What is it?
This is the new fourth-generation version of the Lexus RX, a luxury SUV that rivals the likes of the BMW X5 and Volvo XC90.
Previous RXs have proven popular thanks to their myriad classic Lexus virtues, including steadfast reliability, a clean hybrid powertrain, quality and comfort.
There have always been gripes, however. The RX was never the most practical choice, with a comparatively small boot, nor was it particularly gratifying to drive. Many also found the hybrid version inefficient in the real world, delivering far from its claimed figures.
Most of the revisions for the fourth-generation RX focus on the aforementioned issues. It’s longer and wider to offer more interior space. Revamped aerodynamics and powertrain upgrades reputedly boost economy, while a 30% stiffer shell and revised suspension and steering aim to deliver keener handling.
You’ll find a whole host of upgrades inside, including a new dash, a large colour head-up display and more comfortable seats. The styling has also been brought into line with that of more modern Lexus offerings, such as the RC F.
What's it like?
Lexus hasn’t chased an unnecessary and compromise-inducing handling benchmark by fitting overly stiff suspension, wide tyres and sharp steering. The company’s chassis revisions have sharpened the RX up, though, and the steering feels weightier and more precise.
This is still a 2210kg SUV, mind, with comparatively narrow 235-section tyres. On faster and more challenging roads the Lexus will squeal and roll, but it’ll remain controllable and safe.
Power comes from a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 that drives the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. It’s aided by an electric motor, which provides assistance to the engine and the ability to run on electric power alone. An electric-powered rear axle steps in primarily to offer four-wheel drive when needed.
In the Lexus heartland of gentle cruising, it’s a pleasant combination. The RX steps off the line briskly, dispatching the 0-62mph sprint in 7.7sec, and even feels pretty stout once you’re moving. Electric and piston power are smartly blended, and the pure EV mode gives the RX a tranquil nature at lower speeds.
Inclines and hard acceleration cause a stereotypical surge in RPM, but the V6 sounds decent and you soon learn to treat the throttle in a way that doesn’t cause the engine to just sit at 6000rpm as you accelerate hard. You can manually select ‘gears’, which offers some engine braking and extra engagement and control, if necessary. Stopping power is good and easily metered out, while traction isn't an issue.
The ride is supple and relaxed, with minimal suspension noise and jarring over harsher bumps, while wind and road noise – in part thanks to those narrow tyres – is negligible, even at speed. Make no mistake; this is a fine car in which to cover distance.
Inside, it’s as luxurious as you’d hope. The seats are some of the most comfortable offered in recent history, and the cabin feels spacious and airy. Everything is finished to a high standard, lending the RX a suitably upmarket feel. Grab the door handle, for example, and you’ll find no harsh plastic edges, only soft leather and plush fabric-lined wells.
All of the switchgear operates in a slick, precise fashion, adding to the air of quality, as do practical touches like large, adjustable door bins that take A4 documents. Forwards and rearwards visibility is also good, although the B-pillar obscures your over-the-shoulder view somewhat.
Similarly, in the back, there’s decent room for passengers up to six feet tall. You can even seat three abreast with ease, but there’s less headroom for the middle passenger due to the slightly higher-set seat. There’s no transmission tunnel to straddle, though.
You won’t be at a loss for kit, either. In flagship Premier specification the RX features adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate, ventilated and heated electric front seats, DAB, a clear and informative HUD and a 360-degree camera system. There’s a battery of safety systems, including 10 airbags and lane-keeping assist.
A 12.3-in media and navigation system is also standard, as is a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, adding extra high-end sheen. The Lexus’s infotainment system isn’t the most intuitive to use initially, due to its mouse pointer-driven interface, but it otherwise works well and connects to phones quickly and easily.
Boot space still isn’t remarkable, due to the rear-mounted battery pack and axle assembly. At 453 litres, it betters the 446 litres on offer before, but it's still some way shy of the 650 litres available in a BMW X5. It’s a shallow boot, too, which can be restrictive, but the rear seats can be dropped flat.
Our test route didn’t permit any meaningful assessment of the Lexus’s efficiency, but we’d be surprised if it averaged less than 30mpg. Not stellar, compared to modern diesel SUVs, but far cleaner. It packs a 14-gallon tank, so its range should prove tolerable, either way.
Should I buy one?
If you’re looking for a relaxing, cosseting and easy-to-drive SUV, then the Lexus RX is a fine choice. It has its flaws but it would likely prove an affable car to own, particularly when taking into account aspects like the excellent Lexus dealer network.
While its efficiency credentials are yet to be proven, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the RX represents good value for money compared to some alternatives. A similarly specified diesel BMW X5, for example, would set you back at least another £10,000. That’s ample compensation for its shortcomings elsewhere, most of which would likely be moot points for many potential buyers.
That said, the four-star, seven-seat Volvo XC90 could be had with similar equipment for a lesser £56,380 - albeit in non-hybrid diesel form.
2015 Lexus RX 450h Premier
Location Lisbon, Portugal; On sale Now; Price £57,995; Engine 6cyls, 3456cc, naturally aspirated, petrol, front and rear electric motors; Power 308bhp (system output); Torque 247lb ft (system output); Kerb weight 2210kg; Gearbox CVT; 0-62mph 7.7sec; Top speed 124mph; Economy 51.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 127g/km / 20%