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The Lexus RX is a handsome player in the big SUV arena, but it's hard to play the value card this high up the price chain

Good stuff

Excellent refinement, reliable electric-only range, keen pricing in context, looks good

Bad stuff

Slightly firm ride, intrusive advanced driver assistance systems

Overview

What is it?

It’s the fifth generation of the RX name, a car that’s been around in one form or another since 1998, and it’s grown a bit since the original’s compact SUV footprint - but it hasn’t succumbed to middle-aged spread, just put on a bit of size.

It hits the market with a three-tier line-up featuring the RX350h, RX450h+ and RX500h; all hybrid-powered and all-wheel drive via engine-plus-e-motor at the front and an e-axle at the rear.

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There are three four levels available which range from well-equipped to gadget-tastic (Premium, Premium Plus, Takumi, and standalone F Sport), and you’re looking at a large, five-seat SUV that’s gunning for things like the BMW X5, Range Rover Sport, Volvo XC90, that sort of thing.

Worth noting that there’s obviously quite a bit of cross-shopping going on in such a populous sector though, and with the new RR Sport clocking in at £83,620 at base and the X5 from £68,165, the Lexus seems to be keenly positioned for what you get. Especially the mid-range 450h+ PHEV with a starting price of £67,100.

It certainly looks different. 

Well, there’s a lot been going on with this iteration of the Toyota GA-K platform. The RX gets the same length as before, but an increased wheelbase and wider track for a more confident look. Plus the basic bones are some 90kg lighter - which should mean more dynamism.

There’s a funky grille and sleeker headlights, an excellent window-slash-C-pillar line, strong rear arches and a full-width lightbar that stretches across the tucked-up rear. It all adds up to a handsome SUV that feels nicely Japanese: it’s a good-looking thing, especially when in 500h format with a subtle bit of bodykit.

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What about the rest of it?

Well, Lexus loves a good themic explanation, so this time we get a ‘Tazuna’ cockpit, which takes its name from the Japanese for ‘reins of a horse’, riffing on the idea of direct and intuitive control. Not sure about that one, but the 14-inch landscape display, head-up display and driver’s info screen all seem to work very nicely.

Ok, so some of the background graphics still look a little clunky, but the touchscreen itself is responsive and largely intuitive, it’s in the right place (no huge stretches) and includes all the controls you might reasonably require. Although the tiles to the right-hand side of the screen are a bit small when you’re trying to change the radio station on a bumpy road. The steering wheel buttons also control various functions - possibly a few too many for absolute clarity - and you can get a bit lost in the various menus.

There are average storage options, but super-fast wireless charging for your phone and a sextet of USB charging ports spread throughout the cabin, as well as decent space for five and a good boot. Nothing too crazy, but it all stands up.

What’s wrong with it?

One thing you will notice is the fact that many of the advanced driver assistance systems are a touch paranoid and therefore incredibly annoying: you’ll end up switching at least two of them off as part of your start-up procedure. First is the lane-keep assist, which struggles with anything that isn’t a clear, crisp and perfectly delineated two-lane carriageway, and second is the speed limit monitor. That little terror will bleep every time the speed limit changes, bleep three times if you’re 1mph over said speed limit, bleep a bit more if there’s a ‘Y’ in the day of the week… you get the idea.

There are also some fairly outrageous warning systems in the case of the anti-collision software - it really thinks you’ve not noticed that parked car - and woe betide those who reverse close to things using the mirrors, because the emergency braking and ‘BRAKE’ graphics will give you a heart attack.

Are we still self-charging the hybrids?

It’s easy to make fun of the marketing sleight-of-hand here, but the RX does come with a very solid hybrid system as standard. The 350h is a 2.5-litre, naturally-aspirated four with 247bhp (7.9 seconds to 62mph), a normal hybrid system and AWD, while the 450h+ is the same with an 18.1kWh battery and 304bhp (6.5s for the sprint), plus plug.

The 500h makes use of a turbo 2.4-litre four-pot with 366bhp and a 6.2-second 0-62mph, but also features ‘Direct4’ all-wheel drive - basically just a trick electronic control unit for the e-motors. Efficiency is very solid across the range, but less so with the 500h if you constantly use all the 366bhp, obviously. TG saw 55mpg from the 350h and nearly 80mpg from the PHEV; the 500h was much further down at mid-to-late 30s.

So which one is the best?

The one we’re interested in here is the PHEV 450h+, mainly because Lexus thinks that the sales split will be 55 per cent in favour of the one with the plug. That’s a good thing, because it’s probably the best of the three. Plenty of speed if you need it from the 300+bhp system output, you’ll hit the national speed limit in pure electric mode, and a real-world 37 miles (from a quoted 42) is enough to handle most commutes without waking the engine.

And when you do, the four-cylinder is largely muffled, if a little drone-prone. Though that’s probably more to do with the e-CVT gearbox than anything else.

What happens when you run out of electricity? It’s just a heavier ICE.

Well, not in this case. When you’re out of home-charged electricity, the control system just switches back to the parallel-hybrid logic of the normal hybrid gear, giving us that nearly-80mpg on test (and with regular charging).

What that also gives you is tax-friendly CO2 outputs and eight-percent Benefit-in-Kind, but to frame the RX450h+ as a tax swerve would be to do it a disservice; it really is a largely relaxing place to spend time, has good space and comfort, and drives very nicely indeed.

The steering is a little light and the suspension can get a bit stiff-kneed on the wrong surface, but generally it slips through life in a quiet, effective manner. Something of a calm, grown-up take on the large SUV, it’s the kind of car that will no doubt get better the longer you spend in it.

Sounds promising, but would you really have one over a sexier brand?

The problem is exactly that for this Lexus: there’s plenty of choice in this market segment, and it’s stuff you wouldn’t have to explain and/or describe. But the RX has seen a significant upgrade, and it looks good, has plenty of space, tech and ability. It’s also keenly priced in terms of kit and quality. It’s a really solid effort from Lexus, but it might not be enough to tempt people away from more familiar shapes.

What's the verdict?

It’s not the sportiest of things, but the RX is calm, serene, efficient and priced well in context of the rest of the segment

A significant revision for the RX range, and it’s all for the better. With electric all-wheel drive and hybrid across the range, plus a re-worked interior that favours relative simplicity over many-menu swipeability, it’s become a handsome player in the big SUV arena with a style that’s engaging, but not too outré.

It’s not the sportiest of things - even the faster RX500h is more an athletic take on the RX formula than a genuinely fast vehicle - but the RX is calm, serene, efficient and priced well in context of the rest of the segment. If cruising is a priority then the RX is worth a look.

The Rivals

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