The Lexus RX SUV is a quiet, understated seller in the UK and this “95% new” version looks like it’ll pick up from where the last one leaves off when it goes on sale in early 2023.
It’s based on an uprated version of Lexus’s GA-K platform, which underpins the smaller NX SUV, and it remains the same size as the outgoing RX, at 4.89m long, albeit with wider front and rear tracks and a 60mm-longer wheelbase, which increases interior space.
With more torsional rigidity because of some strengthening at the rear of the chassis, it has a new multi-link rear suspension system and, like the NX, MacPherson struts at the front. The new RX comes in three different flavours, all electrified to an extent, but all quite differently.
The most straightforward is the RX 350h, which has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder in-line engine mated to Toyota/Lexus’s trusty hybrid system, which uses two motor generators and the petrol engine mated via a planetary gearset so that the engine and one drive motor can spin at whatever speed the electronics dictate, regardless of the wheel speed. (It’s incredibly hard to explain until you see a model of it.) In this guise, the petrol engine makes 188bhp and the front electric motor 180bhp, but there’s also a 54bhp motor for the rear axle.
The hybrid uses an NiMH battery of undisclosed size. All up, the maximum power is 247bhp and its rivals are typically smallish-diesel-engined alternatives. Then there’s the meat of the new range, the RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid, whose 2.5-litre engine makes 182bhp and which has the same 180bhp front and 54bhp rear motor. And yet because it has an 18.1kWh li-ion battery (as well as the NiMH one), total power is 304bhp and there’s an electric-only range of 40 miles, with selectable hybrid or full EV mode and a 6.6kW battery charge speed.
Once the big battery’s depleted, it’s back to the regular hybrid system, as per the RX 350h. In our brief experience, it looked like it would probably manage that distance, too, albeit that was in hot weather. Keeping up? Then I’ll continue, to the car “for the most demanding petrolheads”, the RX 500h, which is sillier because it combines a turbocharged 2.4-litre engine (268bhp) directly linked to a single electric motor (another 86bhp) where the flywheel would be, with a single clutch between them and a six-speed automatic gearbox.
At the rear axle is a 102bhp electric motor, making a system total of 366bhp and 551lb ft. All of that means the RX can deliver either 256.8mpg (the cleanest PHEV) or 34.0mpg (the least clean RX 500). And thank heavens we don’t get the regular combusted RX 350 because I’m already halfway through this first drive. The rest of the RX is – also thankfully – similar between all models.
The interior is good. Solid of ambience and spacious in the back and the boot, with “less focus on ornamentation, more on texture and feel”, according to Lexus bosses, which means that the materials feel well put together and the switchgear is mostly clean. There’s a 14.0in touchscreen but even Toyota advises that phone integration is the way forward. There’s also, despite the relatively big differences in how they’re powered, a consistency to how RXs drive. The steering is smooth and the ride settled.
Refinement is really high, with low wind noise and just a little road noise. Under acceleration, the 350h and 450h hum a bit because Toyota’s hybrid system puts them in a high-rev range and leaves them there. The 500h, with its smooth six-speed gearbox, is a little more rewardingly thrummy and responsive, but not actually much quicker than the plug-in. (The 0-62mph times are 6.2sec versus 6.5sec.) And while there’s adaptive damping on the top-spec model to keep a firmer control of body movements, it’s still nothing like as rewarding or angry as, say, a Jaguar F-Pace SVR.
It’s just a way to burn a lot more fuel and pay more tax than in a plug-in hybrid. In fact, if you’re looking for fun – although, let’s face it, you’re probably not – the 350h is the one to go for because it’s the only RX whose kerb weight starts with a ‘1’ and it’s a little more agile and responsive by dint of being 130kg lighter than the 450h+ or 500h, both around 2100kg, although these things are relative.
It’s a stable, steady drive rather than an overtly dynamic one. There’s no pricing yet because it’s not on sale until next year and lord only knows what’ll happen between now and then, so I can’t honestly give it a star rating. But I don’t know how much that’ll matter: the dealer and ownership experience is generally the five-star thing, with the car almost secondary, and I don’t imagine that’ll change that much this time around – no matter the powertrain.