Lexus RX 350: The Slightly Awkward Look Hides a Great Drive
SUVs consist of a loosely affiliated group of vehicles. They have hatches or rear doors, or tray-backs and put power through all 4 wheels and all were work horses. Then things changed and the Mr Average thought “hey why I need a station wagon and I’d like something a bit different. That looks sporty doesn’t it and I wanted to look sporty”, and lo, a lifestyle was born: that of the person who wants to be active without actually being active. That dream was sunny days at the beach with your car parked right there on the sand, or at the top of a rocky outcrop or indeed at the end of a deeply rutted muddy goat track. The truth is few of us actually do any of those things. It’s like buying a gym membership and only using once. Ask yourself a question: Do you really want to scratch up and dent a shiny new $150,000 vehicle if you are the one paying to repair it?
In that vein, we have a plethora of offerings that have popped up like mushrooms with almost every manufacturer trying to flog their interpretation of what the modern man needs. If he wants to be the sexy out-doorsy active type and is an executive there are many more options. Toyota’s premium brand is Lexus who offer a full 4WD which is the LX modelled after the LandCruiser we like so much. Their medium sized RX which is Kluger class with many of the same features. Lexus offers the full sized LX in 4WD for those who are serious off roaders and the RX in AWD for weekend warriors who want to look like serious off roaders.
It is a well-known fact that most SUVs will never see anything more challenging than a gravel drive so it’s more about appearance than function. The RX’s appearance is that of a well-made crossover vehicle whose looks you either love or hate. The ground clearance is pretty good and the quality is as impressive as any other Lexus. It’s solid with a feeling of longevity and sturdiness though in my opinion lacks the elegance of the saloons. Elegance and charm is not an easy thing to achieve but Range Rovers and Land Rovers manage the chunky Tonka-Toy look with great aplomb. Lexus went for the same person who finds BMW’s X6 appealing. The sloping hatch is more form over function because of the amount of luggage space it chops off. The LEDs in the light clusters are like those of most other modern road-going modes of transport and are seen as sleek and shiny, and just a bit cutting-edge.
One design improvement of note is the doors. Each side door continues to the bottom of the vehicle. Why is this important? Quite simply: the schmutz is under the car not on the side of it because the sill is covered by the door and can’t get dirty. Your expensive pure virgin wool Italian trousers can’t brush up against the filth unless you’re double jointed. It’s brilliant.
So, if the looks and function suit your needs, the list of inclusions in the top-spec F-Sport will also impress. Entry is via the keyless entry/start system. I know I overstate this feature every time I write about it but it really is brilliant. It’s used across the range in both Toyota and Lexus and uses one of the most intelligent and easy to manage systems on the market. Lock the car either by the key fob button or the touch pad on the door handle and unlock by the fob button or by touching the inside surface of the anydoor handle. If there is a downside it is that unless the mirrors fold in most drivers can’t resist the urge to pull on the door handle to check if the car has locked itself. The car will sense the hand and unlock the doors as normal. It’s incredibly frustrating to those of us slightly afflicted by OCD as we could be there for hours checking and rechecking then locking again.
The rear hatch has an electric function. If the doors are unlocked the tailgate can be raised from the key fob or a button on the dash as well as the rear handle. It means you can open the hatch from the other side of Coles car park so by the time you reach the RX you can plonk your bags straight in.
There is no self-park function yet which is a bit sad but there the rear camera and parking sensors do the trick. I mention this because I parked a trifle too close to the wall at Coles and opened the tailgate without being close enough to see what was behind her. Luckily the corflute sign was in exactly the right place but it highlights the fact that you have to be sure to use the little lines which appear on the reversing camera screen to judge how close you are to the wall.
The cabin is nicely laid out but the OCD in me likes things symmetrical and the dash is a swirl of different surface treatments and materials. It works beautifully but looking at it upsets my sense of order and balance. I feel like a want to move a vase to make the look right. One of the things which upset me the most was the Hvac temp controls which was vertical on one side and horizontal on the other. It’s fully automatic so the controls rarely need altering but can operate in dual zone if needed but they look odd being different from each other.
The perforated leather added a luxurious touch and although the plastic is nice quality there is an awful lot of it. I’m not sure it adds anything the overall ambience.
The central stack holds the LCD which is used with the joystick/mouse controller on the console and operates the rear camera and the GPS. It’s not the gorgeous widescreen experience that you have the stunning new GS saloon but its brilliant none the less. The joystick is easy to use once you get used to it and first appeared in the CT200h. I liked it very much. It runs rings around the awful systems in either the Mercedes Benz or BMW who hide functions in menu after menu requiring an investigator’s license to find what you’re looking for. Clearly a lot of thought went into ergonomics and functionality rather than merely trying to be clever and it’s paid off in useability. They tell me nothing is more than 2 clicks away but I’ll be the judge of that.
If there is one thing I dislike immensely it’s the foot operated parking brake. It’s designed to keep the centre console clear of a massive handle intruding into the ascetics but it’s horrible to use. I’m fairly sure someone with a slightly dicky hip or a stiff knee joint would be unable to use it at all.
Once you’re moving the Rx transforms into a comfy, luxurious highset limo. There is plenty of space in a cabin that feels roomy but cosseting. I’m particularly fond of the big friendly handle at the side of the rear seats allowing the one handed flattening of the rear cargo area. I can think of a multitude of uses for it. How many vehicles have the rear seats so complex that it isn’t worth trying unless you have a spare half hour? It makes you so angry that you go off like a jelly on springs, but in the Lexus everything feels considered and engineered, and above all useful. Only the foot operated parking brake is on my list of pet hates and gets big black marks.
The drive is really very good especially for such a tall car. The 3.5V6 is my favourite engine from Toyota with only the organ-shattering 5.0L ISF being more desirable. It’s smooth and the 6sp auto magically shifts up and down with the driver hardly being aware of the changes. Since most of us are never going off-roading we will want to be comfortable and the RX certainly does that. The sound system performs as a premium system should though I felt a distinct longing for the magnificent Levinsen system from the GS450h.
The Lexus RX 350 gets top marks though is starting to feel a little old-hat.
Likes: Smooth 3.5 V6, silky 6sp auto, spacious cabin
Not so much: Exterior styling, Dash layout, thirsty
Kerb weight 2085kg
Cargo cap: 446l seats up, 825l seats down
Fuel tank 72l (premium petrol only)
Engine: 204KW, 356Nm, 10.8l/100k combined
RX 270: $76,542
RX 350: $84,942 – $102,267(F-Sport test car $93,342)
RX 450h: $90,717 – $109,617