Higher tech, better looking and fighting to keep your loyalty
Excuse the pun, but the Lexus RX has been the perfect prescription for luxury SUV buyers since it broke onto the scene back in 1998. Today it is one of only two vehicles to sell over 100,000 units in the category meaning somebody likes what Lexus engineers are selling. So the biggest question for Lexus – what next?
The new Lexus is an evolutionary model change delivering a better looking, lower coefficient of drag RX that catches up on some of the technology the luxury SUV buyers are looking for. Yes the hybrid powertrain is back, new and improved, and the interior is a definite step up with enlarged optional display screens and enough steering wheel controls to require thorough pre-flight review to totally understand its functionality. Overall length steps up 4.7-inches along with a 1.9-inch longer wheelbase all in the name of maximizing interior room and passenger comfort. Key additions are the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, something found in several other upscale vehicles, and Adaptive Cruise Control that will bring the RX to a total stop if traffic comes to a halt.
Powering the Lexus RX 350 “base model” is the Atkinson cycle 3.5-liter V6 that is rated at 295 Hp at an amazing 6300 rpm and 267 lb. ft at 4700 rpm netting 0 to 60 mph times of 7.7 seconds according to the factory testing. The RX 450h uses the same 3.5-liter engine despite upping the compression from 11.8:1 for the RX 350 to 13.0:1 for the hybrid powerplant. Combined power from the internal combustion engine and electric motor equate to 308 HP. Efficiencies in the development of the Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack have reduced overall height by 26 mm – Lexus is using that space to increase rear passenger comfort with increased seat cushioning.
In terms of mileage, the RX 350, offered in both 2WD and AWD versions, achieves 20 city, 28 highway and 23-combined mileage ratings. For the AWD version, the numbers are slightly less – 19/26/23. The RX 450h generates significantly better performance with 31/30/39 for the 2WD versions and 30/28/30 for the AWD models. Softer springs, aluminum hood and door panels and acoustic glass all combine to make either model more efficient and an overall better driving experience.
Lexus has decided to spread the wealth with their enormously successful F-Sport campaign used to boost their IS, CT and RC vehicles. That success has begotten two RX F Sport models, both of which are designed to connect with male buyers who are currently 50% of the 2016 RX sales. The F Sport’s sportier styling includes 20-inch aluminum wheels, redesigned grill and lower spoiler, exterior mirrors and rear bumper trim – not to forget the F-Sport badging. On the interior, the upgrades continue with F Sport gauges, aluminum pedals, trim and door scuff plate, perforated leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift lever and exclusive F Sport seats. F Sport is offered for both the RX 350 and RX 450h models.
Hold your hand over the rear Lexus tailgate logo, wait for the beep and the rear hatch will come to greet you. Change lanes without a signaling and the Lane-Departure Assist will let you know. The electric power steering is confident but gives limited driver feedback – something that was a concern with the new Tacoma and Tundra offerings where engineers opted for the hydraulic power steering system to increase steering feedback. Even the seat heat/cooling controls can be preset and managed to the specific driver making for ultimate backside comfort.
The smarter car’s become, the more they work to “help” with driving. For those who are more occupant than the driver, this fact will not be an issue. Auto-dimming headlights are great for those who forget to turn their high beams down when approaching oncoming cars. Adaptive cruise control is handy when trying to keep a proper distance from the car ahead. The new Pre-Collision system is a coup for pedestrian safety. The new Lane Keep Assist (LKA) may, however, step over that limit of handy helpers. Like your dad would do when you were drifting out of the lane back when practicing for your driver’s license, the LKA actually steers you back into the lane if you are struggling to stay on center. For some of the aging consumers who will purchase this vehicle, that could be just what the doctor ordered.
When Toyota announced to the world in 1990 that they were entering the luxury car market, no one would have guessed that a Japanese carmaker could make a dent in what was the sacred BMW/Mercedes luxury car territory. Today, Lexus buyers are among the most loyal in the history of car buying, many believing that Lexus is the pinnacle of the market. RX buyers may be the most staunch in that conviction. Many repeat RX buyers will purchase a new model just because it’s the thing to do. It’s apparent by the refinements found in the new RX, they may just be right.