Lexus RX review
The new Lexus RX is bigger, more powerful and more efficient than ever, and it looks the part too
The Lexus RX was the original hybrid SUV. Forgoing the accepted diesel powerplants means that the luxury arm of Japanese manufacturer Toyota can offer buyers something a little different, with a cleaner battery-boosted petrol engine under the hood.
Now in its fourth generation, the RX has forged a reputation amongst its fans for comfort, ease of ownership and unending reliability. Elsewhere in the world, Lexus sells larger GX and LX SUVs, but in the UK there's little demand, so the RX is as large as it gets.
The biggest change over the previous model is the radical origami styling, which really makes the RX stand out next to rivals like the BMW X5 and Audi Q7. The interior is excellent too, with high-quality materials and loads of equipment. The RX prioritises comfort over driving dynamics, though, so if you're looking for a large, refined, easy to drive SUV, you can't go far wrong with a Lexus.
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The RX is also efficient on paper, with low CO2 ratings (for the hybrid) making it a stand-out company car choice. The electric motor in the RX 450h model means it's good in commuter traffic but it’s unlikely that real-world fuel economy will come close to the combined cycle figure.
Also on the downside, it won't beat sportier rivals when it comes to handling and the RX's lack of character on the road will put enthusiasts off.
The Lexus RX is a large SUV that rivals the BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes GLE and Audi Q7. The RX has been a big seller for Lexus, and this new model (launched in 2015) means it's up to date with the rest of the Lexus range. The the most obvious visual changes are the huge new grille at the front and sharp 'origami' styling.
The new RX is 120mm longer, as well as 10mm wider and 5mm lower than the previous car, which increased legroom and means boot space is up slightly to 453 litres - though that's still 197 litres less than a BMW X5.
From launch there are only two engines available, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol in the RX 200t and a 3.5-litre V6, which is mated to an electric motor in the RX 450h hybrid. Like the rest of the Lexus range, no diesels are available in the RX – with the brand focusing heavily on reducing emissions and increasing economy with battery-boosted hybrid technology.
Go for the 2.0-litre petrol and you'll get a six-speed automatic gearbox, while in the 3.5-litre 450h there's a CVT automatic to work with the electric motor.
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While the 200t is front-wheel drive in base S trim, four-wheel drive is available on higher-spec models and all 450h hybrids get it as standard. Specifications available for the 200t version are S, Luxury and F Sport, while the more expensive 450h can be bought in SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier trims.
Standard equipment on all models includes climate control, heated front seats, an eight-inch display screen, DAB radio and a reversing camera. If you choose the more powerful hybrid model you'll also get auto-dimming mirrors and ventilated leather seats with a memory function.
Extra equipment as you move up the range includes reclining and heated rear seats, a full-length panoramic sunroof, adaptive suspension and a comprehensive safety package that adds lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights.
The new RX is more efficient, more powerful and has much more tech than the previous generation model, and thanks to aerodynamic and material upgrades it's quieter than before too.
Engines, performance and drive
The Lexus RX has been given a sporty new look, but don't expect it to match a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5 when it comes to handling or performance. Lexus has updated the suspension and steering to make the RX better to drive, but there's no getting away from the big SUV's body roll in corners and lifeless steering.
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The 450h model has 308bhp and goes from 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds, but thanks to the poor throttle response and CVT gearbox, it never quite feels that fast.
Unfortunately, the RX 200t is no better off, feeling truly sluggish off the mark. A 0-62mph time for the front-wheel drive model of 9.2 seconds (9.5 for the 4x4) is well off the pace compared to rivals fitted with torquey diesel engines. It's pretty disappointing in-gear, too, whereby picking up pace on the motorway requires more planning than you'd hope.
The gearbox you get depends on the engine you choose – go for the cheaper 200t and you'll get a six-speed automatic, while the hybrid 450h uses a CVT (continuously variable transmission) setup. This gearbox doesn't have gears as such, but is constantly changing ratios to keep the engine moving optimally.
The new RX has a stronger body structure and chassis than the previous model, and some models are available with adaptive suspension, here called Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS). This changes the damping rates - it can switch to a soft setup to maintain a smooth ride, and firm up to improve the car's handling when cornering.
All cars get a drive select system, which lets you set up the suspension, throttle response, power output and fuel economy via one of three modes: Normal, Eco and Sport. The F Sport and Premier trim levels also get Sport S and Sport S+ modes. These modes stiffen the suspension, improve engine responsiveness and add weight to the steering - but you'd have to really be paying attention to notice these small changes. The engine does get louder in Sport modes, though. There's also an EV mode on the hybrid 450h, which lets you run on the electric motor only until the charge is depleted.
There are two engines available in the UK for the Lexus RX: a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and a 3.5-litre V6 (mated to an electric motor). There aren't any diesels available in the range, but the smaller petrol model does undercut its main rival, the BMW X5, by a significant amount.
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The big V6 hybrid is powerful enough, and overtaking is possible, but you do need to plan ahead slightly more than normal while you wait for the power to be delivered. At low speed the hybrid system works well, however, as it uses the electric motor for silent progress in traffic.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The entry-level Lexus RX 200t features a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine which is on the small side for the luxury SUV class. The RX is a large, heavy vehicle so fuel economy suffers somewhat. For the front-wheel drive models this engine manages 36.2mpg, but go for a four-wheel drive model, or spec 20-inch wheels over the standard 18-inch ones, and that drops to 34.9mpg. In reality, however, the tiny engine and bulky body translates to a combined figure closer to 20mpg than 30mpg.
CO2 emissions of 181g/km and a benefit-in-kind company car tax rate of 31 per cent mean the 200t model, despite being cheaper to buy than the 450h, is actually more expensive to tax. On 20-inch wheels the emissions rise to 189g/km, too, and if you move above the base S trim then BIK tax goes up to 35 per cent.
The Lexus RX 450h is rather more expensive to buy, but also more economical, more powerful, better equipped as standard and has a lower company car tax rate. With the smaller wheels it manages an impressive 54.3mpg on the combined cycle, which is 9.5mpg up on the previous RX. Go for the larger wheels and the figure drops to 51.4mpg. Again, unless you've got a very light right foot, you may struggle to match these numbers in every day driving.
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Emissions of 120g/km (127g/km with 20-inch wheels) mean the 450h is cheap to tax, but more impressive is the 19% (or 20% for higher trims) company car tax rate. There's plenty of standard kit too, so you won't feel like you're missing out on optional extras.
The previous Lexus RX had good residual values, which bodes well for this new model. The purchase price is very high for the hybrid 450h models, but the 200t does undercut some of its key rivals on price. The low economy figures will likely put a dent in the used values of this model, though.
Interior, design and technology
The current Lexus RX is noticeably larger than the previous model, being 120mm longer, 10mm wider and 5mm lower than before. That means it has a lot more presence on the road. Of course, you could also attribute that to the more distinctive looks.
With the same bold grille design as the new IS, NX and RC coupe, large L-shaped LED headlights, arrowhead fog lights and a creased bonnet, the RX looks imposing at the front. In profile the 'origami' styling, with plenty of slashes and chunky shapes, sets the RX apart from some of its rivals. At the back there are blacked-out C-pillars for a floating roof effect and LED taillights that wrap around a long way into the side of the car.
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There are four new styles of alloy wheel to choose from, in 18- or 20-inch sizes, plus a range of aerodynamic upgrades compared to the old model. The interior has been completely revamped too, with loads of standard equipment and some lavish extras as you move up the trim levels (S, SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier).
The larger exterior dimensions mean there's more headroom for those in the front and more legroom for rear-seat passengers, too.
The interior feels well built and there are lots of high quality materials around the dashboard. Whether you'll like the analogue clock and wood finish is a matter of taste, but the seats are comfortable and all the instruments are high quality.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Depending on the model you choose, you'll find a 12.3-inch screen (it's eight-inches on lower-spec models) that displays the car's infotainment system menus, music and sat-nav route. The system itself takes some getting used to, and the sat-nav instructions could be clearer, but the large screen looks slick.
There's also a large head-up display in front of the driver, which Lexus claims is the world's largest. This can display speed, directions, cruise control status, speed limits and even pre-crash safety warnings.
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On certain trim levels there's also a wireless phone charger in the centre console - this lets those with a compatible mobile keep it topped up without having to plug in a cable. If you do want to connect up to the infotainment system then there are USB and aux ports there too - and of course you can sync up with Bluetooth.
There are three sound systems available, two Pioneer systems (one nine-speaker, the other 12) and one Mark Levinson 15-speaker system.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The latest Lexus RX is the largest yet, which is good news for the car's practicality - but makes it a little more difficult to drive in the city. Both gearboxes available are automatic, which will help in heavy commuter traffic, but there's no getting away from the fact that this is a large SUV.
There are five seats in the RX, and the rear seats fold down in a 60:40 split using levers to the side of each seat.
A new centre console in the RX adds some extra storage to the cabin, including a smart new type of cupholder that adjusts to the size of the cup you place inside it.
There are a few different types of leather seat available, with higher-spec models getting perforated material to allow for ventilation on a hot day. Heated seats are available too, with a memory function to allow multiple drivers to get comfortable more quickly.
With the more powerful 450h model, towing capacity is 2,000kg for braked trailers or 750kg for unbraked trailers.
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At 4,890mm long, 1,895mm wide (without mirrors) and 1,690mm tall the Lexus RX is a rather large car, and it feels it on city streets. You do sit high up, and the RX is a tall car in the first place - so you get a good view down on everything else around you. The large A-pillars can cause a problem when pulling out at junctions, but you'll find the same problem on any other car like this.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The rear seats in the Lexus RX have been worked over by the brand to mimic those of a limousine - there's more legroom than before, and the seat backs recline more too. Since there's no bulky transmission tunnel in the floor, the middle seat is useable for more than just short trips.
For taller passengers the high floor could cause some discomfort in the back, but the seats themselves are comfortable are reclined using a button on the side of the cushion. The back seats aren't as spacious as the ones in the Range Rover Sport, however.
The Lexus RX is designed to accommodate batteries for the 450h's hybrid system, which means it loses out on boot space compared to rivals wether you get the hybrid powertrain or not. Space inside with the rear seats up is 453 litres and with the seats down the available space increases to 924 litres. This will be enough for most buyers but the seats don't fold down completely flat. Despite the 200t not getting a hybrid powertrain, it retains the 450h's compromised body.
The rear seats split 60:40 electronically using a button in the boot or in the cabin. It's a useful effort-saving tool but not a time-saving one as they take an age to drop down. There's no loading lip, so sliding objects in is easy enough, but the opening is high up, which could cause a problem with heavy items.
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The RX also features a powered tailgate on certain models - you just put your hand (or elbow) up to the Lexus logo and if you've got your key on you the hatch will open up. Press the button on the inside to close it again.
Reliability and Safety
The third-generation Lexus RX came in 6th overall in the 2016 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, with an 1st place finish in the reliability category. It's a strong sign for the RX when it comes to reliability - especially with the older second-generation model still managing an impressive 10th place overall in the same survey.
Lexus was second in our manufacturer survey, and readers told us the brand's dealers are the best, too - so we expect the new RX to be a very good car to own.
The RX is packed with safety equipment, with adaptive cruise control, 10 airbags, lane keep assist, automatic high beams, sign recognition, a tiredness alert and a 360-degree parking camera system.
It also features a pre-crash safety system - this uses a front-mounted camera and a radar to detect pedestrians and other vehicles. If the computer calculates that a collision is about to happen then extra braking force is applied when you press the brakes. It can also automatically brake if the driver is too slow.