Motoring review: Lexus RX

Lexus RX

Lexus RX - Credit: Archant

The flagship SUV from Lexus has changed its image by gaining styling cues from its impressive little brother, the NX.

TOYOTA’S Prius may well have been the standard bearer for hybrid cars over the past couple of decades, but larger examples using a petrol-electric combo have worked better.

The fact is, if you are loading a car with two powertrains - internal combustion engine and fuel plus electric motor and bulky, heavy batteries – it is easier to lose the extra within the larger dimensions and overall kerb weight of a big saloon or SUV.

And this has certainly worked for Lexus, Toyota’s premium arm. Indeed, it might be said that Lexus has hung on in the UK market lately thanks to its mainstay hybrid models, although the brand is now diversifying into smaller-capacity petrol-turbo units and this looks shrewd long term as the environmental image of diesel tarnishes.

So it’s a choice between front-wheel drive or 4x4 petrol turbo or hybrid 4x4 with the marque’s flagship SUV, the latest Lexus RX (from £39,995).

I tested the hybrid variant, commanding a £6k premium by starting at £46,995, but it’s not the powertrain that stands out here – that’s pretty much business as usual – but rather the RX’s new image.

It’s always been one of Lexus’ strongest models, largely due to steady virtues: company car tax efficiency, superb build quality, its reliability, good dealers, slow depreciation, generous standard kit and overall comfort levels. However, it never appealed to the image conscious.

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It’s all change now: taking its cue from the smaller Lexus NX SUV, the previously staid RX has taken on some serious attitude. The new Lexus styling palette, including big gaping grille and multi-faceted bodywork has transformed the visual appeal of the car. Blacked-out rear pillars even suggest the ‘floating roof’ effect that so many designers aim for these days.

But you can’t say the new look RX walks the talk: the driving experience still favours the comfortable tastes of its primary market, North America, rather than more dynamic European ones.

Admittedly, you do get the chance to tweak throttle and suspension – more so on some of the sportier models – by using three selectable modes, Normal, Eco and Sport, but the pulse is unlikely to race,

It’s because the powertrain isn’t really set up for sporty driving, even if stabbing the throttle unleashes both petrol and electric motors and allows a 0-62mph sprint in 7.7 seconds.

The obstacle is really the CVT (continuously variable transmission) auto ‘box, great for helping the car’s economy but, by its very nature, it baulks at efforts to unleash the Mr Hyde in sensible Mr Jekyll.

However, if that’s not your worry then the RX’s appeal has just got better than ever. All the old virtues mentioned earlier are still there, plus that exciting new look.

The cabin is superbly fitted out – if a little American in style – and you know that nothing will ever drop off or look careworn, even as the car eventually goes to the scrapper.

And while the RX is fractionally bigger on the outside this time, it is considerably roomier inside, both front and back, with a genuine middle-rear seat.

As is the tendency with hybrids though, boot space is shallow to accommodate the batteries beneath, although this does allow easy loading over the lip of the opening.

Lexus RX

Price from: £39,995

Model featured: 450h Luxury £49,995

Power: 310bhp (petrol) and 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds

Engine: 3,456cc four-cylinder petrol + electric motor

Fuel consumption: 51.4mpg combined cycle

Road tax: £110/year (zero in year one)

Best rival: BMW X5