- Refreshingly different exterior styling
- Beautifully finished and comfortable interior
- Turbo four-cylinder is peppy and pretty efficient
- Bigger, better screen is optional
- Very artificial steering feel
- Could use an optional third row
Launched with great fanfare at the 2015 New York Auto Show, the new Lexus RX has now arrived on Australian roads. The RX a premium SUV that packs some thoughtful differences to the competition. The value proposition isn't bad either, with well-equipped Luxury base models heading out the door from $73,000.
We drove the base car, or, to give it its full name, the 2016 Lexus RX 200t Luxury. The sole option ticked was the lustrous indigo blue paintwork for $1,500 paintwork. What we found was a well-priced, comfortable crossover. The turbocharged two-litre that Lexus developed with the RX in mind is a great little engine, negating the need to splash another $7,000 on the V6 or $15,000 on the hybrid.
The RX's angular appearance outside won't be to everybody's tastes, but it is refreshingly different to the rest of the pack. Compared to the conservative German options, the Lexus RX really stands out, though the darker colours are the most tasteful. In terms of size, the RX is medium—it slots between the Mercedes GLC / BMW X3 and the GLE / X5. That's a compromise that will work well for many families: the RX is a very usable size for five people.
The turbocharged engine that Lexus had in development for some time transforms the character of the RX. Previously only a six-cylinder car, the turbo four is a much better base engine providing some athleticism balanced against good fuel economy.
The turbo's 350Nm of torque is spread over a really broad part of the rev range, which means it's relaxed around town but also happy to be stretched on the motorway or a country road. We took our RX 200t to the Hunter Valley, where the 175kW two-litre made overtaking quick and safe. The soft engine note isn't V6-like (most buyers won't care) and our car had just a touch more vibration at idle than we'd like, but overall—great step up from the old RX 270 base engine.
Handling is where the RX falls behind dynamically, contrasted to the BMWs or even the more sedate Mercedes crossovers. The RX 200t's steering feels very artificial. It's nice and light around town, which makes parking easy, but at faster speeds it never weights up to a point that inspires real confidence to push harder. The brakes, though, are powerful and pedal feel is generally good.
The RX offers a particularly supple ride quality. It is a luxurious cruiser, soaking up bumps and imperfections with no fuss; it's also quiet inside, with little wind whistle or road noise. Keep in mind the engine isn't large, though, and when revved it can get just a touch thrashy.
While the RX's exterior is all sharp lines and hard angles, the cabin picks up a different thread. Inside, the Lexus is soft and organic, with lovely, soft materials and great finishing. In this class and at the mid-seventies price point, you won't find a nicer interior.
Lexus continues to nail a good driving position across its new models, and the RX is no exception. Leather is standard and the supportive driver's seat goes nice and low, affording a good view out. There is adequate back bolstering for long drives, though we wish the side bolstering was broader to keep you in place during cornering. Sadly, the RX 200t is not available in F Sport guise (which packs even better seats), though it is under consideration.
The infotainment system remains fiddlier than it needs to be: the German systems with their rotary dials are better. Plus, it feels slightly cheap that the 'Luxury' base model misses out on the larger widescreen—the widescreen cutout remains, but you get a smaller 8-inch display. The navigation is just average to use, because you must be stopped to input addresses. Thankfully, the audio system is extremely clear even in base spec—no need to upgrade to the Mark Levinson-branded stereo.
Rear seat passengers enjoy premium accomodation as well. There's no third-row option, but if there was it would be tight. Instead, five people travel well in the RX: the seats in the second row are supportive for long journeys and there are separate air vents to keep car-sickness at bay.
In terms of space in the cabin, the RX excels. For five people, that is – keep in mind that, like many rivals, the RX does not offer a third-row seating option.
Keep your load to five and the RX is a supple, comfortable family cruiser that will be a favourite on road trips. Even taller kids or adults will fit three abreast in the back—and once they're back there, there are plenty of cubbies to stash drinks or other things to keep them entertained on the road.
Equally, there's a good amount of room up front to stash clutter, including two large cupholders and a general central box between the seats.
Our RX 200t also gave the illusion of being larger because of its light-coloured trim around the cabin. Black leather and roof lining will make it feel more closed in, though the optional sunroof lets more light through to the occupants.
The RX has a smaller boot than some of its competitors. In terms of overall size, the Lexus sits between the Mercedes' smaller GLC and larger GLE SUVs, but in fact the RX's boot is smaller than the GLCs—453 litres to 550 litres respectively. You can drop the seats flat—well, almost flat, there is a bump between them—to expand the space for awkward objects like furniture.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Opting for the RX 200t model will earn you smaller fuel bills than opting for the $7,000-dearer RX 350 with its V6. The turbo is reasonable on fuel, even in this heavy SUV—over our week with the car our figure hovered under 10L/100km, which is a good result.
A capped price servicing programme is not offered by Lexus. Because of this, it's not easy to predict what your servicing costs will be over the life of the vehicle. It's a good thing then that Lexus carries a strong reputation for servicing quality and customer experience—notably, your Lexus dealer will collect the vehicle from your home and leave you a loaner car for the day.
The build quality of the RX is right at the top of the class. The vehicle is heavy and solid, and drives like it—and similarly, the materials you use and interact with all feel hewn from top-end elements and fabrics. Gaps are tight and the chassis is free of rattles or creaks. Even the base model gets lovely materials inside.
The Euro NCAP crash testing programme evaluated the Lexus RX on behalf of the Australian testers, ANCAP. The RX earned a five star rating for crashworthiness, which you should insist on. In terms of scores, the Lexus earned 83% for adult protection and 82% for child protection.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Three engines and three trim levels make up the 2016 Lexus RX range, though not all can be paired together.
The best value lies in the base car that we tested: the RX 200t Luxury. The base Luxury trim is the only spec you can have with the turbo motor, but it can be optioned up with some more niceties: $4,500 buys you a sunroof and a head-up display, for example.
The range then moves onto a number of more expensive configurations: the V6 RX 350 is a $7,000 upgrade and the V6-electric hybrid RX 450h is $15,000 more than the turbo. Those cars do get more kit standard. To get the best exterior styling, you will want an F Sport model, the cheapest of which is an RX 350 at $92,000.
If it's electric power generation that you are after—and the Lexus is unique in this class for offering a hybrid powertrain—the RX 450h is available as a Luxury ($88,000), F Sport ($100,000) or Sports Luxury ($106,000).
Broadly, the Lexus RX is pitched between the sizings of the German SUVs, which matches its sizing. The $73,000 base car, for example, sits between the $67,900 Mercedes-Benz GLC 250 petrol and the $86,900 Mercedes-Benz GLE 250 diesel.
Mercedes-Benz GLE250d 4MATIC ($86,900): the Lexus is the smaller of the two when contrasted against the Mercedes GLE, and it's also the newer car. Mercedes refreshed their medium-sized SUV at the end of last year, but the platform is getting on in years. The base cars also aren't specced as generously as the Lexus is, though the three-pointed star brings a cache of its own. Importantly for some, the base Mercedes packs 4MATIC all-wheel-drive whereas the Lexus is two-wheel-drive.
BMW X5 sDrive25d ($86,200): like the base Lexus, the base BMW X5 is two-wheel-drive; though it's the rear wheels driving the Teuton, not the front. The price-leading X5 model is pretty bare bones inside and out, with smallish wheels that make it look quite a bit more pedestrian than the futuristic Lexus. At this level, it's a way into the BMW brand and not much more—you'll be ticking options to get it the way you want, which will drive the price towards $100k.
Volkswagen Touraeg 150TDI Element 4MOTION ($69,990): the often-overlooked Volkswagen Touraeg is worth cross-shopping with the Lexus. A spacious, comfortable interior for five matches one of the Japanese car's virtues, and good build quality is a selling point, too. The diesels that are still on sale in Australia are in the clear from the recent emissions issue at VW, but you should expect to be able to negotiate a strong deal on one of these cars in its wake.
|Power||175kW @ 5600rpm|
|Torque||350Nm @ 1650-4000rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||90kW/tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||8.1L/100km|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Front wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Cargo space (seats up)||453L|
|Cargo space (seats down)||924L|