Lexus RX review - parsimonious SUV is still no driving machine
Luxury SUV is now available with a 2-litre turbocharged engine, but hybrid is still the car to go for
It’s almost two decades since the Lexus RX arrived and shook up perceptions at what an SUV could be. Those earliest RXs were essentially re-badged Toyota Harriers from Japan, though it wasn’t until the second generation RX arrived that hybrid technology was added to the line-up.
Now in its fourth iteration, the previously hybrid-only RX is now also offered with a 2-litre turbocharged petrol unit in the UK, though the hybrid remains the range-topper in both performance and economy terms. Both will be as good to own as any Lexus, but neither can compete with more traditional (and more German) competition when it comes to entertaining the driver. Buy for comfort and economy, but if you're after thrills then look elsewhere.
Lexus sharpened up the old RX a few years back, but the new model takes the firm's current design language and applies it to an even more aggressive degree. It's not quite as divisive as the smaller NX crossover but it may still take some getting used-to.
If you can budget for it, we'd recommend plumping for the hybrid. Not just because of the greater economy, but also the performance and simply the more expensive feel of that V6 engine compared to the turbocharged four in the RX 200t. The RX is a heavy car (1885kg in 200t form) and it needs all the help it can get to make decent progress.
Don’t assume that the RX 450h’s hybrid drive is all about economy. The combined output of the two electric motors and 3.5-litre V6 engine is 308bhp, allowing a 7.7-second 0-62mph time. Like other Lexus hybrids it’s also able to run on battery power alone, and it always starts up in EV mode.
Lexus offers a variety of trim levels, though F Sport is the most evo-relevant, featuring revisions to the suspension and steering for improved response and handling. Even so equipped the RX 450h isn’t going to beat its conventionally-powered rivals from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, but then it’s debatable that it needs to.
The RX has always been a bit different, that very fact being what attracts buyers. The hybrid-only drivetrain underlines that, Lexus having a huge head start in markets where diesels aren’t favoured - big countries like the US and China.
Inside, it’s curiously different too, though as well built as you’d expect from Lexus, while the company’s reputation for customer service and reliability is pretty much unrivalled. That hybrid system brings dinner party eco-friendly respectability to your SUV purchase, which is enough for some people to put it at the top of their buying list.