New Lexus RX is well-built, but still struggling
Does the additional row of seats give the Lexus RX a unique selling point? Lerato Matebese got behind the wheel to investigate
The premium SUV market has a long list of players vying to woo a discerning and relatively well-heeled audience looking for a utility vehicle bristling with all the mod cons, all the while making a statement about their economic status and preference.
The German triumvirate — Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz — has always led the charge here, and any would-be players have struggled to break in.
Since Lexus, the luxury arm of Toyota, launched here in 1989, it has been an uphill battle for the brand, which has been tenacious despite selling well below its German rivals. Even so, the marque has always had decent offerings, with one of its fortés being well-specified vehicles with excellent refinement.
In isolation, the RX is a competently put-together vehicle and in its latest guise launched in 2016, practical on both the passenger and luggage sides.
But the company has now found it more fitting to bring out a slightly more practical variant of its RX, dubbed the RX350L (long), which has a slightly elongated wheelbase to accommodate two third-row seats. It is looking to a different approach by offering a seven-seat premium SUV at the sub-R1m mark.
That slightly longer overhang over the rear axle to accommodate the two seats surprisingly does not look ungainly, largely aided by the thin side windows. At 5m long and with a 2.79m wheelbase, the vehicle is rather long and you would do well to ensure your garage can accommodate it before purchasing. The rear seats are excellent for kids but adults will find legroom particularly compromised.
Boot space, though not class-leading, is relatively good at 432l with the third row of seats folded and can rise to 966l with the second row folded.
The cabin has decent build quality and high quality materials, but the tan leather seats and chocolate trimmings are not everyone’s taste. The third row of seats have faux leather covering — a bit out of place in a vehicle that costs just shy of R1m.
Refinement has always been a strong point for the RX and the L variant is no different, thanks to exemplary insulation from road, wind and engine noise.
The model is powered by a familiar 3.5l V6 engine that puts out 216kW and 358Nm to all wheels via a smooth eight-speed gearbox.
While the engine is smooth operating, it does need to be wrung out to get going, which means you can expect about 11.8 l/100km fuel consumption, which is way off the claimed 10.2l/100km.
On the open road, however, the model comes into its own and the damping is rather good in spite of the 20-inch wheels and 255/55 profile tyres.
The ride does get a bit jittery on very poor roads. Mild gravel roads can be tackled with aplomb and the 200mm ground clearance is quite usable, but hard-core off-road excursions the vehicle is not designed for, as there is no low-range gear, so the odd gravel road is as far as this vehicle is designed to go.
Storage facilities are vast for oddments, and the infotainment system’s finger-tracing functionality takes getting used to and is particularly annoying to operate on the move, especially for right-handed people. The graphics are decent though and the system easily paired with my smartphone.
While the model is a unique offering, I feel from an interior packaging perspective it is more an Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC competitor than a segment above. At R959,000 I am not convinced the extra seats will sway those buying into the German or even British fold, but rather those looking for additional practicality within the premium segment and at a decent price.
The Lexus RXL fills that gap particularly well.