Lexus RX200t

New-gen SUV elevates the brand, not pulse rates

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THE NEW Lexus RX is Very Exciting, and not just to the people who work for the company and know it could well be the biggest seller in their showrooms.

You can tell that itís exciting just by looking at it, but even more so by looking at the new TV commercial for the car, which features the worldís least sane BASE jumpers in sugar-glider suits tearing up the sky to land on a semi-trailer full of RXs.

Itís a new approach for Lexus, which even the companyís own executives will tell you is seen as a safe brand; one that never offends but never excites, either. The slightly risky, and optional, spindle grille face has been a huge success in Australia, apparently, with most buyers of the RXís slightly smaller twin brother, the NX, choosing it, in pure spite of what motoring critics have had to say.

This fourth-generation of the RX lobs in the fastest growing luxury market of all Ė medium-size SUVs Ė and its bigger dimensions (a 50mm longer wheelbase provides 20mm more luggage space and 26mm more rear legroom), improved engines, standard 20-inch wheels and plusher interior should make it an instant sales success.

But is it exciting?

Itís fair to say the new base model, the RX200t, which starts at $73,000, is more invigorating than the wheezy, Hilux-engined RX270 it replaces, thanks to the turbocharger attached to its allnew 2.0-litre engine, allowing it to make 175kW and 350Nm, while using 16 percent less fuel than the old dunger at 8.1L/100km.

The 200t has to make do with a six-speed auto rather than the new eight-speed found behind the RX350ís upgraded V6 (221kW/370Nm, 9.6L/100km) and the RX450h (V6 hybrid, 230kW and 335Nm combined, 5.7L/100km).

Itís also front-wheel drive only.

Considering the AWD systems in the more expensive RX options are on-demand only, and that the demand will be occasional at best, the turbo is the model to go for.

Dynamically, its lightness is an advantage, allowing it to achieve the same tardy 0-100km/h time (9.2sec) as the RX350 and to hold a secure line through corners where the pricier car will push on into understeer.

Lexus raved about how the new stiffer construction has allowed both sportier and more compliant suspension, but we still found it busy, and occasionally wallowing, with the base model the least offensive of the bunch.

The interior does live up to its billing, however, with plenty of space and a more high-quality feel.

In the premium SUV market, the Lexus RX is unlikely to be the driverís choice, but its combination of value, customer service and undeniable road presence and style will find it plenty of fans. l. n

PLUS & MINUS

Lack of steering feel; busy ride; part-time AWD; sharp styling Sharp styling; cabin space; quality; fuel economy; reliability reputation

The NX big thing?

Lexus canít say whether its new RX, or its little brother NX, will be its biggest seller in 2016, and frankly it doesnít mind, as long as they both keep bringing in new customers. Lexus Australia CEO Sean Hanley points out, with great delight, that a staggering 63 percent of NX customers are new to his brand, which he says proves that the companyís edgier designs are winning fans. But he still thinks that itís a case of the bigger, the better, in luxury-SUV land.