Who would have thought that Lexus, Toyota's answer to Audi, BMW, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz, would be able to take the fight to the established luxury marques in just a matter of years. Founded in 1989, the relatively young brand grew from just having the flagship LS luxury sedan, to a myriad of sport saloons, crossovers and SUVs that can cater to almost any segment or niche under the sun.
But perhaps one of the most successful models the brand has ever released is the RX. Originally conceived as a compact crossover back in 1997, the RX grew in size over the years and now serves as the company's midsize premium crossover. Offering loads of space, a comfy ride and sporty-like performance, the RX offers a lot for its size and was met with success swiftly through the times.
After getting to test the more exuberant RX 350 F Sport, we now drive the mild-mannered standard RX 350 to see if the midsize luxury crossover in its purest form is something to look out for in its segment.
Love its spindle grill or loathe it, the all-new RX 350's design is a far cry from its predecessor. Sure it still has the familiar shape from previous generations, but its overall design now conforms with the brand’s ‘L-Finesse’ philosophy. Longer, wider and more angular than before, the fourth-generation RX veers away from its SUV-like design of old for a sleeker and sharper look.
Sitting proudly up front is the distinct slatted front grill along with the eye-catching LED headlights with daytime running lights (DRLs). Shod in the wheels wells are large 20-inch five-spoke alloys wrapped in Bridgestone Dueller H/L tires. But perhaps the most striking feature of the new RX are its LED taillights. Like most other Lexii (plural for Lexus) on offer today, it gets L-shaped LED units that illuminate the rear in a distinct fashion.
One might notice, however, that despite its more aggressive styling, this particular RX 350 is lacking a certain sportiness. That's because all those sporty add-ons (unique front bumper, spindle sport grill and alloy wheels, and door sill plates) are only available on the F Sport. Personally though, I like the RX the way it is as the crossover itself is already eye-catching whichever way you look at it.
If there is too much going on outside the RX, the inside is a completely different story. Flowing lines, soft-touch materials, intricate wood and aluminum trim, and a quiet cabin greet the passengers.
Sitting on the driver's seat, one may become overwhelmed of the array of buttons and controls that are at one's disposal. However, once you familiarize yourself with the dash and center console layout, it's actually pretty ergonomic. Some may find the leather-wrapped steering wheel a bit small, but its compact size means its easy to turn the wheel whether driving in the daily grind or while taking on tight corners. Since this is the standard RX, it does not get the LFA-inspired digital instrument panel and instead gets traditional gauges and a TFT multi-info display.
Wood veneer covers the center console and portions of the dashboard along with splashes of aluminum that contrast the earthly finish and color. Meanwhile, the dashboard and center console itself appear to be made from a single piece of material, giving it a robust and quality finish as it does not rattle in any way. In addition, certain touch points like the climate control and infotainment system buttons, power window switches and drive mode select wheel also have a quality feel to them.
Supple leather blankets both the front and rear seats, with the former benefiting from 8-way power and lumbar adjust. Did I mention that the seats up front also come with a cooling function? A nice touch especially during those hot summer days. Controlling the onboard infotainment system is done by a center console-mounted wheel. Placed just behind the gear lever, it's actually quite easy to manipulate and go over menus upon menus. I just wished, however, that the system was quicker to respond to commands and the screen had a better resolution. It does, however, support the following: AM/FM radio, CD, USB, Aux and even Bluetooth connectivity.
While it's easy to dismiss the RX as nothing more than a high-riding midsize luxury five seater, do remember that the new RX has nearly 300 PS available on tap and more than 350 Nm of pulling power.
Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 that churns out 292 PS at 6200 rpm and 360 Nm of torque at 4700 rpm. Internally known as the 2GR-FKS, the six-cylinder benefits from both VVT-iW (intake) and VVT-i (exhaust). Power is then routed through an eight-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels.
On paper, the output figures are impressive but actually getting to drive the RX 350 is rewarding to say the least. Off the line, the RX is smooth and there is hardly any strain coming from the engine. Around town and city roads, the RX is a docile runaround. Its electronically power assisted steering is by far one of the best that I have ever used. Its light to use in the city and during parking. It only becomes slightly heavier at highway speeds, but only just. Also, unlike most electronic power steering systems that deliver numb feedback, the one on the RX felt tactile and delivered communicable steering response.
Should one feel the need for speed, the RX will not disappoint. Despite peak torque being available at the upper rev range, the V6 still doles out low-end pulling power above 2000 rpm. Put your foot down on the accelerator pedal and the drivetrain quickly sends power to the front wheels. The 8-speed is quick to change its shift points when driving spiritedly and keeps the revs at optimal levels. Set the transmission to manual mode and it can hold the revs for longer. It does not come with paddle shifters (only available in the F Sport) but something about manually throwing the gear lever to go through the cogs is oddly satisfying.
As far as fuel economy is concerned, the front-wheel drive only RX 350 is more frugal than its all-wheel drive F Sport sibling, but not by much. Through light city traffic, I was able to average around 7.0 – 7.5 km/l which is not bad considering it has six cylinders. Drive it on the highway and the RX is capable of returning about 12.0 km/l.
In true Lexus fashion, ride quality on the RX 350 is superb. Unlike the F Sport which has a firmer ride (due to the F Sport suspension), the standard RX has softer dampers which allows it to go over bumps and road imperfections smoothly. On the flipside, the RX has a more floaty ride but then again that's the whole point of buying a luxury crossover is it not? There is also plenty of space for three occupants at the back thanks to its longer wheelbase. Certainly, persons with a tall disposition will not be found wanting in the RX 350.
Despite its soft ride, the RX's road handling ability is spot on and precise. Granted that it's no sports crossover by any means, I was still impressed that it made short work of tight curves and sweeping bends. There is some hint of body roll but its within acceptable levels.
Retailing for a cool Php 4,168,000, the RX 350 is a nice midsize high-riding luxury five-seater that comes with almost every bell and whistle one would find on a premium crossover. However, since it's not the F Sport, the 'entry-level' model does lose some key features which could hurt its 'premium' proposition. Still, the RX comes with lots of toys, space and a host of safety equipment that guarantee a safe, secure and luxury ride every time.
If the NX is too small and the LX or GX are too big, the RX is the middleweight choice of Lexus' SUV lineup. It may not be as cool as the F Sport, but the RX is already cool, calm and collected as it is, not to mention quick on its feet too.