GEORGE, Western Cape – Introduced in 1997, the original Lexus RX was developed primarily with the US market in mind. Having established itself as a leading player in the luxury automotive stakes (led by the supremely accomplished LS400), the introduction of the first RX300 was significant in that it paved the way for a segment of raised ride-height offerings that place a greater emphasis on luxury and comfort than any potential off-roading excursions. While others have since eagerly followed suit, 22 years later and through four generations, the RX remains (by some margin) the best-selling luxury SUV in the United States.
A pioneer in terms of design and execution, the 2005 (US) introduction of the RX400h would also signal the first time hybrid technology would be offered in a luxury vehicle.
Available in South Africa since the second-generation RX300 in 2003, and perhaps as a result of its by-design reined-in sense of adventure, the local reception to Lexus’ premium SUV has never quite measured up to its appeal across the Atlantic. Yet, as with most of this brand’s offerings, it’s impossible to ignore the levels of sophistication and class inherently associated with Toyota’s luxury division.
With modern competition (that now also offer hybrid technology) from the likes of Volvo, BMW and Porsche, the fourth-generation Lexus RX range has received a subtle refresh in the form of updated exterior styling and some small yet significant tweaks to the interior packaging.
Wearing the latest iteration of the brand’s spindle grille design (introduced with the UX), other notable changes to the RX’s styling include restyled bumpers front and rear, as well as an altogether narrower headlamp cluster, arranged to house Lexus’ newest “Bladescan” adaptive LED headlamp technology (standard on the RX450h).
As comfortable and well-appointed as ever, the biggest news in terms of the RX’s interior treatment is the incorporation of a new 12,3-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Replacing the frustratingly intricate and complex track-pad arrangement in the outgoing model, the presence of a crisp touchscreen display (supplemented with a new – though still a bit too sensitive – touch pad) mounted within easy reach of the driver is a game-changer for a vehicle that accounts for 15 percent of the brand’s local sales.
Arguably of less significance to the average RX owner (and I’d recommend asking your dealership to set it up for you before exiting the showroom) is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology within an infotainment bundle that already includes (since Spetember 2019) in-car Wi-Fi.
While the sharper and more driver-focused RX350 F Sport derivative enters the fray (complete with bespoke bodywork and 20-inch alloy wheels), it remains the softer, more leisurely paced RX450h that best suits the clean and classy lines of the modern RX package.
Complementing a renewed focus on torsional rigidity and ride comfort (including the incorporation of a new “friction control device” within the shock absorbers), there’s something about the way the 450h is able to glide away from standstill in stealth, all-electric mode before the 3,5-litre V6 petrol engine takes over further up the road. Even the much-maligned presence of an e-CVT seems somehow more acceptable in an RX package that, let’s be honest, is only likely to be driven hard by an enthusiastic teenager borrowing the keys for the night.
With more young-at-heart models like the quirky UX, modern NX and svelte RC Coupé nettled within the latest Lexus portfolio, a product like the impressively sophisticated RX has been freed up to embrace its role as a pinnacle example of what this luxury-oriented brand does best.
FAST FACTSModel: Lexus RX450h SE
Price: R1 315 800
Engine: 3,5-litre, V6, naturally aspirated, hybrid
Power: 230 kW
Torque: 335 N.m (+139 electric)
0-100 km/h: 7,7 secs
Top Speed: 200 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5,7 L/100 km
CO2: 131 g/km
Maintenance Plan: M7/105 000 km