Lexus' RX range has hit South African shores with a new platform and array of new powertrain options, looking snatched and sophisticated in striking new sheet metal that signifies the brand's 'Next Chapter' design. We attended the luxurious launch in Cape Town and sampled each and every model, including the new plug-in hybrid 450h+.
The new fifth-gen RX wears the brand’s Next Chapter design language like a luxurious, hypermodern designer coat, which echoes the car’s futuristic and dynamic nature. Lexus mentions they were aiming for a ‘killer whale’ profile, but chances are you’ll only see this resemblance after few cups of Sake. The spindle shape of the signature Lexus grille has been incorporated into the rest of the body for a more streamlined and sinewy look. Furthermore, the overall shape has been tailored to ensure maximum efficiency and smoother airflow for ‘a feeling of firm contact with the road’, says Lexus. (Buying used? Read our 2020 RX model update here.)
As always, Lexus ensures every surface is sculpted to perfection. The floating-effect roof and coupe-inspired body shape aid in enhancing the RX’s opulent yet sporty nature, while the wraparound taillights and razor-sharp headlamp shape are further emphasised by the chiselled rear-end and voluminous bonnet. The pièce de résistance, however, is the seamless grille on the non-F-Sport models. This alone would have me part with a significant amount of money to park the RX in my driveway, not to mention my favourite new colour choice by the name of Sonic Copper (see below). It’s a multi-faceted colour that seems to change colour depending on its surroundings. In harsh sunlight, it seemed to turn into a soft rose gold. (Find out if the RX will be expensive to maintain, here.)
F Sport models do without the seamless grille but get the more traditional Lexus black mesh front bumper (see below), along with 21-inch black gloss alloys and six-piston brake callipers.
Interior design, layout, and quality
With the release of each new model, Lexus illustrates its drastic departure from its earlier models, and thankfully, there isn’t a remote trackpad to be seen. The new RX’s interior conveys a feeling of luxury with its minimalist look. As always, it has that quality ‘takumi’ craftsmanship that Lexus is known for, which is pleasing to all the senses, including the way it feels and sounds when you open and close the doors. A new highlight is the electric door ‘e-latch’ release system, which has made it possible to place the door handles lower and make the door panels look more integrated, which also adds to the interior’s contemporary ambience. (Sean compares the previous RX to the Volvo XC90 and Alfa Romeo Stelvio in 2021 here.)
It takes some getting used to, however. At first I couldn’t get out of the car, but once my blonde moment had passed, I realised I just had to press on the handle instead of opening it like a traditional latch. The e-latch system works in conjunction with Safe Exit Assist, so you don’t mistakenly open the door in the way of oncoming traffic. You can override this, of course, by pulling the handle twice. In my honest opinion, I still prefer a traditional door handle; it feels a bit like the wheel was re-invented with this feature. (Buying used? Find out if the outgoing RX is a good car for new drivers.)
Regarding general ergonomics, it’s clear that plenty of thought went into the placement of everything; the frontal cabin follows the ‘tazuna’ cockpit theme, which is all about where controls and information sources are located and how easy they are to use, for minimal driver distraction.Features like soft-touch controls on the steering wheel, an advanced new multi-functional head-up display, and a slick new multimedia system with a massive touchscreen and physical buttons for frequently used functions, illustrate this concept. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto take care of screen mirroring and their associated functions and the large icons are great for middle-aged drivers. (Ryno compares the previous RX to the Porsche Cayenne and Jaguar F-Pace here.)
In older models, there were always some retro design element(s) that merged old and new, but the reimagined cabin retains none of this. Is it a good thing? Well, previously you could always tell you were in a Lexus, and maybe the new dashboard design is slightly uninteresting, but on the plus side, it’s sure to age well. If you opt for the F Sport models, the Dark Rose interior should liven things up but you also have a choice of pure black, plus there’s ambient lighting too. Other trim and leather upholstery options for the non-F Sport models include Hazel, Dark Sepia or Black, with black or ‘Bamboo’ trim inserts. A full-length panoramic sunroof is standard on all models. (Buying a used model? We compared the RX to the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE here.)
How big is the new RX?
It’s smaller than the LX and larger than the UX and has the same overall length (4890 mm) as the outgoing RX model, but the wheelbase (2850 mm) is 60 mm longer, as is the front track, which is wider by 15mm, while the rear is wider by 45 mm. I scooted in behind the driver’s seat after I had driven back, and I found the rear bench just as comfortable as the front, with no lack of leg- or knee-room, and I’m 1.73m tall.
The boot has grown to 612 litres if you and your family need lots of space for everyday school bags/sports equipment or holiday luggage. Lexus says the boot is cavernous enough to carry four golf bags or two medium and two larger suitcases. Our overnight and laptop bags almost seemed lost in the gigantic space.
In the world of the new RX range, there are many powertrain options, and we managed to spend some time in each and every model to experience them all. Take a look at the lineup below:
Model Engine Hybrid System Max Power Max Torque Claimed Fuel Consumption CO2 Emissions RX 350 2.4L turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder None 205kW 430Nm 8.7 L/100km 197 g/km RX 350h 2.5L in-line 4-cylinder hybrid All-new 1-motor-generator hybrid system 184kW Total System Output 239Nm Max Torque 5.4 L/100km 123 g/km RX 500h 2.4L turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder hybrid 2 motor-generator hybrid system 273kW Total System Output 460Nm Max Torque 6.5 L/100km 148 g/km RX 450h+ 2.5L in-line 4-cylinder plug-in hybrid 2 motor-generator hybrid system 227kW Total System Output 227Nm Max Torque 1.3 L/100km 29 g/km
RX 350h AWD: The smooth and efficient choice
I raced to put my overnight bag into the mammoth boot of the Sonic Copper 350h model to claim it for my first drive of the day (I’m a sucker for pretty colours that photograph well). This is a traditional, self-charging petrol-electric Lexus hybrid (albeit with a new, lighter, more refined system), which has a total output of 184 kW: 140 kW from the 2.5-litre engine alone, plus 44 kW from the single electric motor between the engine block and the gearbox. It sports a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 7.9 seconds and is equipped with E-Four electric all-wheel drive as standard for added surefootedness. Driving it from the airport to glamorous Quoin Rock near Stellenbosch was an absolute treat – it does an absolute stellar job of navigating those curvacious ‘Boland’ roads. This model retails for R 1 458 300.
RX350 F Sport: The powerful all-rounder
Our second drive of the day was in one of the non-hybrid models in the range, namely the 2.4-litre turbocharged, all-wheel-driven RX 350 F Sport with a Direct Shift-8AT gearbox. This is the purist’s choice, and its power output of 205 kW and 430 Nm will plaster a smile all over your face, especially in Sport mode. It corners like it’s on rails thanks to the all-wheel drive system and will reach 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds. I thoroughly enjoyed tackling the forest twisties in Constantia en route to Hout Bay. It was then that we happened to spot a first-gen RX and parked right next to it for a few pics (see below).
RX 500h F Sport: The Performance Star
With Constantia as our starting point, we headed out to Camps Bay Drive in the ultra-glamorous, performance-oriented RX 500h F-Sport on day two. With my new bonsai tree in the boot, I drove sedately and in full EV mode at first, but after securing the tree between my co-driver’s ankles, I could really relish the curves of the road because the F Sport really hunkers down and gobbles up the tarmac with excellent roadholding. And this one has a party trick: It doesn’t just have one electric motor, but two—one on the front axle and a bigger one at the rear (also known as an eAxle motor), for a total of a hearty 273 kW and 551 Nm, which has roughly the same output as a traditional 3.0-litre V6 petrol model. As it happens, this model is the most powerful in the entire line-up and is much more than the king of carpooling.
The rear motor is mated to the brand’s Direct4 all-wheel-drive system for complete control and magnificent dynamism in every driving situation, adjusting the front and rear drive torque as required. For example, let’s say you’re entering a bend, here’s what happens:
When the RX is starting to turn, more power is sent to the front wheels to help the car turn smoothly. As the RX exits the turn, more power is sent to the rear wheels to help maintain stability and traction. When driving in a straight line, the power is distributed evenly between the front and rear wheels to help the RX accelerate smoothly. The rear-wheel eAxle also provides low-end torque, which helps improve the car’s performance and acceleration.
We felt right at home when we arrived on the glitzy Camps Bay Strip and parked the RX 500h F Sport among SA’s most glamorous restaurants, residences, people, and cars.
RX 450h+ AWD: The PHEV pioneer
Our last test car of the day was the innovative new 450h+ AWD model, the all-new plug-in hybrid that will only be available to buy in November this year.
As much as many well-heeled South Africans would love to jump on the EV bandwagon, we all know that lengthy road trips could become tricky, it’s expensive to go completely off-grid, and who would want to own an EV and be reliant on Eskom? That’s why plug-in hybrids (aka PHEVs) are the way forward.
Just like the Volvo XC 60 T8, the plug-in RX 450h+ (227 kW) allows for multiple driving and charging modes. You can drive on pure electricity, as the battery can be recharged using a plug-in charger or home wall box, or it can be completely self-charging while you drive, as with conventional hybrids.
This model gets a 2.5-litre petrol-electric engine and an 18.1 kWh battery, along with two electric motors (as seen in the 500h, where the rear motor enables all-wheel drive). The RX 450h+ is fitted with a 6.6 kW on-board charger. With its 230V/32A connection, Lexus reckons the 450h+ can be fully recharged in +/- two hours and 45 minutes.
In the 450h+, the default mode is full EV mode, so it runs on electricity until the battery is depleted, then seamlessly switches to other power sources. It’s fitted with Lexus’ Shiftmatic e-CVT box, which can be controlled via steering-wheel-mounted ‘flappy paddles’.
- Auto EV/HV mode uses both electric and hybrid power when needed, returning to EV whenever possible. HV mode prioritises efficiency and keeps the battery charged.
- Battery charging mode starts the engine to recharge the battery, ensuring there’s enough electric power stored when you need it for low- or zero-emission zones (as seen in certain overseas countries). The RX 450h+ is said to have a fully electric range of 65 kilometres.
Sadly, we had limited time available in the 450h+ model; but watch this space when this model enters SA later this year; the RX 450h PHEV will launch officially to the public by November, and then we’ll get a better idea of charging times and general consumption.
All models come equipped with pre-crash safety warning and collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control (or ‘Dynamic Radar Cruise Control)’, lane keeping assistance, surround view cameras, and the like, but the most impressive is the ‘abnormal driver condition response’ system: if the driver’s posture is not quite what it should be (in the event that he has lost consciousness, for example), the system will flash its light to warn others and bring the vehicle to a stop.
Driving the RX range
From changing the front wings to aluminium to using resin instead of steel for the fuel filler, no stone was left unturned to reduce weight and improve stability – and this improvement can be felt in the turn of every corner. At the rear, the RX utilises a new multilink setup for improved handling, while standard across-the-board adaptive variable suspension enables independent damping control at each wheel for a smoother overall ride. Then there’s also the new electronically controlled, pressure-on-demand braking system for a more natural braking sensation. Even the brake pedal has been refined with a new damping mechanism for smoother operation.
Each RX we drove has different driving characteristics. But what stood out from my drive (or ride) in each model were the following: The whisper-quiet cabins, easy-to-use touchscreens, a user-friendly cabin layout with enough USB points for passengers in the front and rear, pliant suspension, outstanding stability, great steering response (when you select Sport mode), ultra-comfortable seats, a myriad of luxury features (such as heated or ventilated seats), and smooth, quiet engines. Every time you step inside the RX to go somewhere, it’s a luxurious occasion. And you’ll find yourself (and others) looking at the RX and revelling in its gorgeousness.
Lexus RX pricing
Starting at just under R1.5 million, I reckon the RX is well-priced, considering that the overall package is decidedly premium and filled with the latest tech and features – and as always, Lexus doesn’t charge for extras like the Germans, Brits, and Italians do. The RX competes with the likes of the Audi Q7 and BMW X5, as well as the Jaguar F-Pace, Volvo XC60/XC90, Porsche Cayenne, and Mercedes-Benz GLE.
Model Price Lexus RX350 R1 424 000 Lexus RX 350h R1 458 300 Lexus RX 350 F Sport R1 543 200 Lexus RX 500h F Sport R1 684 300 Lexus RX 450h+ TBC on release to dealer period (Nov. ’23)
“Every Lexus RX is delivered with the Lexus Warranty Experience featuring an industry-leading seven years/105 000km and, for the hybrid models, an industry-leading eight years/195 000 km battery warranty.” – Lexus SA
Keyword: Lexus RX (2023) First Drive Review