The Lexus RX thinks it’s a bit of a maverick.
When the first-generation Lexus RX hit the markets in 1998, it claimed to be the very first luxury SUV ever. Clearly the Japanese hadn’t heard of the Range Rover, or indeed the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class. Regardless, in 2004, it did get the title of being the very first hybrid luxury SUV, a title it held on to for some time before the competition caught up. And while it may have charted the course in that regard, the RX has been considered to be on the back foot for some time.
Now in its fourth generation, the Lexus RX is sharper than ever. Both literally and figuratively, with styling that can cut paper and a range of powertrains that is finally on par with the competition. Available now as a turbo-four, an atmo V6, and a hybrid V6, the Lexus RX range caters to everyone (except diesel fans) and promises to put up a good fight against rivals like the Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X5, and Volvo XC90.
Two decades on, how does the Lexus RX fare?
“The biggest change over the previous model is the radical origami styling, which really makes the RX stand out next to rivals.” - AutoExpress
SUVs are predominantly considered as status symbols, and standing out is important when everyone on the school run has one. We can almost guarantee that you won’t lose an RX in the school carpark though, as its design looks more origami than automotive. The various creases and folds work their way into a truly stunning design, though it depends on which school of thought you belong to if you try and categorise the RX. If you think large SUVs are supposed to be stately and handsome (and you adore the Volvo XC90 or Range Rover), then this probably isn’t for you. But if you think SUVs can be cool and exciting (like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5), then this is probably right up your alley.
But where even the ‘exciting’ Germans retain a degree of upright highbrow-ness about their aesthetics, the Lexus takes a distinctly Japanese route. The RX’s design and proportions result in something that looks positively sci-fi, and it’s gorgeous. LED lighting all around ensure that the RX continues to cut a sharp figure when the sun goes down, while the complex surfacing of the big Lexus looks best in metallic hues.
Engine & Drivetrain
“Performance is good, but the RX would rather you take it easy.” - AutoExpress
Three engines are offered with the RX, with forced induction, natural aspiration, and hybrid electrification all featured here, with all mills running solely on petrol.
The range kicks off with the RX200t, which sees a turbocharged four-cylinder plant under the bonnet. Good for 175kW and 350Nm over a broad range, the littlest engine in the RX family is rather lively. It comes with stop-start functionality and a six-speed automatic gearbox, sending power exclusively to the front wheels.
The mid-range model is the RX350, with motivation coming from a 3.5-litre V6 petrol mill. Good for 218kW and 360Nm, this engine delivers its power high up in the rev range, but it rewards drivers with a smooth engine note and creamy power delivery should you put your foot down. All that power gets pit down to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, that’s geared towards comfort and refinement but is quick to act when you demand a little shove.
At the top of the tree sits the RX450h. Utilising a petrol V6 (193kW/335Nm) and a pair of electric motors (one on each axle, the front is good for 123kW and the rear for 50kW), total power output is rated at 230kW. While this is the most powerful powertrain available, the century sprint is dispatched in a rather sedate 8.2-seconds, thanks to the extra weight of the hybrid system and the continuously-variable (CVT) automatic transmission, which at least does a good job of keeping the constant, droning revs out of the cabin.
“Switches, stalks and other controls feel slick and it’s unlikely you’ll interact with any hard plastic unless you go actively looking for it.” - Autocar
While the exterior divides opinion, the cabin of the Lexus RX is a definite unifier. It’s impeccably built and beautifully designed, with textures and materials working brilliantly together to create an ambiance of unmistakable luxury. Where some manufacturers pare back their interiors (like Volvo does) and others festoon them with buttons (we’re looking at you, BMW), Lexus sits somewhere in the middle. The infotainment system is a bit of a hit and miss, though: The smaller 8.0-inch screen on the RX200t and RX350 is controlled via a rotary knob that isn’t all too bad, while the brilliant 12.3-inch widescreen, uh, screen gets controlled via the marque’s proprietary touch-mouse thing that’s an absolute pain in the rear.
The rest of the cabin is bereft of issue though, with incredibly comfortable seats that can accommodate even the lankiest, heftiest passengers, with some models receiving wood trim that is unlike anything else you can find among its contemporaries. There’s plenty of space in the rear too, as befits a full-size SUV, with the boot able to hold almost all you could demand of it. The RX450h does reduce cargo capacity to a degree though, with some of that space eaten up by the electric motor on the rear axle and the batteries under the boot floor.
Behind the Wheel
“The RX drives true to form for Lexus.” - Drive
Even in F-Sport trim, don’t think for a second that the RX is in any way a drivers’ car. The Lexus brand sells most in the North American market, where manufacturers that offer comfortable, pliant rides are rewarded with strong sales. As such, the RX is unbelievably comfortable, with very little able to unsettle or ruffle passengers inside. Wind and road noise is very well suppressed, with only the muted notes of the engine intruding the cabin under heavy acceleration.
In an attempt to make the experience more exciting, V6 and hybrid models are fitted with a ‘sound generator’ that ‘amplifies’ the engine note inside the cabin. Aside from somewhat getting in the way of the cabins’ serenity, it also seems a tad more artificial than some other similar systems that we’ve encountered in the past. Treat it like the luxury car that it is and you’ll enjoy comfortable, unruffled progress over any surface you drive over.
Safety & Technology
“EuroNCAP awarded the Lexus RX a five-star rating and every version comes with plenty of safety equipment.” - WhatCar?
Being a Japanese car, the Lexus RX is chocked full of kit. Standard across the range is Lexus Safety System+ which offers various different systems under its umbrella, including pre-collision warning and autonomous braking, lane-keep assist, intelligent cruise control and automatic high beams, as well as a reverse camera. Further safety kit can be optioned on like a multi-view camera (F-Sport and Sport Luxury models get this as standard), rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot monitoring. While some competitors offer these systems as standard, the Lexus does come in at a lower entry price.
10-airbags make up the passive safety kit, with full-length curtain airbags protecting first- and second-row passengers in the event of a side-on collision. As for the fun stuff, you’ll find an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with a rotary control knob in all but the top-spec cars, which get an amazing 12.3-inch widescreen display, which (rather infuriatingly) is navigated via Lexus’ proprietary touch-pad-mouse-controller thingy which isn’t anywhere near the class best when it comes to usability.
It’s easy for carmakers to get a little carried away with the cars they make, losing track of the focus of each of their models. The Lexus RX came onto the scene initially to offer a crossover between a luxury saloon and a high-riding off-roader, and that focus is still very much the case today. The latest-generation RX balances utility, agility, and luxury beautifully, without ever really overreaching in any one area.
We don’t recommend the F-Sport trim because it’s a bit of a fallacy, and the RX450h definitely doesn’t get our recommendation either. The price you pay for the powertrain and the penalty you get in terms of weight and balance isn’t worth the extra cost of the car itself, especially since the lighter RX200t has all the poke and efficiency that you’d expect at this end of the market. Its pairing of a large V6 engine with an electric-hybrid system flies right in the face of cars like the Volvo XC90 and BMW X5, which offer similar options with downsized forced-induction engines that feel far punchier and are much lighter. That said, if you’re talking about outright refinement, the Lexus RX is without parallel in its class.
Our recommendation lies with the most affordable RX in the range, the RX200t, which pairs the most versatile engine in the range with a comprehensive kit list, with the pricier RX350 a consideration only if you need the all-paw traction or if you do lots of motorway miles. If you’re looking for an exhilarating drive we’d suggest you look elsewhere, while the Volvo XC90 is the only other car in this class that gives the RX a run for its money for smooth progress.
Definitely worth a look, the Lexus RX. Maybe even two.
WhatCar? – 3.0/5.0 – “The Lexus RX is comfortable, well-equipped, and easy to drive. If you’re looking for a trouble-free ownership experience, you’re unlikely to go wrong with an RX.”
Autocar – 3.0/5.0 – “There are many reasons to like the Lexus RX. It’s comfortable, has a high-quality interior and looks distinctive from the outside too.”
Daily News, New York – 7.5/10 – “Looks aren’t everything, but they are vital. And reach choices are made in showrooms based on aesthetics. That old faithful RX300 in my family sticks in my brain as the example of reliability and resolve that Lexus has proven over the years. If past is prologue, the new RX will run well and run long.”
AutoExpress – 4.0/5.0 – “The new Lexus RX is bigger, more powerful, and more efficient than ever. And it looks the part, too.
Kelly Blue Book – 9.3/10 – “If you’re seeking a 5-passenger luxury SUV that delivered a smooth ride, comfortable cockpit, and loads of luxury and safety features, then the Lexus RX hits the mark. Money-savvy consumers will appreciate the RX’s excellent resale values, and low maintenance costs.”
Telegraph UK – 6.0/10 – “Provided you’re not expecting any kind of sporty handling, the Lexus RX is a pleasant car to drive, but it lacks space, not to mention an extra two seats, against its similarly-priced rivals. Real-world fuel economy is also disappointing.”
CarAdvice – 7.0/10 – “The Lexus RX doesn’t push the boundaries to the extent that its predecessors once did, and many of its new-generation rivals now do. It’s a car that sticks to a familiar formula when the market is seemingly pushing innovation in more than just the metalwork.”
Drive – 4.0/5.0 – “Though it faces fierce competition, the new RX is quintessentially Lexus and a solid pick for luxury motorists.”