It’s hard to hear about a new car now without the manufacturer claiming that it pioneered an entire segment or technology.
With the RX, Lexus makes claims to two such titles – as the first luxury crossover and the first luxury hybrid car. Mercedes might argue with the former – the M Class appeared at the same time as the RX – but there’s no doubt that Lexus led the way when it came to electrification at the premium end of the market.
Since 2005, the RX has been offered with a petrol/electric hybrid setup and since 2017 it’s been the only powertrain option for the large SUV.
That drivetrain is one of the constants carried over as the fourth generation RX morphs into this new fifth generation.
Lexus says its two-motor self-charging hybrid setup allows it to give the power of a larger engine from a smaller block. The fact that Volvo’s T8 hybrid puts out almost 400bhp from its 2.0-litre petrol and single motor rather makes a mockery of that claim. Even still, the RX450h offers 308bhp which makes for pretty quick progress for such a big car and it’s a beautifully smooth unit that slips seamlessly between the electric-only, petrol-only and hybrid power delivery. The official WLTP economy figure is 35.3-35.7mpg, with CO2 emissions of 172g/km although where and how you drive will have a huge effect on how much of the time you spend in EV mode and the economy you’ll see.
Instead of making the RX faster or more powerful, Lexus has focused on trying to make it more dynamic to drive. In relative terms it’s a clear success. The steering has a weight and feeling that was completely missing from the last generation. The body control has also improved thanks to strengthening of the body and suspension, making for a better-driving, better-handling car. However, it’s still hardly a hoot to drive and lacks the poise and control of a BMW X5, with even the Volvo XC90 offering more in “dynamic” terms.
That’s unlikely to concern most RX buyers and where it really counts – in the comfort stakes – the RX is a winner. Whether you go for the luxury spec or sportier F Sport with adaptive dampers, the ride is supremely comfortable and able to cope with broken urban roads as well as smooth motorway.
Lexus RX450h F-Sport
Price: £55,205 (£57,755 as tested) Engine: 3.5-litre, V6 petrol with two electric motors Power: 308bhp Torque: n/a Transmission: E-CVT Top speed: 124mph 0-62mph: 7.7 seconds Economy: 35.3-35.7mpg CO2 emissions: 172g/km
The excellent ride is backed up by a whisper-quiet interior with big, supportive and comfortable seats. Competing near the top end of the SUV segment, the RX has acres of space for five and there’s more rear room thanks to redesigned front seats. If that’s not enough the updated RX L offers an extended body with seven seats and the rearmost now have two seating positions to give more leg or luggage room depending on your needs.
The rest of the interior has seen only subtle tweaks. There are new storage and wireless charging spaces in the centre console and the irritating mouse-style controlled has been replaced with the only slightly less irritating touchpad from the ES. The dials are also new as is the 12.3-inch media screen with is also now touch-controlled. Overall, it lacks the style of most of its rivals and doesn’t feel quite as premium but there’s no arguing with the build quality, space or comfort.
Exterior changes are even less significant. There are new lights and redesigned grille and bumpers but only a real anorak would spot the differences and the RX remains probably the most distinctive car in its class.
In good news for buyers, the price hasn’t changed either. Starting at £52,705 the RX is being pitched at buyers in both the D- and E-SUV segments, challenging the Volvo XC60 hybrid and Audi Q5 as well as the XC90 and Q7. Lexus keeps equipment simple and luxury features such as leather upholstery, heated and ventilated seats, multi-zone climate control, hands-free tailgate and internet connected services are standard across the range. So too are Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and the Lexus Safety System+ which has the usual suite of forward collision mitigation, lane assist and adaptive cruise control and adaptive high-beam assist.
For an extra £2,500, F-Sport trim adds sporty styling to the package as well as clever Bladescan adaptive light technology while the £61,000 Takumi gets a Mark Levinson stereo and panoramic sunroof among its luxury additions.
For all its claims of being a pioneer, the RX is not a car to get excited about. The opinion-splitting looks aside it’s a bit dull but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Lexus’ key appeals have always been equipment, comfort and refinement and for buyers who value these above glitzy interiors and dynamic handling the updates help it deliver.