The Lexus RX has always offered something different to the current crop of premium medium SUVs in the vein of the BMW X5 and Mercedes Benz ML, as it was also the first out of the starting blocks by offering a hybrid alternative to the diesels most of its rivals offered. The hybrid technology pandered more to the US market where the company continues to flourish and where the take-up of diesel models is relatively small. Motor News road-tested the current RX450h some four years ago and found that while the vehicle was a sensible family car, the hybrid technology meant that it cost more than the then BMW X5 3.0d. Also, the technology never quite offered the fuel economy to justify the higher asking price and thus we found that, for our money, the X5 would be our choice.
The RX has recently been given a once over, which mainly includes an updated interior similar to that in the GS models. We were offered the petrol RX350 in entry level XE specification as, according to a company spokesperson, the hybrid model is only available on an order basis. While the current model received an exterior update last year, which included the now signature spindle grille, updates to the model on test here are mainly skin deep. These include a second generation interface replete with a touchpad similar to that in the GS sedan, while also adopting that model’s more ergonomic steering wheel. There have been a great deal of updates made to the special edition RX including model specific 19-inch wheels, a head-up display function for the driver, bamboo inlays on the steering wheel and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, which was not on our test vehicle.
So, then, let us look at the vehicle in isolation and reacquaint ourselves with it. If there is anything that stands out about any model in the marque’s stable it is that of refinement. Whether it be from the engine, gearbox or ride quality, everything seems well judged to appease the discerning luxury market. I spent a week behind the wheel and while the current version is on its last legs with a new model likely to join the fray in 2015, it still drives with a polish typical of the brand. Offering all the mod cons you would expect of a vehicle in its class, the model wants for nothing and, apart from the sunroof and the Mark Levinson sound system, there are few items to be ticked off the options list.
The six-speed transmission together with the 3.5l V6 engine work in unison to offer silky smooth power delivery and gear changes. Push hard on the accelerator and the car is keen to rev to its 6,500r/min ceiling in a linear and smooth manner. I averaged about 11.4l/100km over the test tenure, not too far off the claimed figure of 10.8l/100km. The cabin offers excellent ergonomics for the driver and passengers with electrically adjustable and heated front seats, an electrically operated steering column, and plenty of storage nooks and crannies.
The user interface is easy to use when stationary but it is a little disconcerting trying to operate it while on the move as you momentarily have to take your eyes off the road to select the desired icon. Also, the lack of auto-locking doors while driving off is an oversight for a vehicle in this segment. Operating the boot is a manual affair when opening, but electrical when closing, which seems a little bizarre. The Lexus RX remains a sensible choice for those looking for a luxury SUV with a comprehensive list of convenience and safety items.
However, with a limited choice of engines and the fact the model is getting long in the tooth, there are other options to look at. You could opt for the Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.6 Limited at R670 990 or the Infiniti QX70 3.7 GT at R679 130 – or firm favourites from BMW and Mercedes.
The Facts: 2014 Lexus RX 350
Engine: 3456cc, V6, petrol
Power: 204kW at 6200rpm
Torque: 346Nm at 4700rpm
Top speed: 200km/h
Fuel consumption: 10l/100km (Claimed)
Price: R691 000