Previous generations of the Lexus RX may have been sales successes in other markets, most notably the USA, but in South Africa and elsewhere the three earlier incarnations haven’t been able to ruffle the German trio’s feathers. It has always appealed to moneyed, intelligent folks less obsessed with the “right badge” and more interested in ultimate quality and value. Consequently, those wanting their luxury SUVs to make a flashy statement have traditionally given the RX a wide berth. The new, fourth-generation Lexus RX constitutes a markedly different approach. Its angular, bold design is distinctive and the gaping “spindle” grille definitely lends the SUV added overtaking presence. Striking 20-inch wheels and a blacked out C-pillar are other design highlights that illustrate the new RX is no longer willing to hide in the shadows.
The RX450h SE is powered by a 193 kW/335 Nm 2.5-litre V6 engine mated with a 123 kW front electric motor as well as a 50 kW motor that forms part of the E-Four all-wheel-drive system. The flagship model’s combined power output has improved by 10 kW compared with its predecessor, with the total output now claimed to be 230 kW. The 450h SE utilises a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to deliver drive to all four wheels. Thanks to a number of improvements to the hybrid system, Lexus says that fuel efficiency for the 450h has improved by 9.5% to a claimed combined cycle figure of 5.7 L/100 km. The RX450h is about as long as a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne, but more compact than the Volvo XC90 or Audi Q7. It was not designed to offer third-row seating, and with its swoopy fastback styling was clearly not conceptualised to be the last word in family-friendly packaging.
In its latest guise, the Lexus RX450h SE is a significantly more appealing prospect than its predecessor due to its stand-out new design. As ever, the standard features list is unmatched at the price and the quality is top notch. Compared with its (turbodiesel) German rivals that sell for similar money there are, however, a couple of issues. Firstly, the hybrid drivetrain promises much in theory, but doesn’t materialise in real-world operating conditions. And secondly, we can overlook some of the ergonomic failings (such as that fiddly control interface), but by the standards of most premium SUVs, the luggage bay's packaging is quite severely compromised. Overall, however, these foibles are remarkably easy to forgive not only because the RX offers so many more features than its similarly-priced German rivals, but also because it is a genuinely likeable machine that now, finally, has some character. Still, we think its cheaper sibling, the RX350, looks like the real star… A full review on that model is coming.
The Lexus RX450h SE sells for R999 000 and comes with a 4-year/100 000 km warranty and maintenance plan. The hybrid battery has an 8-year/195 000 km warranty. Servicing is required every 15 000 km.