Lexus’ big SUV scores a styling and technical refresh to take it through the next few years and make it more attractive.
I used to regard the Lexus RX as a bit of a Yank Tank, perhaps unfairly. Big and soft with a distinctly Palm Springs vibe mixed with Lexus’ signature Japanese vibe.
It always had a brilliant interior. You may not have liked the look, but it was stunningly well-built, the whole car is.
The sheetmetal, though, had a sharp, angular look that just never gelled with me. It didn’t seem to stop buyers, of course, because the RX sells quite well, thanks very much.
But the 2020 update is quite appealing. A lot of the creases are gone, it’s less busy and the interior tech scores a couple of nice upgrades to get the Lexus back on the tail of the Germans.
How much is a 2020 Lexus RX300 and what do I get?
One of the most puzzling things in the Australian car market – to me, anyway – is the enduring popularity of the Toyota Kluger. It’s not cheap, the interior is practical but boring and the 3.5-litre V6 either spins the front wheels and/or drinks fuel like oil is $20 a barrel.
Okay, that last bit might be true at the moment, but you get the picture.
The properly-loaded RX300 is $71,920 is at the high-end of the Kluger range but is in every way a better car.
You get a 12-speaker stereo, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, sat nav, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, electric front seats, powered tailgate, wireless charging pad, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, fake leather interior and a space-saver spare.
There’s a massive screen running Lexus’ largely terrible (but vastly better than the dog in the Kluger) entertainment system. It is slightly better these days but when you factor in the lovely implementation of Apple CarPlay and (I presume equally good) Android Auto, everything is alright. The 12-speaker stereo is really rather good and it’s a lovely screen. It looks terrific, has a lovely clear resolution and the hardware is fast.
Safety – 5 Stars (ANCAP, January 2016)
The RX300 ships with ten airbags (including knee airbags for both front passengers), ABS, stability and traction controls, blind-spot monitoring, forward and rear collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, reverse AEB, reverse cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and speed-zone recognition.
The RX300 scored five ANCAP stars in January 2016 and I reckon would breeze through another test now with all the extra gear.
Warranty and Servicing
Lexus buyers automatically score entry in to the Encore program. Lexus is rightfully proud of this scheme because it’s really quite good. The warranty length is suddenly under pressure from both sides, though, given parent company Toyota and premium rival Mercedes have both shifted to five years. Encore includs a pretty hefty roadside assist package, too.
The capped-price servicing regime runs for four years but the website currently throws a page not found for the pricing. From past experience, though, it’s competitive. And when you talk to owners, nothing goes wrong.
When you’ve booked a service, Lexus will either come and get the car from you or will give you a loan car for the day.
You also get access to a some pretty on-brand luxury events that mostly include food and wine type stuff but there are also track days where you might score a ride in the arse-kicking LF-A.
You also score benefits at places like Jackalope and One and Only Wolgan Valley (aka Emirates Wolgan Valley), including a free airport transfer, late checkout, that sort of thing.
Look and Feel
The changes aren’t huge, but I think they’re enough to soften the sometimes overbearingly sharp lines of the original. This fourth-generation RX has been around since 2015 and has always been a bit in-yer-face. I really like the new headlights and the interplay with the grille. I like the spindle grille, others don’t but yeah, whatever.
The profile disguises its considerable bulk and I quite like the creasing in the doors, particularly along the base of the doors. Not sure I’m hugely onboard with all of the detailing, including the black piece that makes the rear part of the roof “float”. But it’s nicer than before and the fourth-gen was already much better than anything before it.
It’s very Lexus in here, which means beautifully built and nicely finished. Even though the leather is fake it doesn’t matter because it all feels really nice. Lexus dashboards are a bit imposing and still feature that naff analogue clock, but you just know that all of it will age really well. There are still too many buttons, though.
It’s roomy, has plenty of space for four passengers (the base model is not a seven-seater) and can cope with five. Boot space starts at a reasonable (if conservative) 453 litres rising to – again – a very conservative-sounding 924 litres with the rear seats folded away. You get cupholders front and rear and a big centre console bin. The storage space under the centre stack also contains the wireless charging pad.
Chassis and Drivetrain
Under that high bonnet is the 300’s 8AR-FTS 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. Spinning up 175kW and 350Nm, it seems an unlikely engine for such a big fella. Big in that it’s long (4.89 metres) and weighs 1995kg.
The engine drives the front wheels via six-speed automatic, which seems perfectly suited to the job.
The updated RX features a few tricky engineering bits – there’s a whole bunch of new body adhesive and 36 new weld points to increase body rigidity. The front suspension member features a dynamic damper to reduce vibration and there is a Friction Control Device fitted to each shock absorber to reduce high frequency vibrations.
There are heaps of other detailed changes to the suspension and steering. The difference to the earlier versions of the car is subtle but noticeable.
The RX 300 rolls on 18-inch wheels and Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber measuring 235/65.
When you saddle up in a Lexus, you know exactly what you’re going to get. If it doesn’t have a solitary F (as opposed to F Sport), expect super-smooth everything.
The RX used to be a six-cylinder or hybrid proposition only and I bet I know why – Lexus customers are sticklers for the brand’s known attributes, chief among them is super-smooth progress. The RX300 absolutely delivers.
I was quite impressed with the way the 2.0-litre turbo shifts the hefty SUV and the six-speed was more than enough for the time we had it. It was frugal, too, which you can’t always say for Toyota products without electric assistance.
This is not a straight swap for a German SUV, though. Don’t think you’re going to get the kind of dynamic poise you get in an X5. This car is skewed heavily towards isolation and comfort. It’s deathly quiet inside, the chunky body keeping out noise from around and underneath. The steering is light and the suspension is spookily absorbent.
You pay for it with a bit of body roll, but I’d much rather be at the wheel of this than a top-spec, wallowing Kluger Highlander. While that car is smooth and quiet, the RX brings cabin sophistication, reasonable fuel consumption and a very much more stylish exterior.
I’d love it if Lexus could sort out the software and controls for the media system but one of my former complaints – too much obviously Toyota switchgear – is now much more muted. While I generally don’t care when big car companies share the bits around, those horrible block Toyota switches are crap in a Yaris let alone a luxury SUV.
It’s a large SUV, no question about it. If you were looking to Germany, you’d see the choice of X3 and X5 from BMW, the RX sitting neatly between them for size but is quite a bit cheaper on price. As I’ve already said, the dynamic nature of the other car’s might be what pushes you to the Lexus. The after-sales package and legendary reliability might keep you there. I’d still have the BMW – at this price, it’s an X3 xDrive 30i with less stuff but AWD drivetrain.
Mercedes doesn’t have a large SUV within cooee of this price point.
Audi’s Q5 is substantially smaller than the RX but you can have a Quattro 45 TFSI for a few grand less than the Lexus. You won’t get near the Q7, which starts at over $100,000.
There’s a Genesis coming soon, but we don’t know enough about it yet.
A Lexus on the drive is a fine thing indeed. They’re not the most dynamic cars (GS F and RC F excluded, obviously) but they’re sharply-priced, stacked full of gear and super safety-conscious to boot.
I liked the RX300 more than I expected I would. It’s calm, cool and collected and so much nicer than its under-the-skin relative, the Kluger. Stop whining about the lack of third row – you never use it unless you forgot to stop breeding.
The RX will serve you well for as long as you want it to, will carry you mile after mile in near-silent comfort and deliver you relaxed and fresh. It’s a lovely machine.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.