The all-new fourth iteration of the Lexus RX has been completely redesigned inside and out compared with its predecessor and offers the option of plug-in hybrid power for the first time.
The Volvo XC90 rival was Lexus’s most popular vehicle last year, with 221,000 examples sold worldwide, and it has now followed its smaller Lexus NX sibling in swapping over to parent company Toyota’s GA-K platform.
This brings a claimed increase in body rigidity and a low centre of gravity while cutting weight by 90kg from the previous RX, all in the name of improved handling.
Its wheelbase has been extended by 6mm, its roofline lowered by 10mm and its track widened by 15mm at the front and 40mm at the rear, while a refreshed exterior design based on Lexus’s Next Chapter design language emulates the “spindle body” appearance of the new Lexus RZ electric SUV.
Lexus said the RX’s new dimensions give it a “coupé-like feel”, particularly when paired with 21in wheels, and a “confident stance”.
“For the all-new RX, we were determined to keep the Lexus DNA of supreme quality, ride comfort and refinement and elevate the driving experience to the next level, delivering a unique Lexus driving signature,” said company president Koji Sato.
The RX also gets LED headlights with a sleeker design, while range-topping models gain some visual distinction with bespoke designs for the front grille, side skirts and front and rear bumpers.
“First, we created a dynamic exterior design to express a captivating, engaging presence and a solidly planted stance to evoke driving performance. We then refined the proportions to express the elevated driving experience and added new drivetrain technologies like Direct4,” said chief engineer Takaaki Ohno, referring to a torque-vectoring four-wheel drive system.
Inside, meanwhile, the RX adopts a more minimalist and driver-focused format in line with Lexus’s “hands on the wheel, eyes on the road” ethos, with improved “Hey Lexus” voice control functions, proactive driver assistance systems and touch controls that can be viewed and adjusted with minimal eye and head movement.
A 14.0in infotainment touchscreen is included as standard, with sat-nav and cloud services enabling “always-on” connectivity for live traffic, accident and road condition reports. There is also wireless smartphone charging, wireless Apple CarPlay and tethered Android Auto.
Heated and ventilated seats are included as standard, while vegan synthetic leather has been chosen for the upholstery, steering wheel and gearshifter.
The RX 350h opens the new model range, powered by a 2.5-litre ‘self-charging’ hybrid powertrain. Lexus says performance is comparable with that of the current RX 450h, with its 242bhp and 239lb ft of torque getting it from 0-62mph in 8.0sec, while fuel consumption is rated at 42.2mpg on the WLTP cycle.
However, Lexus expects the new RX 450h+ to be the best-selling variant in the UK and mainland Europe.
The new plug-in hybrid is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, paired with a rear-mounted electric motor for full-time four-wheel drive.
It produces combined totals of 302bhp and 421lb ft for a 0-62mph time of 7.0sec, while an 18.1kWh lithium ion battery yields an electric-only range of 40 miles, putting it slightly ahead of the Land Rover Discovery Sport P300e (37 miles).
The RX 500h, positioned as the most dynamically focused model in the line-up, offers turbocharged hybrid power for the first time in a Lexus.
Lexus says the addition of a turbocharged powertrain was necessary because the desires of customers are constantly changing.
Spiros Fotinos, boss of Lexus Europe, said: “The expectations from consumers are evolving for different reasons, either because they’ve been in an EV and they like the instant torque response, or because they expect to have a more efficient vehicle without the feeling that the driving experience is worse.
“While we used to think 'more efficient is more sluggish' and so on, that’s not true any more. That trade-off is not there any more. Of course, regardless of the segment, in particular where customers are spending a lot of money and the expectations are there and maybe they have a second car that is an EV, you have to keep pushing that boundary forward in terms of the experience.
“Of course, a pure BEV works in a different way, but in the same way the overall experience in terms of stability, delivery of torque, that expectation is there.”
The RX 500h tops the range with 366bhp and 475lb ft supplied by a 2.4-litre engine and a pair of electric motors giving it full-time four-wheel drive.
A rival for the BMW X5 xDrive45e, it can do 0-62mph in 5.9sec, and Lexus claims the Direct4 system gives it the ability to balance power and torque between both axles faster than any mechanical system, improving steering feel and handling stability at higher speeds.
The price of the new RX will start from about £60,000 and deliveries will begin in the first quarter of 2023.
Lexus says the appeal of the RX has never been greater, with hybrid variants of the model growing in importance in markets around the world.
Fotinos said: “We’re talking about a model that’s global. When you’re looking at markets like North America or our eastern markets, on the one hand there is a desire to electrify - meaning that diesel and petrol may feel a bit ‘old school.
“There is that feeling from customers who are ready to look at something different but are still wanting an engaging performance-oriented vehicle. We’ve had examples in the past like the LC hybrid where we’ve pushed hybrid, but the question here was, because we had those raw materials to work with (suspension etc), how do we push that to create a new kind of experience?
“The two things that are interesting on this vehicle are the turbo engine and the six-speed automatic transmission. It’s effectively a completely new set-up for what we knew a hybrid was."
Q&A with Spiros Fotinos, head of Lexus Europe
What was the most important thing when developing this new RX?
"I think the most important thing was reimagining the driving experience. You’re talking about a product that has been hugely successful for us and has carved out its own identity in terms of what it felt and drove like.
"I think this is probably the first time at least in a couple of generations where we kind of went from scratch. This is the philosophy where you start from a blank sheet of paper. Even when the car already exists, you started thinking… what should the car drive Iike? And then you start building on that, the platform and the geometry of the vehicle and adding the powertrains and other elements before you even talk about electronics and assistance features. The raw vehicle - what does it feel like? I think it’s the first time where the car has been completely reimagined."
How important is the RX to Lexus and did any of the development inform the development of upcoming EVs?
"It’s hugely important. RX is an iconic nameplate for the brand and it's helped shape the brand over the years if you look at our history, whether that’s creating a new segment or bringing hybrid to the luxury consumer. It has a heavy burden that it needs to do for the brand. I think what we’ve done for this generation is that it’s doing that: it’s reshaping the brand in terms of adding a more engaging driving experience.
"When we think of electrification, we don’t just think of BEV. We think of plug-in hybrid, hybrid and BEV. When you look at our experience with electrification and think of the simple fact that battery, electric motor, power control unit - those are all on a hybrid. If you're pushing those technologies and imagining those technologies in different ways, there’s no reason why the learnings for that aren’t transferable whether it’s missing an ICE or has an ICE. It all supports the development of our border electrification ambition."
Is there a concern sales of the RZ will cannibalise sales from the RX?
"Our perspective is that we don’t have a single powertrain approach. Because we can have a broader offering, it’s exactly why we didn’t look at any segment in isolation. We looked at the dynamics of the segments in between NX, RZ and RX and we looked at the consumer expectations and how that’s evolving in the European landscape.
"What’s interesting is that there’s a group of consumers who start with the powertrain choice. Once a consumer starts with that, they’re locked in. A lot of consumers have made that choice before they even arrive at the dealership.
"Given that, the fact that we do have RZ, which is completely focused on that EV driving experience and the advantages of a BEV, and RX, which is true to what an RX should be without us creating some sort of Frankenstein solution. We can offer consumers exactly what they want, and if they have an RX and they’re downsizing, they can do that without compromising on the driving experience and NX does that."