formed by the Goedgeloof River.

While heavier than its five-seat stablemate, the third-row seat packaging requirements in the RX 350L only allowed the fitment of a single exhaust, rather than the dual system found on the RX 350.

The result? A small reduction in power and torque (5kW and 12Nm) compared to its sibling. With 216kW and 358Nm available, this did not make much of a difference on flat, open roads, but on the sweeping inclines of the passes the extra weight (145kg) and loss of power was discernible, even in sport mode.

By now we were past Ladismith, navigating the Huisrivier pass with 39 bends, sharp corners, and curves packed into 13.4km. The Lexus, while quite heavy and big, handled it all with aplomb, and soon we were on the final dead-straight section headed for Oustshoorn.

Montagu Pass

With Electronic Multi-vision (EMV) Navigation System and a large 12-inch audio display screen we could easily navigate our way through town and county, but we found the system quite hard to understand and manipulate.

After sweeping over the Outeniqua pass we were now at the entrance of the Montagu pass, a narrow, undulating dirt road leading towards Herold and the N9.

The pass was also named after John Montagu, whose fervour for good roads resulted in its construction 170 years ago. But while they share surnames, and both served in the army, there is no obvious family link between John and George Montagu.

The narrow dirt road past the Old Tollhouse, where once the toll of one penny per wheel and one penny per ox had to be paid, got progressively worse, but the AWD RX handled the potholes and washed away sections well; the only drawbacks being its low ride height and lack of suspension travel.

Soon we were back on the N9, nothing worse for wear, and ready to take the road back home.

While we did not find any Montagu’s Harriers (they were probably over halfway on their journey to the North), we did discover that the luxurious seven-seat RX is a practical, convenient and roomy cruiser; and quite frugal too, with an average consumption of 10.9 l/100km.

The comprehensively equipped RX retails for R 949 300 and this includes a four-years/90 000km Maintenance Plan. It is the ultimate vehicle for the yearly migration of a large family to the coast and back.

Engine: 3 456cc, 2GR-FKS V6 petrol

Power:  216kW @ 6 300rpm

Torque: 358Nm @ 4 600-4 700rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic, 4WD

0-100 km/h: 8.0 seconds

Top speed: 200km/h

Economy: 10.9 l/100km

CO2 emission: 234 g/km

Price: R949 300

Warranty: four years/100 000km

Maintenance plan: Lexus Distance Plan Plus

Read more on:    lexus  |  ferdi de vos  |  montagu  |  new model  |  roadtrip

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