The Lexus RX is more versatile in its seven-seat body style. Jonathan Crouch reports on the revised version.
The Lexus brand has brought us many things over the years, but prior to 2017, the company had never made a seven-seat car. This longer wheelbase 'L' version of the brand's fourth generation RX luxury SUV put that right, with subtle changes over the standard model enabling a third seating row to be inserted at the rear. Otherwise, all the RX features that loyal buyers like are carried over intact. This RX L body style has really broadened his model's appeal and was usefully updated in 2019 to create the car we're going to look at here.
The Lexus brand omotenashi principles of hospitality these days extend to family buyers with more than a couple of kids, thanks to the availability of this RX L luxury SUV. Apart from the 110mm increase in length and slightly more vertical rear tailgate necessary to facilitate the 3rd seating row, the recipe here is exactly as it is in normal five-seat versions of the fourth generation RX model. So, there's an overwhelming emphasis on non-Plug-in hybrid petrol power and sumptuous standards of luxury in the leather-lined cabin.
The fourth generation RX was first introduced in 2015 in five-seat form - this RX L variant followed in 2017 when Lexus realised that it would need a 7-dseat version if it was to properly compete with segment rivals. Both body styles received a mid-term update in mid-2019, which brings us up to date and the car we're going to test here.
So what's a hybrid RX like to drive? Well it's a full-Hybrid, the only one in this segment; don't be confused by comparisons with the 'mild hybrid' technology that rivals like Audi's Q7 offer; that's not the same thing at all. As you'll discover when you come to drive an RX. Once you've luxuriated in the beautiful leather seats and enjoyed the commanding SUV-style driving position, you press the starter button to be greeted by.. Nothing. The engine's running, true enough. It's just that at this point, it's doing so silently under battery power alone and once you set off, if you've a gentle right foot, that's all it will continue to use at speeds of up to 30mph before the 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine kicks in, controlled via a six-speed CVT auto gearbox.
This mechanical package offers 308bhp and there's a useful 335Nm of torque for towing. It sounds quite good too, thanks to a sound generator system that creates a performance-style air intake roar. The E-Four 4WD system's functions have been tuned for quick response when accelerating through bends: there's no real off piste ability of course. Lexus doesn't think potential buyers will be interested - and they're probably right. As for handling, well other rivals offer a more involving drive. The RX is still one of the most comfortable, refined SUVs in its class though.
Not too many dynamic changes feature with this revised version of the 'AL20'-series model. Apparently the structure is slightly stiffer. There are new shock absorbers. And the RX is now equipped with 'Active Cornering Assist' torque vectoring to maximise cornering traction. There are clever new 'BladeScan Adaptive High-beam headlights too. Otherwise, it's as you were.
In this revised form, this variant features smarter bumpers and a re-designed front spindle grille. Inside, the brand has revised the multi-media centre-dash touchscreen and (at last) added in 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring into it.
In creating this RX L, the designers were clear that the standard RX model's distinctive coupe-like profile had to be preserved. But look more closely and you'll notice that not only is the RX L longer at the rear, the angle of its tailgate has been made slightly steeper. That fine adjustment is actually important in making sure there's comfortable headroom for anyone sitting in the third row of seats. Even more valuable millimetres have been gained simply by moving the rear wiper mechanism from the top to the bottom of the window.
The cabin does, of course, completely replicate that of the normal RX model at the front and, like a normal RX, has recently been improved with the addition of a revised multi-media centre-dash touchscreen that (at last) features 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring.
The rear bench sits directly on top of the three battery packs that power the Hybrid drive system and offers leather-stitched luxury embellished by the way that these seats slide and recline for greater long distance comfort. Two people will be especially comfortable, optionally separated by a smart fold-out armrest incorporating twin cup holders and a covered compartment. The top RX L Takumi model can be specified with two individual captain's-style chairs in the second row, in place of this three-seat bench.
Raising or folding the third seating row can be done electrically with just the press of button. The rearmost seats are finished to the same high quality as the rest of the cabin and are comfortable for youngsters on long journeys and adults on shorter trips. These electronically adjustable third-row pews now feature two different seating positions, which means they can add an extra 94mm of leg space when the situation demands.
List prices for the RX L 450h hybrid start at around £55,000 and there are 'RX', 'F Sport' and 'Takumi' trim levels. That's decent value compared to notable rivals like Audi's Q7, plusher variants of Land Rover's Discovery and 7-seat versions of the Range Rover Sport.
4WD is standard across the range and all RX models, as you'd expect, are very well equipped. Across the range, you'll find standard features like full-leather upholstery and powered seats, dual-zone climate control, rear privacy glass heated front seats, the Lexus Navigation system with an eight-inch display screen, a nine-speaker audio set-up with DAB, a reversing camera, LED headlamps, roof rails and dual chrome-tipped exhausts.
Across the complete range, Lexus Safety System+ is fitted as standard, providing active safety systems that help prevent or mitigate collisions in the most common traffic accident scenarios. Elements include a Pre-Collision System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Sway Warning System, Traffic Sign Recognition and Automatic High Beam/Adaptive High-beam System.
The returns on offer from the RX L 450h are virtually the same as for the five-seat model. So the combined cycle return from the full-hybrid engine - WLTP-rated at 34.4mpg - is very little different. As is the case with the NEDC emissions figure - 138g/km of CO2 with 18-inch wheels fitted - which equates to a super-low 31% Benefit-in- Kind taxation rating that'll save you a considerable amount over what you'd pay over a diesel-engined rival, even a mild hybrid diesel-engined model.
Because this is a full-Hybrid, much of the time - when you're waiting at a traffic crossing for example with the engine seamlessly disabled and battery power in motion - you won't be emitting any CO2 at all. Electric-only use doesn't just eliminate CO2 dirtiness: it also gets rid of NOx exhaust emissions too, green-friendliness today's government wants to incentivise. Insurance is rated at group 41E - or 42E for the top 'Takumi' model. There's a 3 year/60,000 mile warranty - and a separate 5 year/60,000 mile warranty on the hybrid battery.
An extra seating row can make all the difference. Having this Lexus RX in longer-wheelbase 'L' form means that when you want a night out with friends for example, you need only take one car. Or the kids can invite friends back. Everything's much easier in those kinds of situations. And the RX can at last compete on equal terms with many of its most important direct segment rivals. Otherwise, the reasons why you might want an RX haven't changed. This isn't the most capable luxury SUV you can buy. It isn't the sportiest to drive. And it's not the most affordable to buy. But despite all of that, it will continue to attract a significant following in this segment. Once you've bought the thing, after all, its running costs can be usefully less than even the most frugal of its diesel competitors.
While other manufacturers dithered over hybrid technology, Toyota's Lexus division got on and developed it. Their first hybrid RX was an impressive achievement and this fourth generation design has added a more style and extra technology to existing strengths of comfort, refinement and a high specification. It's a tempting package - and in RX L form, a usefully more spacious one.
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