As an upmarket SUV which challenges such established vehicles as Porsche’s Cayenne, the Range Rover Sport, Audi’s Q7 and Nissan’s QX70 range, in addition to the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the Lexus RX – whether as a “conventional” 3.5-litre V6 or as the pricier (R200,000 more) hybrid version – is, understandably, Lexus’ most successful model to date. Compared with some of its rivals, one is almost tempted to describe these offerings as good value for money.
When I encountered the Lexus RX Concept at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2013, I was struck by the extreme angularity of especially the frontal area. Sharp horizontal and vertical lines marked a distinct departure from the rounded feel good comfort of conventional styling. This car was brutal and aggressive in its styling, and designed to make a statement. Obviously, the final product, which we drove during launch, was a toned down version of the original (and controversial) design language.
So much for the looks. What about the real vehicle dynamics, road feel and other essentials such as acceleration and braking?
Technical specifications are impressive with both models using a quad-cam 3.5-litre V6 which develops 221 kW of power, with the Hybrid version making 230 kW (engine and electric motor combined).
The launch drive of some 150 kilometres from the Kruger International Airport to Ulusaba (Sir Richard Branson’s estate in the Sabi-Sabi) was a good mix of decent tar, dodgy tar (potholes at no extra cost), and some sandy, low-speed driving in the reserve itself.
Both models passed the dust intrusion, rattle detection and creaky body panel tests with flying colours, and the 50 mm increase in the wheelbase provided excellent stability thanks to its larger footprint on the road.
Apart from the visual image, the first impression of any car is the feel of the steering wheel, and seat comfort. In this department, the Lexus scored a comfortable ten, thanks to the almost fanatical attention to detail, and the exquisitely designed instrument panel that creates a driver-friendly environment. The multi-media screen, for instance, is perfectly placed for maximum ease of use, while other “firsts” include a wireless charger for Qi-enabled smart phones, as well as cup holders which can be increased in size for when you decide to supersize.
If you cannot find a supremely comfortable seating position, despite the ten-way adjustable, high-grade leather front seats with enhanced pelvic and thigh support, then you are probably lying in traction in some medical facility somewhere with no hope of recovery. Of course, the seats have heating and ventilation. In fact, the Lexus’ designers have even coined a new phrase for the feature, which integrates the ventilation with the seat heating and ventilation. They call it Climate Concierge.
In terms of performance, economy, comfort, and steering feedback, the new Lexus RX comfortably holds its own against all rivals. Assisted by long-time partner Yamaha and audio expert Mark Levinson, the Lexus RX wants for nothing. You want a high definition 12.3-inch display screen? Bluetooth? An interior with laser-cut ornamentation? It’s there and, significantly, at no extra charge. The Lexus RX, therefore, is a complete package – stylish, elegant, affordable, while also making a strong social statement regarding the owner’s concern for the environment (in the hybrid version).
There was one glitch during the launch drive, however. The ultra-sophisticated navigation system (pre-programmed by the event organisers) suddenly developed a mind of its own – sending the launch convoy through some weird and wonderful parts of Bushbuck Ridge. Fortunately, the day was saved by Google Maps.
Apart from style and performance, Lexus owners also invest in their vehicles for safety reasons, and the RX produces the goods with ABS with BA and EBD, Hill Assist Control, rear guide monitor, tyre pressure monitor, as well as clearance and parking sonar.
Now in its 10th year in our country, the RX is a top-selling vehicle in the United States where it consistently sells more than 100,000 units annually. Selling only 13 units in January – compared to 102 sales for the Range Rover Sport – Toyota SA have every reason to believe that, at last, they have the motorised artillery to win the sales war.
Report by BERNARD HELLBERG SR
Images © QUICKPIC