The mid-life upgrade has made significant improvement to the wagon's steering and handling.
Ewan Kennedy road tests and reviews the new Lexus RX with specs, fuel economy and verdict.
Some vehicle mid-life facelifts are just that – a nip here, a tuck there and the model is freshened up for another two to three years. Not so with their-invented Lexus RX line which is more like a new model than a facelift, and it shows where it matters most - drivability.
The mid-life upgrade has made significant improvement to the wagon's steering and handling as well as re-engineering to improve the popular SUV's chassis flex. There are also new F Sport variants available on the RX 350 and RX 450h models.
Lexus also took the opportunity to launch an all-new RX to the Australian market - a 2WD, four-cylinder model badged RX 270 aimed at urban dwellers and families, hitting showroom floors at $69,990 complete with a bag full of fruit usually found in the options brochure.
The RX line now has a stable of seven variants and puts Lexus in a good space to capitalise on the booming medium size SUV segment. Luxury SUVs now outsell luxury sedans and in 2012 to date medium size SUV sales are up a staggering 50 per cent compared to 2011.
It may be the entry level model but the RX 270 comes well equipped including satellite navigation with traffic alert, reversing camera with guide assist, power tailgate, eight-way power seats, leather accented interior, smart entry and smart start, 12 speaker audio, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and voice command, daytime running lamps, 18-inch alloys, and metallic paint.
The 2.7-litre engine produces 138 kW of power at 5800 rpm and 252 Nm of torque at 4200 rpm, and is no slouch. Under the skin Lexus has vastly improved the RX chassis. Twelve extra welding spots under the dash have vastly improved the stability and steering.
In addition the F-Sport also gained extra bracing across the firewall, at the lower end of the front struts as well as across the rear bulkhead. These may sound insignificant, but have had a profound impact on the RX's handling and steering.
The RX range gets an updated second-generation edition of the Lexus Remote Touch system – think of it as a mouse – which Lexus says it easier to access and use on-board media communications. Digital Audio - the coming technology mostly found in luxury vehicles - is also being offered across the range and widens the choice of stations as well improving sound clarity.
The most significant exterior change is to the face – the first place buyers look – where the RX adopts the new corporate look that first appeared in the April 2012 release of the new GS models. The hallmark Lexus 'spindle' grille now graces the RX line with chrome surrounds and highlighted by new headlamps.
The LED lights in arrowhead shape are quite striking and add aggression to the conservative design. It's a busy front end that may polarize opinions. As with other Lexus models the RX now gets an F Sport model that replaces the existing Prestige and Sport models.
It has individual exterior styling including chrome 19 inch alloy wheels, F Sport badging and unique mesh grille inserts and is clearly aimed at a younger market. F Sport variants also feature black and grey leather-accented interior, alloy pedals and to push home the theme, F Sport-badged steering wheel.
Safety equipment includes Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), stability control and, like the rest of the RX range, ten airbags.
We were able to drive the RX 350 F Sport and the new RX 270 on winding roads, highways and some of Canberra's urban environment. Firstly, the F-Sport. It was not until we hit the tight bends that the realisation of just how much better the RX has become.
The improved rigidity has ironed out a steering that was uncomfortable over undulating roads. It now feels solid and does not have the heavy feel of the older model. On the tight corners the RX 350 F Sport felt like it was on rails. We would compare this vehicle to any European SUV in this respect - something we would not have considered in the past from Lexus.
The NVH (noise vibration harshness) is practically nonexistent. There is little outside noise intrusion into the cabin even at speed or under hard acceleration. If we had a compliant it is perhaps the front seats that need improved bolstering to cope with the F Sport's considerable handling ability.
The RX 270 is a surprise package. It is as well balanced as the AWD RX models, but has a slightly firmer suspension. When pushed on uneven surfaces it also lacks the composure of the RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid.
However, these are minor criticisms, set against the RX premium AWD models that are now the equal to anything Europe has to offer – and more refined than SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. The 2.7-litre engine is at its best above 3500 rpm, not that this matters in the urban jungle.
Engine: 2.7-litre, dual VVTi, (variable valve timing) four pot, 138kW/252Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission; FWD
Body: 5-door SUV
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Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel, 176kW/500Nm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual, AWD
Body: Five-door wagon
Thirst: 7.5 litres/100km, 199g/km CO2
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Engine: 2.4-litre twin-turbo diesel, 158kW/440Nm
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