Toyota South Africa introduced an updated Lexus RX range into the local market this week. We attended the national ride and drive event that took place on the Garden Route to learn more.
The Lexus RX is an extremely important model for the Japanese luxury brand. Since its introduction in 1998 three million units have been sold worldwide. In the local context the large SUV makes up 15 per cent of total brand sales. To keep the model fresh against rivals Lexus SA has introduced a raft of changes, as well as adding one new derivative to the range.
From a stylistic point of view the RX models have had a slight nip ’n tuck. These models already boast pretty radical lines, but the in-house designers have sharpened the appearance even further. A new version of Lexus spindle grille, with a mesh pattern of radiating three-dimensional “L” shapes is flanked by slimmer sharper headlight units, more rounded edges to the re-sculpted front bumper, an extended line from the lower part of the doors that connects with the bottom of the grille to the rear of the car are the key changes.
A reshaped rear bumper as well as new LED combination talllights, which have been changed to a new mirrored L-motif, are prime differentiators at the rear. Unless you are really well versed with the RX or see the older and revised models side-by-side, you won’t necessarily pick up the differences. 20-inch alloys, standard across the range, help give the RX a muscular look.
Under the skin
In general, Lexus models have great ride quality, the RX is no exception. But to keep at the front of the segment, Lexus engineers have made a few changes under the skin. These changes include increasing body rigidity and adjustments to the suspension.
Suspension changes include a larger diameter rear anti-roll bar and more rigid hubs that help reduce body roll. New dampers are now fitted with a friction control device which reduces high-frequency vibrations. Our first-hand experiences during the launch revealed a platform that is adept at ironing out road imperfections as well as allowing you to drive a tad quick-ish when the road and traffic allows.
More changes inside
For buyers, the most obvious changes have taken place in the cabin. A new 12,3-inch (up from 8) central display features touchscreen functionality. The screen has been moved further forward on the centre console placing it within arms’ reach of the front occupants.
Adding to the ease of use is increased levels of connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which can be voice-controlled. To entice users to adopt these systems Lexus SA is chucking in 15 Gb of free data to use via the RX’s standard on-board WiFi hotspot – cool.
A new addition
Bolstering the updated Lexus RX range is a new-for-SA sportier derivative badged RX 350 F Sport. The sportiest RX features model-specific styling in the shape of a different mesh grille insert, front and rear valance, polished black mirrors caps and 20-inch alloys in a dark finish. The differences continue inside. The F Sport features LFA-inspired instrumentation, aluminium accents, bolstered sport seats, black roof-lining, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, plus aluminium pedals among others.
Lexus offers just the one petrol engine in the local RX line-up. A naturally aspirated 3,5-litre V6 that is tuned differently for the variants. In the RX 350 and F-Sport versions it produces 221 kW/370 N.m. In the RX 350 EX L those figures are 216 kW and 358 N.m. In these moels the motor is coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission that is connected to all four wheels.
In the hybrid RX450h the V6 engine is mated with electric motors for a combined 230 kW, oddly Lexus doesn’t quote a peak torque value for this powertrain. It is mated with an electronically-controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Lexus does quote a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 7,7 seconds.
On the road
We spent the bulk of our time at the local launch event behind the wheel of the F-Sport derivative. It’s refreshing to drive a vehicle these days that has a naturally aspirated engine. As much as we like the way a turbocharged mill delivers a wallop of torque low down, there is just something about the instantaneous throttle response and progressive ramping up of power of a naturally aspirated mill. The best part is, when exploring the upper reaches of the rev-range the V6 motor sounds great.
The roads in the Garden Route have scenic surroundings, but aren’t always in the best condition, which posed no problems for the RX we piloted. Full wheel contact was maintained at all speeds and both occupants rode in complete comfort.
As a family vehicle, the updated Lexus RX range presents credible alternatives to the models from Germany. Distinct appearance and extremely high standard-specification set the RX range apart from most rivals, and make it an attractive choice for those who prefer to stand out rather than blend in.
Lexus RX EX R1 012 000
Lexus RX 350 EX L R1 087 000
Lexus RX 350 F Sport R1 132 200
Lexus RX 450 h SE R1 315 800
All prices include a seven-year/105 000 km warranty and full maintenance plan. The warranty on the hybrid battery is 8 years/195 000 km.