As a brand, Lexus launched its way onto the World’s luxury automotive market three decades ago (it was 1991 for NZ but don’t let that curb your enthusiasm). Their mission was to build cars that would rival the best in the world and boy did the LS 400 sedan do that. V8 power, an automatic tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with SRS airbag, power-adjustable shoulder seat belts, walnut and leather trim, power-adjustable seats, Nakamichi premium sound system, I could go on. Suffice to say, it was a hit.
A mere four years later, Lexus entered the luxury SUV/Crossover market with the RX 300 and it’s this very popular model’s latest iteration, or ‘refreshed’ 4th Generation, that we were about to meet in the flesh.
When I say popular, I really mean it, and something to which 2.94million global sales of the RX would surely attest. In fact, it’s Lexus’s best selling vehicle, a position it’s held for more or less a decade. Here in New Zealand, the RX contributes to a huge 30% of Lexus sales and of that, over 50% of them are hybrid-powered!
The New Zealand RX launch event began at their swanky showroom in Ponsonby but we didn’t spend much time there. A quick coffee and a hello before being assigned our vehicles and handed a route map – oddly enough we could have probably just followed the RX’s navigation system, after all, it’s delivered on a 12.3-inch touchscreen, hardly what you’d ‘easy to miss.’ Anyway, we boarded our ‘350’ V6 petrol-powered SUV and headed west.
The new RX comes in eight model variants, two of which are 7-seaters. They all come with the 3.5L V6 engine (sporting 216kW for the ‘L’ and 221kW for the other petrol-only models), however, four of them (50%) are hybrid too, with 230kW’s to play with. Trim levels are L, F-Sport and Limited and as it turned out, we had been handed the Limited first up, complete with all the Lexus RX fruit.
Visually, the exterior has been enhanced. The trademark Lexus ‘spindle-grille’ has been revised, the headlight (that I’ll get to in a moment) have been slimmed down, fog lights have been lowered and it comes with corner lights too. ‘Unique’ Limited 20-inch alloys increase the SUV’s profile while at the rear, combination lights, a lower bumper and a kicker tailgate. Now about those headlights. The F-Sport and Limited come with ‘BladeScan’ Adaptive Highbeam System, that automatically reduces brightness in specific regions ahead of the car
BladeScan operates by shining light from LEDs on two blade-shaped mirrors rotating at high speed, which in turn reflect light onto a lens to illuminate the road ahead. The distribution of this light is precisely controlled. BladeScan means that drivers will be able to identify pedestrians near the shoulder of the road from a distance of 56 metres, up 24 metres from the previously 32 metres illumination using the Adaptive High-beam System.
The RX comes dripping with other Lexus safety features too, (too many to list here and keep you reading), suffice to say, you’ll struggle to find any blindspots or be alerted to any danger. Apple and Android smartphones have now been embraced and the large touchscreen I mentioned earlier, gives you access to a whole raft of apps and infotainment. My limited model came with supple leather furniture, wood trim, panoramic roof, steering wheel heater, (I could go on) and (of course) Takami craftsmanship.
We took to the winding scenic roads that make up our rugged west coast and the new RX chassis handled it well. The V6 sounds good under load but I have to say that the Hybrid we moved into later had the edge in responsiveness. The steering is quick and offers enough feedback to know you’re travelling at speed, but the feel of luxury is there at every turn.
Our destination was the Hunting Lodge near Waimauku, it’s a glorious setting and very apt for this revised RX. Following a media update and receiving more information about the upgrades to the RX, we were treated to a lavish pan-Asian meal, courtesy of Lexus NZ ambassador Sachie Nomura. Titled ‘Forage’ (as we ‘explored’ the taste sensations laid out by our host), it was four courses of East meets West delicacies, a signature Omotenashi (our wholehearted hospitality).
The NZ launch of the Lexus RX was a senses smorgasbord. The RX is a delight to drive and oozing in Lexus refinement, it was simply a journey of luxury and taste.