by: Chris Chase
Just because your appearance stands out doesn’t mean everyone is going to like what they see. While the likes of Audi and Acura toe a conservative style line among upscale automakers, Lexus is sticking with the extroverted styling theme it’s built around the so-called “spindle grille” that dominates the face of the latest RX mid-size crossover.
This isn’t the first RX to feature the spindle grille, but it is the first to have been designed around it. Thanks to it and a number of other styling elements, we think this—for better or worse—is the most interesting-looking Lexus crossover in the brand’s history.
We haven’t forgotten about the smaller NX, but while it wears similarly creased bodywork (and yes, that grille), it all looks a bit cluttered on that compact’s smaller body. By contrast, the RX’s added overall length creates a more suitable canvas for Lexus’ designers to work with.
The result is a fourth-generation RX more distinctive than any of its predecessors, a relatively daring move for an automaker that, largely, has played things pretty straight since it was spun off as Toyota’s premium brand in the late 1980s.
But like any good brand, Lexus is self-aware enough to know that too drastic of a departure might drive away buyers, and that’s why the RX’s restrained interior creates such a sharp contrast to the edgy exterior.
Standout design elements include the infotainment screen set atop the dash, large enough to show both navigation and either audio or climate control information. We wished the nifty striped trim on the centre console was used more extensively throughout the cabin.
We also liked the comfortable seating, which included electric rear seat adjustments with the executive trim package. That package also includes a sweet-sounding 15-speaker stereo system, power-adjustable front-seat thigh supports, touch-free power tailgate, 360-degree camera system, and pre-collision system with automatic braking.
One major annoyance was with the remote touch interface infotainment controller, which is far too sensitive, making it a challenge to use effectively.
On paper, the German automakers also have an advantage in their torquey turbocharged engines, while the RX uses a comparatively straightforward 3.5-litre V6 shared with, of all vehicles, the Toyota Camry sedan and Sienna minivan. But this is an excellent engine no matter what car it’s bolted into, and it’s even better in the new RX when paired with an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission.
This V6 may not be as rich in low-end power as those German turbo motors, but the eight-speed’s tightly-spaced ratios make great use of the engine’s 295 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque and give the RX great acceleration, from a stop or at speed. Selectable drive modes (eco, normal and sport) let the driver tailor the experience to some degree.
We were less excited by the soft ride which, though extremely comfortable, doesn’t offer much in the way of driver engagement. We suppose that’s what we’d expect from Lexus, but if you want the firmer ride and sharper handling more characteristic of a German crossover, the RX can be optioned with an F-Sport package whose air suspension reacts to that drive selector by tightening up in sport mode.
Official fuel consumption estimates are 12.2/8.9 L/100 km (city/highway), and our tester averaged 11.3 L/100 km in combined driving.
You might be surprised, as a couple of other people were, at this RX 350’s $68,000 price as tested; a $54,000 base price is more palatable, but that higher number is actually still an excellent value compared to many of the RX’s European competitors. The Acura MDX and Volvo XC90 are among the few upscale mid-size crossovers that comes in at a similar price point when fitted with close to the same features.
The RX has always distinguished itself with strong value for money, but this latest version’s controversial styling helps set this crossover apart even more. And shoppers who don’t mind — or even enjoy — the RX’s look are the lucky ones who will discover they can own one of the most luxurious vehicles in its class for a very nice price.