Lexus’ New-Look SUV Hybrid Hero Arrives

If you think ‘hybrid’ in a motoring context, you might first think of a taxi or rideshare-app trip in a Toyota Prius.

And with good reason. The Prius has been in Australia for nearly 20 years, while Toyota has invested heavily in the technology.

Its range has expanded since the formative days of the Prius, into Camrys and Corollas, and the brand clocked up 100,000 hybrid sales in Australia earlier this year.

With that in mind, it’s no real surprise Lexus was another early adopter, given its position as Toyota’s luxury offshoot.

Lexus, though, sets out to show hybrid technology isn’t just about sensible, every day family motoring. It wants to show the combination of a petrol engine and electric motor is equally at home in sporty, luxurious models.

The brand reached 20,000 hybrid sales of its own in Australia in 2017 and the technology has been part of its overall growth. Lexus sales through to August this year were up 77 percent against 2009 and even 44 percent from 2014.

Hybrids are a big part of that, and available on the bulk of the current Lexus range. Nine of the 13 models to be precise, and when it comes to SUVs that includes the RX.

Nominally – and practically at 4.9m long for the five-seater – it is the ‘large’ Lexus SUV. The RX accounted for nearly a third of those first 20,000 hybrids sold through to 2017, and 27 percent of total Lexus sales.

The model dates back to 1998, and Lexus has just welcomed its new RX to Australia, offering a value alternative to the European brands.

It’s a mid-model upgrade to the fourth-generation platform, with a raft of tweaks and new features on what was already a respected package.

With this latest RX, the entry-level price drops by $1,600 to $71,920 plus on-road costs for the RX 300 Luxury. Prices run through to $109,340 plus on-road costs for the flagship RX 450h Sports Luxury.

The range spans a total of 12, five-seat variants. If you want seven seats instead, look for the denominations ending in ‘L’, with those prices rising by a couple of grand.

Sticking to the five-seaters, there are three models distinguished by their powerplants; the RX 300, RX 350 and RX 450h. They are then available in Luxury, Luxury + Enhancement Pack, F Sport and Sports Luxury grades.

The RX 300 is powered by a 175kW, 2.0-litre turbo, four-cylinder petrol engine. It’s also the front-wheel-drive option with 18-inch wheels, with the RX 350 and RX 450h all-wheel-drive and sporting 20-inch alloys.

The RX 350 has a 3.5-litre petrol V6 producing 221kW while hybrid technology comes into play on the headline act, the RX 450h. It pairs a 3.5-litre V6 with an electric motor for a combined output of 230kW.

Man of Many checked out the new RX range with Lexus Australia in the Blue Mountains earlier this month.

What’s new?

The very first, albeit subtle, impressions are that Lexus has given the RX a minor facelift. It already cut a striking figure, evocatively dubbed a ‘seductive strength’ theme by the brand, but there is evolution from front to rear.

The front bumper has been revised, including the very front lip to raise the grille, which has a new pattern for the F Sport. There are sleeker headlight units, too.

The front bumper has been revised, including the very front lip to raise the grille, which has a new pattern for the F Sport. There are sleeker headlight units, too.

Heading towards the rear of the RX, there is more of a sweeping line down, while the taillights incorporate the distinctive Lexus L.

On the F Sport and Sports Luxury specs, the headlights include what Lexus says is a world-first piece of technology.

It’s an adaptive, LED high-beam system, designed to cut the darker area generated when high beams are dimmed to accommodate other motorists.

The system uses a mirror blade rotating at 12,000rpm, which Lexus states cuts the ‘shaded area’ span from 6.3m to 3.5m at a distance of 50m. At 10 per cent brighter, the high beams can also spot pedestrians 56m ahead, up from 32m.

There’s an improved version of the Lexus Safety System, incorporating collision, night-time pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, and lane and road-sign assist.

Inside the RX, a 12.3-inch infotainment display is now standard across the range, over an 8-inch unit, and has been brought closer to the driver. That’s handy because it’s now a touchscreen, and compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The number of USB ports grows from two to six as well.

Beneath the skin, Lexus outlines 10 engineering upgrades, to improve chassis rigidity, ride control and comfort, and reduce noise.

Additional spot welds and chassis adhesive in the side, underbody and wheel arches are accompanied by shock absorber tweaks. There are also improvements to the variable suspension system on the F Sport and Sports Luxury models.

What’s it like?

Man of Many spent the bulk of the event aboard the RX 450h Sports Luxury, the flagship variant.

As you would expect in a top-end Lexus, the craftsmanship looks and feels the goods, with leather trim and elegant wooden touches. It’s a very comfortable environment.

The touchscreen system, and scope to plug an iPhone in, is a welcome addition, while there’s also a wireless charging dock in the centre console.

The infotainment set-up is paired with 12-speaker audio as standard, or a 15-speaker Mark Levinson system in the F Sport and Sports Luxury.

Colour highlights and road-sign speed detection enhance the heads-up display on most models, accompanying the digital speed reading and navigation cues.

Practically, there’s plenty of storage, even without folding down rear seats. You can now open the boot hands-free, by waving your foot beneath the rear of the car to activate a motion sensor, if you have the keys on you.

Behind the wheel, it’s reasonably easy to forget you’re in an SUV.

We sampled the RX 300, the base model with a turbo, four-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive. It’s the lightest and most-agile piece of the line-up, responds well and proves adept during a brief off-road run.

In the RX 450h, the hybrid system does plenty of heavy lifting and proves a very respectable performer.

Lexus states performance figures of 0-100km/h in 7.7 seconds, and fuel consumption of 5.7litres/100km. That’s a step up from 8.0s and 9.6l/100km for the non-hybrid RX 350.

It’s easy to see where those economy gains in particular come from during our run along the Bells Line of Road.

On the journey back down the Blue Mountains towards Sydney, the petrol V6 is barely called into action. But it’s there and ready to kick in, audibly reporting for duty when extra power is required.

Hybrid technology and the RX have come a long way over the last two decades. They’ve grown together with Lexus, which itself shows no signs of slowing down.