Lexus, desperate to be seen as the embodiment of edgy sophistication, expects to jolt the marketplace with its reinvented RX – both gasoline and hybrid versions.
For your illumination, we bring you the story of Toyota Motor CEO Akio Toyoda, a man mission-ized to shake up stodgy ol’ Toyota and its long-underperforming Lexus luxury brand. Toyoda, so we’re told, would not let the RX development team deliver a just-good-enough RX to the market. And with good reason: the RX represents 40 per cent of Lexus sales. An RX bust, busts Lexus.
Thus, when Toyoda took a long look at their final design proposal for the 2016 RX, he was dismissive. Looks mushy, he said. Try harder. That was the wakeup call the team needed, says chief engineer Takayuki Katsuda.
This brings us to the radical 2016 RX, a midsize SUV with more cuts and lines than a chef in Hell’s Kitchen. If you don’t think Lexus has gone all Gordon Ramsay here, look at the bland blob that is the newest version of Audi’s also very successful Q7. Ugh. No one’s pushing barriers at Audi, apparently.
The new RX is the automotive equivalent of a Jackson Pollack – swirls and shapes and creases topped off by the snowplow “spindle” grille carried into the rear shapes. The sexiest version has the optional L-shaped LED headlight array set off by another 18 individual LEDs that surround the main lights and also act as turn signals.
Inside, the seats are well padded, the mouse-like controller on the centre console is idiot-proof, and a giant colour screen stacked on the dashboard may not be pretty but is a visual and functional treat. The instrument cluster is a work of excellence. Unfortunately, that console between the front buckets is big as a beer fridge, compromising an otherwise roomy cabin.
The base engine in the RX and RX F Sport is a revised 3.5-litre, direct-injection V-6 with variable valve timing (292 horsepower/265 lb-ft or torque) with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It’s more than strong enough and very smooth. The RX 400h hybrid gets a completely reengineered 3.5-litre, direct-injection V-6 and the Lexus hybrid system (308 hp/247 lb-ft torque). All RX wagons come with all-wheel drive.
The most entertaining RX is the F Sport, but the base model is just fine. The hybrid feels heavy and ponderous and slow to respond.
Whichever version you get, the design is staggering, the quality history is unsurpassed, the safety scores and resale values are terrific.
Lexus wanted a bold look that tells the world, “we’re not German and we’re not Infiniti.” Message delivered.
THE LOOK: The design as a whole is a visual slap to the face – right down to that cow-catching spindle grille. This RX looks like it was carved with a SwingBlaze skinning knife. The proportions are so good, from a distance the RX looks quite tidy and compact, yet this is quite a big rig; you’ll notice this up close.
THE DRIVE: The power is good in both versions, gasoline and hybrid, though the hybrid has a throttle delay that’s irritating. The gas version has a mechanical all-wheel-drive system, while the hybrid is all electric motors. The ride is shockingly quiet no matter how fast you’re going. The hybrid feels ponderous even in a straight line. When the roads get curvy, the gas version feels secure but not sporty.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS: The hybrid really is a technological tour de force. Reliable and efficient, this is the “green” ride for the luxury buyer who does not want to take a chance on the new German enthusiasm for hybrids and plug-ins. The Active Stabilizer Suspension system helps control body roll, and Drive Mode Select lets you choose between ECO, Normal, Sport and Sport S, adjusting throttle mapping and other drivetrain responses, the climate system and so forth, depending on your particular disposition.
THE CABIN/STORAGE: Those in back get more legroom than passengers in the rears of a Lexus LS sedan. Up front, the seats are wonderfully well-padded and the all the gizmo interfaces are user-friendly. Why Lexus chose to install a massive, space-taking centre console is a mystery. The optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system delivers the sort of clear and crisp audio that will make you week for joy. As for cargo, there’s space there for luggage or golf clubs, even in the hybrid.
THE BRAND: One of the strongest in the world. The Lexus brand stands for quality and superb customer service.
WHY BUYS? Primarily baby boomers looking for an SUV that says they want high quality and a different look from a brand that needs no explaining.
Price range: $54,350-$68,950.
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6 (295 hp/268 lb-ft of torque) for the gasoline model; the hybrid mates a 3.5-litre V-6 with three electric motors and a battery pack (308 hp/247 lb-ft combined).
Transmission: eight-speed automatic for the gasoline version, CVT for the hybrid.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km) for AWD versions: 12.2 city/8.9 highway for the gasoline version, 7.7 city/8.2 hwy for the hybrid.
Comparables: Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Lincoln MKX, Volkswagen Touareg, Infiniti QX70, Volvo XC90, Land Rover LR4.