First drive: 2019 Lexus RX launch review

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 13 October 2019

Tim Nicholson samples the updated Lexus RX luxury SUV.

First impressions:

The solidly built, comfortable, value-packed Lexus RX is now better than ever thanks to a series of improvements. It benefits from changes to design, safety and in-car tech, but is it enough to beat its European rivals?

The Lexus RX SUV has been a mainstay in the large premium SUV segment since 2003, but it faces more competition than ever from its mostly European rivals. The Japanese luxury car-maker has this month introduced a number of changes to the third-generation model that arrived in late 2015. Updates include a styling refresh, more safety and comfort features and a new infotainment setup.

Silver Lexus RX parked on gravel driveway in front of autumn trees

What do you get for the price?

Despite adding loads of new gear, Lexus Australia has lowered the price of entry to the RX range. The RX300 Luxury now kicks off from $1600 cheaper than before at $71,920 before on-road costs. Some variants have crept up in price, but the increase is marginal. The range tops out at $111,070 for the seven-seat hybrid RX450hL Sports Luxury. The third row is available in some RX350 and 450h variants and adds between $1730 and $3110 to the price of the five-seater. Three model grades are available – Luxury, F-Sport and Sports Luxury.

Lexus is known for generous standard equipment lists, especially compared with its European counterparts, and the RX follows that trend. All RX variants come with keyless entry and start, satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, wireless phone charging, 12-speaker audio, automatic headlights and wipers. (Click here for Australia's cheapest family cars for 2019.)

Lexus RX interior shot of steering wheel and dashboard
Interior shot of Lexus RX cup holders and centre console

How safe is it?

The RX range carries a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating. Standard safety features include automatic high beam, 10 airbags, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, and an updated version of the Lexus Safety System+ that now includes a pre-collision safety system with pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection, lane-tracing assist and road-sign assist.

What's it like inside?

The updated infotainment display has increased from eight to 12.3 inches and is now a touchscreen that sits 138 millimetres closer to occupants for easy reach. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and six USB ports. 

The dash layout is clear but there are a lot of buttons and controls. The seats in any grade offer excellent comfort and support and there is ample space in the first and second rows. The third row is strictly for children. Lexus has refined the look and materials inside the RX and it’s well executed without being class leading. 

What's under the bonnet

The entry-level powertrain in the RX300 is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine producing 175kW/350Nm paired with a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. The RX350 uses the 3.5-litre V6 pumping out 221kW/370Nm, driving all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. The RX450h is a petrol-electric hybrid combining the V6 with an electric motor and nickel metal hydride battery with a combined power and torque output of 230kW/335Nm. It has an all-wheel-drive system and a continuously variable transmission.

Is it fuel efficient?

The 2.0-litre RX300 consumes 8.1 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres and the RX350 uses 9.6 litres (10.2 litres for the ‘L’ seven-seat variant). Unsurprisingly, the RX450h hybrid is the most fuel efficient, consuming 5.7 litres (6.0 litres for the L). It also emits the least CO2 at 131g/km compared with 189 for the RX300 and 223 for the RX350.

How does it drive?

Lexus has tweaked the RX’s steering and suspension as well as increasing body rigidity. The changes have improved the vehicle’s handling. It is flatter through corners than it was and steering is sharper too. It can’t match the likes of the BMW X5 or Audi Q7 for dynamic prowess, but it is more engaging than before. The ride remains more comfortable than its rivals and the cabin is whisper quiet. The 2.0-litre turbo is an excellent engine and more refined than the V6. We did not get to sample the hybrid at the launch but will review this variant soon.

Should I buy one?

The RX continues to do what it does very well, and now it’s even better. It’s not as engaging to drive as some of its Euro rivals, but it has the edge when it comes to ride and refinement. It is also a class leader when it comes to value for money.