The fourth generation Lexus RX is extremely refined with improved usability but is let down by the way it drives. Although the hybrid version remains a compelling option

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

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

We find it hard to recommend an RX with a two-litre turbocharged petrol engine

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. 

Does the petrol RX make sense?

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 Lexus NX200t, Lexus IS200t saloon and Lexus 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.

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No matter how many wheels get driven, the 200t makes 235bhp and 258lb 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 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.

Does the new Lexus RX meet its luxury remit?

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.

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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.

Speccing up the Lexus RX

The entry-level S trim is only available with petrol RX models, while the SE and Premier specs can only be had with the hybrid versions.

The RX200t S trim is certainly well-equipped, with 18in alloy wheels, 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, ventilated front seats 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, keyless interior and 20in alloys, while the F-Sport spec includes a number of sporty touches, such as lightened alloy wheels, adaptive suspension, a bodykit and sports seats.

The range-topping Premier models get 20in alloy wheels, blindspot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, 360-degree camera, head-up display and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson speaker system.

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.

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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 RX 2015-2021 First drives