Lexus RX350 F-Sport 2013 Review
With the RX 350 F-Sport, Lexus is going after car buyers seeking a prestige family car with a bit...
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Our newest brand has stalled on the starting line. Infiniti is to Nissan what Lexus is to Toyota. Except Lexus has a host of models and dealers all over the country while Infiniti has launched with just two models, two dealers and no showrooms yet.
Over the next few months a Melbourne dealer will join Sydney and Brisbane and their showrooms will be open. Dealerships in Adelaide and Perth will follow by the end of next year. It's a big call for the American-centric brand and none of the global chiefs who attended the press launch on the Sunshine Coast last week is shying away from the fact.
But at least the two models they have launched are quality vehicles that will target growing sectors where customers seem to be seeking even wider choice. The models are the FX mid-sized luxury SUV and the M luxury saloon.
The FX is competitive on price with the Audi Q7, BMW X5/X6, Mercedes ML and Lexus RX. It's a larger vehicle than the Lexus, but like its Japanese colleague, it comes with a full suite of standard features while the Germans charge substantially more for those "extras".
The M competes with the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Lexus GS, and has a similar high level of standard features. However, both models charge an eyebrow-raising $1500 for metallic paint.
Warranty is four years and 100,000km which seems low kilometres for our wide, brown land.
Resale is not yet established, but Infiniti won a major award in Canada for residual values. Infiniti says services can only be done at qualified centres and with just two dealers currently in Australia that could be problematic.
However, their generous roadside assistance program has provisions for accommodation, accident coordination, alternate vehicle supply and will even extend to Infiniti customers' other cars or other vehicles they are driving but don't even own. Infiniti Australia general manager Kevin Snell expects the FX will account for about 80 per cent of sales.
FX is the older model of the two and comes with older technology. It is powered by a choice of V6 petrol or diesel engines and a 287kW five-litre petrol V8 that guzzles fuel at 13.1L/100km.
The M range is all V6-powered with a petrol, diesel and hybrid set-up. The latter has an impressive total output of 268kW that sips fuel at a lower rate than the diesel. It will also operate in full electric mode up to 100km/h if there is enough battery charge.
Snell expects only 10 per cent will opt for the V8 or the hybrid models while the others will be evenly split. All models have seven-speed automatic transmissions with downshift rev matching and magnesium paddle shifters. Drive in the FX is via an intelligent system that defaults to 100 per cent rear-wheel drive and delivers up to 50 per cent torque to the front wheels when the lights go green, when the back wheels start to slip or in cornering.
The M is a more traditional rear-wheel drive. The analogue clock on the centre console of both vehicles is contradictory to the digital technology that abounds, especially in the M. While both have Bose sound systems, the M includes active noise cancellation that is similar to Bose headphones.
There are two microphones in the ceiling that monitor engine noise between 2000-6000 revs, and then creates a reverse soundwave to cancel that sound. It works whether the sound system is on or off, but it doesn't negate road noise and it deactivates if you open a window or door.
You can breathe easy in the saloon which has a "Forest Air" airconditioning system with humidity control, a grapeseed polyphenol filter to decrease allergies, airflow that replicates natural breezes, aroma tropical oils that can reduce stress levels of occupants, sensors that switch between fresh and recirculating air depending on oxygen levels and aromas, and an ion generator to remove bacteria and smells.
M also has active four-wheel steering in the top trim level where the back wheels turn the same direction as the front. At up to 40km/h the front wheels turn more than the back, but at higher speeds, the back wheels steer more. FX has an auto tailgate which is a must with any SUV with such a large rear door.
These Japanese-made vehicles are specifically designed for Americans, so there are some bold slaps of chrome and a macho grille outside and fake wood, big cup holders and wide, wide seats inside.
But neither will offend Aussie tastes.
The FX is actually a delicate and almost feminine design that looks more like a Porsche Cayenne than the macho X5. It's also lower and wider than an X5 for a very dynamic, road-holding appearance. There is a Jaguar S Type feeling about the exterior design of the M and a not unlike Jag feeling of gentlemanly glamour in the cabin.
Rear seat accommodation in both vehicles is generous although the transmission and seat hump in the middle of the back row means being the fifth person is a little uncomfortable. There is also plenty of boot space in both models, except in the M hybrid which positions the large battery behind the rear seats leaving a puny amount of luggage space.
FX has been crash tested in Europe for a five-star result, while the M has yet to be tested. Both come with a suite of standard safety features including six airbags, rearview cameras and blind spot warning.
Product planning manager Zac Loo says the M has two world firsts in safety: blind spot intervention and total surround view, both available in the Premium trim. They go further than similar systems found in most other luxury cars.
The flagship M models also get distance control assist which is similar to adaptive cruise control, but way better.Instead of only working when you select a speed at which to cruise, when this system is activated, it works at any speed whether you have selected cruise speed or not.
It also actively warns when you are closing on a vehicle in front too quickly by pushing back on the accelerator. If you are closing to overtake, then you can easily override the system by pressing harder on the throttle.
Since it's designed for litigious Americans there is a plethora of annoying warning beeps that you have to manually disengage to preserve your sanity. Neither model has a full-size spare. Instead, they get a mix of a repair kit or temporary tyres depending on trim level and model.
Infiniti Australia managing director and CEO Bill Peffer hates being comparisons with Lexus, but it's unavoidable. There is more of a sense of being in a Lexus than a German car when you ride in either of these vehicles.
Both have high quality build, tasteful amounts of bling, a quiet environment and a feeling of super-refined engines. Peffer says their vehicles are more performance oriented and a quick dash through the hills and dales of the Sunshine Coast hinterland testify to that.
All engine variants we tried were strong and powerful and the cars and SUVs handled with a nimble agility expected of much smaller vehicles. The four-wheel steering takes some getting used to, initially feeling dead and then becoming more alive as your hands relax and stop fighting for control.
Certainly the old "Elk test" (a high-speed swerve-and-recover test) is much more controllable with four-wheel steering, cancelling any whiplash effect. It also pays dividends in tight and twisty sections of smooth tarmac, however the diesel models feels more nose heavy with a slower turn into corners.
There is plenty of grip available in both models yet the ride is on the plush side over the broken patches of country road pummeled by milk trucks. Seats are big and wide without a lot of support, so you slide around in corners, but they are comfortable with a supple leather.
Some of that Lexus quietness is due to the Bose noise-cancelling system as well as double-glazed windows, yet there is still some road noise evident. As for the Forest Air, we noticed a faint diesel smell as we tailgated a colleague in the diesel model for a while, but it quickly disappeared again.
We love the distance control assist system and would prefer it as the default setting rather than having to turn it on every time you get in the car. You can't even program the computer to accept it as a default.
The M sedan is bristling with technology and style that should attract those who are tired of the competitors and crave something different. The FX is a big and comfortable luxury SUV that will appeal to those who aren't particularly concerned with fuel prices. A hybrid is not coming until the next model.
|GT||3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO||$18,800 – 26,180||2012 Infiniti M30d 2012 GT Pricing and Specs|
|S Premium||3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO||$19,100 – 26,620||2012 Infiniti M30d 2012 S Premium Pricing and Specs|
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