6

Those looking for a luxury SUV are well catered for with the latest generations of the Audi Q7 and the Volvo XC90 both bringing fresh offerings to the market and competing with the Range Rover Sport for dominance in that sector. The new Q7 and XC90 also made available for the first time models an hybrid powertrain, a path well trodden by Lexus.

As not to get left behind, Lexus has refreshed its RX and here we have the fourth generation SUV, available with two engine options - the 3.5-litre V6 petrol hybrid (also known as the RX450h), new to the line-up a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine (the RX200t).

There are also five trims to choose from with the entry-level S trim only available with the RX200t, while the SE and Premier specs can only be had with the RX450h.

The RX200t S trim is certainly well-equipped and includes adaptive cruise control, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, sat nav, reversing camera, DAB and Bluetooth connectivity all as standard. Opt for the hybrid RX450h SE model, and you will get a leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control and an electrically adjustable steering wheel added to the package.

Luxury trimmed RX models gets Lexus’s premium navigation system, a wireless smart phone charger and 20in alloys, while the F-Sport spec includes a number of sporty touches, such as lightened alloy wheels, sports-tuned suspension, a bodykit and sports seats.

The range-topping Premier models get adaptive suspension, blindspot monitor and emergency braking, 360-degree camera and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson speaker system.

Of the two powertrains on offer many will be tempted by the low CO2 figures of the RX450h, and the savings they bring to those burdened with benefit in kind taxation. However, with the hybrid model costing in excess of £48,000 there is a cheaper way of getting behind the wheel of Lexus's upmarket SUV. 

Step forward the RX200t. Gone is the 3.5-litre V6 as fitted to the RX450h, here replaced by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot as seen in the smaller NX200t, IS200t saloon and RC200t coupé.

If you can do without four-wheel drive, you’ll save yourself £7000 over an entry-level RX450h. Considering that it already undercuts rivals and offers generous levels of standard kit, it seems like good value for this kind of vehicle.

No matter how many wheels get driven, the 200t makes 235bhp and 258Ib ft. They may not sound like bad figures, but then the RX weighs nearly two tonnes. That means the all-wheel-drive model we’re testing takes a yawning 9.5sec to reach 62mph.

If you’re travelling at a sedate pace, the RX200t has plenty going for it. At low engine speeds, the petrol engine remains smooth and refined, and there are none of the nasty vibrations some diesel-powered rivals suffer from coming through the wheel or pedals.

However, if you've bought a car that looks like this, it’s unlikely you're planning on driving everywhere at a sedate pace. Heavy application of the right pedal will see the gearbox drop two or three cogs, even in Eco mode, to get it moving with a reasonable turn of speed.

At this point, the engine will start to make its presence known. It wouldn’t be the worst soundtrack for a hot hatchback, but the sound of a petrol four-pot seems a little out of place in a luxury SUV.

Performance is adequate but there’s none of the effortlessness that you get from an Audi Q7 or Range Rover Sport, although you wouldn't really expect there to be given the engine's 2.0-litre capacity.

Flicking through the drive modes to Sport or Sport + does make it feel a little sprightlier, but that’s mainly down to it holding on to gears for longer.

Those that want more involvement might be tempted to take control of the gearbox using the wheel-mounted paddles. These turned out to be a source of frustration, the ’box unwilling to change up or down unless it deemed a shift appropriate, and then changing gear for you as you approach the redline. Shifts were at least smooth and fairly swift.

Even with the F Sport’s 20in wheels, the ride is comfortable in all drive modes. You do feel bigger bumps and expansion joints but at no point do they upset the car’s balance. The downside is more body roll than you’d get in some competitors, even in Sport + mode.

If you were hoping the significant reduction in kerb weight compared to the RX450h has made it a more involving steer, you’ll be disappointed. The steering may be well weighted and precise but it never really tells you what the front wheels are doing.

At least you’ll have a fair idea after a couple of roundabouts. If you push the RX hard, the front wheels will always run wide well before the rear end loses grip. A lift of the throttle brings everything back in line but even a sharp lift mid-corner won’t unsettle it. It’s safe but completely uninspiring.

It’s also thirsty, really thirsty. On a mixed test route we couldn’t get better than 25mpg despite driving sensibly for much of the time. It’s therefore no surprise to find that CO2 emissions are a little high at 189g/km.

As for the rest of the package, you still get a fantastically well-built 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. Instruments are clear but the joystick controlled infotainment system can frustrate.

Front seat occupants will have no complaints with regards to space and storage, while rear seat passengers are just as spoilt. The rear bench can be slid back for more legroom and also reclined. The boot isn’t the biggest but it’s by no means bad.

There are many reasons to like the Lexus RX. It’s comfortable, has a high-quality interior and looks distinctive from the outside too.

The turbocharged petrol may be cheaper to buy than the hybrid, but real-world economy will be far worse and taxation far higher. It’s also a fair bit slower, meaning F Sport trim is all mouth and no trousers.

If you fancy an RX, we’d be tempted to pay an extra £1000 for a hybrid-powered Luxury model. It may not look quite as sporty but will feel just as luxurious and cost far less to run.

Lexus RX200t F Sport

Price £48,995; Engine 4 cyls in-line, 1998cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 235bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1650-4000rpm; 0-62mph 9.5sec; Top speed 124mph; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1960kg; Economy 34.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 189g/km, 32%

Top 5 Luxury SUVs

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the Lexus range

Driven this week

  • Car review
    9 December 2016
    Audi Sport drops a sub-4.0sec-to-60mph bomb into Porsche Cayman territory
  • First Drive
    9 December 2016
    Plug-in-hybrid 3 Series shows the benefit of BMW's experience with the i3 and i8. Sophisticated, swift and broadly talented to drive – and sweet-handing, too
  • Car review
    9 December 2016
    Italian brand emerges as a true luxury power with a large SUV
  • 2016 Porsche Panamera Turbo
    First Drive
    8 December 2016
    A smaller engine doesn't prevent the new Porsche Panamera Turbo being a ridiculously quick and capable sporting GT. We've driven it in the UK
  • 2016 Vauxhall Adam 1.0i Turbo Unlimited
    First Drive
    8 December 2016
    The 1.0-litre turbo engine and Unlimited trim combine to make this the best Adam in the line-up