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Last year was a big year for Lexus, with the combined New Zealand dealer network selling a record 1309 units, vastly eclipsing the previous 2022 record of 1,023 cars. Lexus say 2024 is likely to be another great year for the brand. With the incoming introduction of Road User Chargers for BEVs and PHEV vehicles, Lexus, bar the all-electric RZ, UX300e and recently released LBX, the Lexus family is made up mostly of conventional hybrids which are RUC exempt. One model, which is likely to be unaffected by these changes is the new RX SUV.

Yes, no more solely petrol powered RXs now, its hybrid or nothing, and that is not a bad thing. The RX has been with us since 1998 and in one shape or another, has become a solid seller in the line-up, with more than 6.6 million units being sold world-wide. Now into its fifth generation, the RX has become focused on blending the ideal balance of economy and performance thanks to the new RX350h and range topping RX500h F-Sport. I was fortunate enough to spend considerable time with both models but I will relay my time with the RX350h first, so here we go.

The RX350h is split into multiple spec levels. The Premium sets the ball rolling at $103,900 before moving up to the Limited and Limited Enhancement Pack at $135,800 and $140,000 respectively. Lastly the flagship RX500h F-Sport is a snip under $150k at $149,800. Both the 350h and 500h will appeal to a discerning kind of buyer, one wanting more classical elegance while the other a more sporty edge.

Under the bonnet of the RX350h is a 2.5L four-cylinder petrol/hybrid engine combo with a combined 184kW/239Nm sent to all four wheels via a six-speed E-CVT gearbox. Lexus claim combined fuel consumption figures of 6.0L/100km and 137g/km.

My test car looked rather stunning in that shade of Sonic Quartz. I tried to suppress the inner geek in me to draw comparisons between this RX and an Imperial Storm trooper, but as you can see, I couldn’t help it. The works of George Lucas aside, the latest RX has a dignified stance and has those restrained yet modernist styling cues which work to great effect.

The latest incarnation of Lexus Bladescan adaptive LED headlights is on hand, as is a new spindle grill, 21-inch dark metallic alloys and the new full-width rear light bar with floating Lexus logo on the boot lid.

Inside the RX follows the example set by the smaller NX SUV by continuing the Lexus “Tazuna” design philosophy. This means a more minimalist interior with what I feel is just the right mix of buttons and switchgear without it feeling too overcrowded or too minimalist. However, I find the touch controls on that leather wrapped steering wheel not as responsive as the old buttons and while you can change their functions to suit your taste, it does take some getting used to.

Points are clawed back with the RX having some of the most comfortable seats in this segment. Lexus seem to get the blend of comfort and support almost just right. Also, happily that old unresponsive mouse pad system is a thing of the past and the 14-inch infotainment system is touch screen and very clear and concise.

You get plenty of fruit too with wireless charging, a 360-degree reversing camera, three zone air-con with Lexus Climate Concierge, power boot lid, heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, E-Latch one touch door handles both inside and out and a full Lexus Safety System+ suite containing pre-collision warning, curve speed reduction, lane keep assist, safe exit assist, adaptive cruise, rear cross traffic alert etc. Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning the 21-speaker Mark Levinson Sound System is a peach.

If you like, you can also fork out an extra $5k for the Limited Enhancement Pack which gives you features like “Lexus Teamate” advanced drive function which aids in finding a parking space, a panoramic roof and full digital rear view mirror to name a few. The boot is capacious and despite the slightly higher boot floor, you can still load and unload everything with ease.

Lexus have also nailed it with the RX350h’s ability to waft along quietly. The previous generation RX managed this well but the fifth generation’s knack of drowning out the noise of the outside world considerably is pretty grand. It’s a hefty fella at 2660kg and as a result the 2.5L four does have to work harder to get you up to speed, but once there, the 350h is a sublime and refined cruiser.

Torque is linear and if you feather the throttle in Eco mode, you can creep along silently as per the Lexus hybrid norm. A variable adaptive suspension system keeps the ride supple when you need it to be and happy to firm things up if one needs that sportier edge. Fuel frugality is also the order of the day, with averages like 6.0L/100km becoming commonplace.

The E-CVT transmission is fine in automatic, but shifting gears yourself via the shift paddles isn’t really necessary, plus I found things were not as responsive when shifting manually, amazingly. Zero to 100km/h in 7.9 seconds isn’t going to rearrange your fillings but that would be going against what the RX350h is about.

At motorway speeds, the RX350h is an utter delight. As mentioned previous, there is stuff all road noise, the transition from petrol to electric drive is seamless and sublime levels of comfort means you can munch up the miles with no trouble.

All in all, the new Lexus RX has so much going for it and the RX350h is a solid offering and perfect for those Lexus buyers wanting the impressive flexibility and premium feel of a Lexus SUV with equally impressive fuel economy and drive-ability. Stay tuned for Part Two of this RX odyssey when I examine the RX500h F-Sport more closely.

RATING: 7.5/10

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