Lexus RX VS Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class
- Better in every way than the A45
- Terrific front seats
- Relatively restrained looks
- Expensive servicing
- Some interior bits are cheap
- Getting old
For those of us unlucky enough to remember the first Lexus RX to launch in Australia, the memories aren’t the fondest.
If you can’t remember it, just picture the stodgiest-looking SUV you can - make it so bland a mere picture of one could cure insomnia - dragging a glass-walled cube behind the rear wheels.
All of which makes the current-generation RX so incredible. I mean, just look at it; those big rims, the 3D-effect grille, the outrageous lines and creases. It’s about as far removed from its snooze-worthy predecessors as it is possible to get.
Little wonder, then, it has emerged as the second-strongest performer in the Lexus line-up. And with the RX recently refreshed (and with a seven-seat RX L model added for the first time) its high time we took a closer look at the Japanese premium brand’s large SUV.
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|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Buuuuuuuur, parp, buuuuuuuuuuuur, parp. Anyone who knows anything about cars immediately recognises the sound of a 45-engined A-class derivative. It's the sound you hear in a tunnel as old mate blasts past with a giant carbon-fibre wing atop his hatchback. It's the sound you hear at 3:00am on a summer morning (if your suburb has no speed bumps, of course).
Sure, the GLA compact SUV is probably a slightly unexpected source of all that noise. But then, Merc's Ingolstadt rivals stuffed Audi's stupendous five-cylinder engine into a Q3 to make the hugely improbable RSQ3, so why not do the same with their skirts-lifted A-Class?
To be honest, my expectations for this car were low. So do I owe Mercedes a grovelling apology? Or can I still claim the moral high ground after a week of GLA 45 "ownership"?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
A comfortable and ferociously well-equipped offering (even from the cheapest trim level) - and with a very good ownership package to boot - the RX has earned its place high in the Lexus pecking order.
There are faster, more pulse-quickening SUVs available, of course, but as a sedate suburban warrior, the RX is hard to fault. For ours, we'd be opting for the bang-for-bucks sweet spot of the Luxury trim, paired with the punchy-but-efficient hybrid powertrain.
My wonderful wife, who is not really into this kind of car, admitted to me in a quiet voice that she really liked the GLA45 as long as it was in Sport + mode. And I have to agree. While I'm very fond of the ridiculous Audi RSQ3 (that turbo five-cylinder sounds amazing), I think I'd stump up the extra for the GLA.
Importantly, it can be comfortable, it can be quiet and it's a better fit for most humans than the A or CLA. It is getting on a bit and could do with a further clean-out of the poor ergonomics, but in what is likely its final year on sale, it's still a belter.
Has Peter finally lost it? Can the GLA45 be the best of the A-side 45 trio? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
This current RX is like the butterfly that’s emerged from the caterpillar-cocoon of the older models, looking plenty premium and serving up road presence by the bagful.
No matter which model you go for, you’ll find the angry 'Spindle Grille' up front (which, for ours, is reminiscent of the Predator’s toothy grin, while 20-inch alloys are an impressive size, and a very un-Lexus body kit wraps from the front end all the way around to the rear spoiler.
The interior (check out the interior photos for a closer look) is premium-feeling, if a little busy, with the doors and dash covered in a combination of soft-touch materials and padded leather.
The brushed aluminium-look central tunnel that separates the front seats is super wide, as it houses the cupholders, drive-mode selector and the strange mousepad that controls the entertainment system, but feels nice under the touch and becomes a kind of focal point in the cabin.
The GLA45 isn't a looker, but then, none of the GLAs are. There's a certain blobbiness to it. A bit of Teletubby mixed with...um, another Teletubby. It's not ugly, it's just not particularly attractive. The 20-inch wheels do much to lift the appearance and negate the effect of the raised ride height compared to the A45/CLA45.
The body kit stops just short of lairy, which is heartening. So if you want to stand out, venture out into the aftermarket world.
Inside was a mild surprise. The last time I drove a CLA 45 I used the word "gaudy". While the GLA isn't amazingly better, the texture of the Alcantara replacing the brushed metal-look plastic, or the carbon of the option pack, was much more pleasant. The brightwork in the cabin is still a bit odd looking, and it's still overcooked with its red detailing, but it is an otherwise beautifully built and well-detailed interior.
With dimensions stretching 4890mm long and 1895mm wide, the RX sits squarely in the large SUV category, and there’s plenty of space for riders in both the first and second row.
Up front, there is a cup holder for both driver and passenger and extendable pockets in each of the front doors, and the deep cubby that separates the front seats adds plenty of storage space, and is home to two USB connections, a power outlet and and aux connection, but there is no sunglass holder.
The interior dimensions ensure there’s plenty of space in the back seat, although the central stack that houses the air vents and another power outlet does jut out into the rear legroom of the middle-seat passenger. There are two bonus cupholders hidden in a pulldown divider that drops from the middle seat, and two ISOFIX attachment points along the backseat.
Open the automatic tailgate (by waving your hand in front of the Lexus badge) and you’ll find 453 litres of luggage capacity, with boot space increasing to 942 litres by folding the backseat down. Theres’s a sliding cargo cover (the SUV version of a tonneau cover), too.
The front seats are utterly brilliant and feel as good as they look. On first acquaintance they may feel under-padded, but once you've adjusted them to your liking, you never want to leave. The AMG cars also feature one vast improvement over a normal GLA - the ergonomic disaster of a column-mounted shifter is removed, with a console-mounted shifter added where a small cubby once lived. It's so much better, although the Park button is oddly difficult to press.
When luxuriating in those snug front seats, you'll have access to two cupholders and door-mounted bottle holders, as well as a console bin (where the USB ports are) and a tray under the climate controls. Rear seat passengers will find legroom tight but headroom good, even with the huge sunroof.
The GLA's boot holds an entirely reasonable 421 litres, rising to 1235 when you drop both rear seats.
Price and features
The Lexus RX arrives in plenty of trim and engine combinations, so exactly how much yours will cost is largely up to you.
The minimum RRP, though, is $74,251, which will buy you an RX300 Luxury. A little further up the price list lives the RX350 Luxury, at $81,421, which makes use of a bigger engine, while the hybrid RX450h Luxury will set you back $90,160.
The range then steps up to the second of three trim levels, the F Sport, for which you’ll be paying $86,551 for the RX300, $93,721 for the RX350 and $102,460 for the RX450h.
Finally, the range tops out with the Sport Luxury trim, which will push the budget to $92,701 for the RX300, $99,871 for the RX350 and $108,610 for the RX450h.
Okay, so that’s what you’ll be paying. But take a deep breath now, we’re dive into the model comparison.
Even the Luxury-badged cars are a premium package, arriving with 20-inch alloy wheels, tinted windows, a powered tailgate, LED headlights and fog lights (with daytime running lights) , a smart key with keyless entry, roof rails and rain-sensing wipers. Inside, expect a laundry list of standard features, including dual-zone climate control, sat nav (which, as far as GPS navigation systems go, is a breeze to operate), push-button start and leather trim.
Your 8.0-inch screen (it’s not a touch screen) pairs with digital radio and 12 speakers, there’s Bluetooth for your MP3s, as well as wireless charging (though iPhones require a special case), and you get heated and cooled front seats, too. Be warned; there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto anywhere in the range.
Step up to the F Sport - a pseudo sport edition - and you’ll add a bigger, 12.3-inch infotainment screen that adds a CD player and DVD player and pairs with a better Mark Levinson sound system complete with 15 speakers (including a subwoofer). You get a new colour head-up display (HUD), too, and a whole heap of sport-flavoured styling flourishes.
Compare that to the Sport Luxury, which adds with soft leather trim elements, heated seats in the second row (vs just the front seats on the F Sport trim) and a power folding function for the backseat. There’s no heated steering wheel here, but then, who needs one in Australia? The adaptive front lighting system cn be switched off, too, should you prefer the traditional approach.
Colours include 'Titanium' (metallic grey), 'Sonic Quartz' (white), 'Premium Silver', 'Onyx' (a kind of black), 'Graphite Black', 'Vermilion' (red), 'Metallic Silk' (rose gold), 'Deep Metallic Bronze' (a fancy brown) and 'Deep Blue'.
How many seats? That would be five. If you want a third row seat, then you’re shopping for the RX L, as the standard RX is strictly a five-seat affair.
A thick accessories catalogue includes specialty floor mats, roof rack and boot liner options, bull bar, nudge bar and rear seat entertainment system options, as well as a panoramic sunroof, which will set you back $3675. You won't find Homelink though (which automatically opens your garage door), as it's yet to be made available in Australia.
The GLA 45 lightens your wallet by no less than $89,211 - more than double the GLA 180 front-wheel drive, and about $5000 more than the bonkers (and ancient) RS Q3.
Packed into the GLA's kit bag are 20-inch alloy wheels, a 12-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, comprehensive safety gear, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, electric and heated front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim (some real, some not), auto parking, powered and heated folding mirrors, a massive sunroof and dynamic dampers. There's no spare tyre, just a tyre-repair kit.
The multimedia system is Mercedes' COMAND unit and it is as user-unfriendly as ever. It does, however, power a very decent stereo, and also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Thankfully our car was bereft of both the carbon-fibre package ($990) and the aerodynamics package ($1990).
Engine & trans
There are three (petrol) engine size options on offer; a turbocharged 2.0-litre in the RX300, a punchy V6 in the RX350 and a hybrid set-up in the RX450.
First up, the four-cylinder turbo engine serves up 175kW/350Nm (decent specs for a smaller engine), channelling it through a six-speed automatic gearbox and sending it on to the front wheels.
The six-cylinder petrol engine is good for 221kW/370Nm, sending that power to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The hybrid (it’s not a plug-in hybrid) option uses the exact same engine, but paired with an electric motor that lifts the total output to 230kW/335Nm. That combination pairs with a CVT auto, sending its horsepower to all four wheels.
All are petrol powered (there are no diesel or LPG options, and no manual transmission, for that matter), and for ours, the combined engine specs of the hybrid powertrain make the most - and most expensive - sense.
While the Luxury, F-Sport and Sport Luxury models all have adjustable drive modes (including Eco mode), tweaking throttle response and gearing, only the Sport Luxury serves up true variable suspension.
The F Sport and Sport Luxury also make use of the Lexus AWD system (though 4WD aficionados will notice the lack of low range that prevents it being a true 4x4). The RX300 is front-wheel drive, with no rear-wheel drive options anywhere in the range.
Expect a braked towing capacity of at least 1000kg (provided you’ve picked a tow bar/tow hitch receiver from the accessories catalogue) with a gross vehicle weight that starts from 2500kg.
For reported problems and maintenance, including transmission problems, battery and oil type, and changing your timing belt or chain, see our owner’s page.
AMG's fabled 2.0-litre turbo four lurks under that higher bonnet, still kicking out an improbable 280kW and 475Nm. Drive reaches the road via Merc's own seven-speed twin-clutch transmission and all four of its wheels.
All that power and grip translates to a 4.4-second dash to 100km/h for the slightly tubby (over 1600kg) GLA, but just between you and me, anything under five seconds feels scorchingly quick.
For the smaller, turbocharged engine, Lexus claims fuel economy of 8.1 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, with emissions pegged at 189g/km of CO2. Stepping up to the RX350 increases fuel consumption numbers to 9.6L/100km and 223g/km, while the hybrid gets by with impressive mileage of just 5.7L/100km and 131g/km.
Expect a 72-litre fuel tank that requires 95RON fuel in the 300 and 350, while the hybrid’s fuel tank capacity is 65 litres.
The official combined-cycle figure suggests the GLA45 will consume 7.5L/100km. Obviously that figure is largely irrelevant, and not just for the usual reasons, but because you don't buy a GLA45 to potter about in. I got, uh, 12.5L/100km, so you can imagine how much I was enjoying it.
As you might expect, you'll need to feed it 98RON.
If BMW serves up the 'ultimate driving machine' and Mercedes delivers 'the best or nothing', then surely the review tag line for the RX SUV range should be 'easy like a Sunday morning'.
Sure, there are sportier-feeling SUVs - and faster ones, too - but there is an easy comfort to the way the RX goes about its business that you’ll undoubtedly appreciate more frequently than you would harder suspension, more in-touch steering and the endless pursuit of speed and 0-100 performance figures.
For the record, though, the hybrid cars will sprint from 0-100km/h in a brisk 7.7sec, a smidge quicker than the 8.0sec of the regular V6. The RX300 records a far more leisurely 9.2sec.
Probably most impressive, the RX doesn't feel overly large and cumbersome, and nor does its turning radius, and it’s equally at home in the cramped inner city as it is eating up kays on the freeway. The six- or eight-speed transmission is silky-smooth seamless, switching between cogs without you even noticing, and the cabin is commendably quiet - especially when you're coasting though the ‘burbs - locking the worst road noise outside out of the cabin.
You can inject a little excitement by selecting 'Sport' or 'Sport +' via the central dial, tweaking the accelerator and steering settings, and in Sport Luxury cars, firming up the suspension, removing some of the lolling about in corners, though there’s no air suspension.
While the F-Sport and Sport Luxury cars are AWD-equipped, the off road capability is hampered somewhat by its ground clearance, big chrome-look wheels and skirtings. This is an SUV built for the city over the bush, but you likely don’t need us to tell you that.
When the 45-badged cars first launched, they were something of a revelation. BMW's turbo six-cylinder fans sniffed at the 2.0-litre's staggering outputs and all-wheel-drive chassis, but this car really captured the imagination. The GLA45 might be slightly unexpected, but it's better in almost every way as a daily driver than the A or CLA.
For a start, its higher ride height seems to translate to a much better ride quality. Anything on 20-inch wheels should have an appalling ride, but the GLA45 manages to be firm yet comfortable. Put the other two in Race mode and you'll need to up your private health insurance extras to include osteo, physio and whatever "o"-ending specialist fixes your back.
The improved ride quality meant I was far happier to chuck this car around. While it doesn't have the same ultimate overall performance of the lower cars, it's far more comfortable whether you're on it or just driving around. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and the steering is excellent.
As for the engine...well, it still farts like toddler during a moment of silence at a funeral, but you can't deny its technical brilliance and huge power outputs. I remember the CLA45's engine as being a bit highly strung. Perhaps I couldn't separate the overall high-strung nature of the car from the engine, but I felt the same engine in this car wasn't as jumpy.
The way it propels this car into triple figures is tremendous fun. It's not as charismatic as the Audi five-cylinder, perhaps, but that doesn't matter in the end - it's properly fast, attached to a better chassis and offers a cabin with a driving position fit for humans.
Even the cheapest RX (which, admittedly, isn’t all that cheap) arrives with a long list of standard safety features, including a reversing camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, AEB, lane assist and parking sensors (but no park assist).
You’ll also find 10 airbags, and twin ISOFIX mountings for you baby car seat, as well as cruise control and the usual suite of braking and traction control systems.
The Lexus RX received a five-star ANCAP safety rating, the best possible ratings outcome, when tested in 2015. The Lexus RX is built in Japan.
The GLA comes with nine airbags (including driver's knee), blind-spot sensors, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning and mitigation and driver-attention detection.
Expect a four-year/100,000km warranty (that's 12 months longer than BMW or Mercedes-Benz, so think of it as a kind of extended warranty), and the RX will require a trip to the service centre every 12 months or 15,000km.
Your first service cost is gratis, and the total maintenance cost for each service is available online - so there are no surprises at the dealership.
For common problems, complaints, issues and the like, visit our Lexus RX owner’s page. But your owner’s manual should be required reading, too. Traditionally, Lexus product ranks well in reliability ratings, resale value and initial value rating charts.
The Mercedes standard warranty is three years/unlimited kilometres with roadside assist to match. Service intervals are a very reasonable 12 months/20,000km.
The company also offers capped-price servicing - first service is $576 but the second and third are a whopping $1152 each. Three years will set you back $2880.