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Lexus RX: First drive in Japanese X5 competitor

With two full hybrid and one plug-in hybrid drive, the new Lexus RX starts against the established competition from Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Can a new turbo hybrid drive make the difference and also make the RX a successful model in Germany?

Achievements and successes are not evaluated equally everywhere. Perhaps you too have sat on the train or plane next to a famous inventor without knowing it. Or even next to a successful athlete whose discipline you don't follow. The Lexus RX is such a hidden champion, at least when you look at it through black, red and gold glasses. With 3.5 million units sold since 1997, it easily outperforms the Mercedes ML - now called the GLE - which was introduced just a year later and has sold well over two million units worldwide. Nevertheless, in Europe - only 300,000 RX found their way to the old continent - a real exotic, especially in Germany.,

If Lexus has its way, that should change now, which is why the new RX not only as a classic 350h with the 250 hp full hybrid drive known from the Toyota RAV4 and as the 450h+ with plug-in hybrid drive (309 system hp), but also as the RX500h. This drive in particular is intended to make German customers happy, as it is a turbo hybrid for the first time in the company's history. The 2.4-liter turbo four-cylinder works with two electric motors as a full hybrid with a nickel-metal hydride battery (5 ampere-hour capacity) without an external charging option. Also special: for the first time, instead of the CVT transmission, a six-speed automatic transmission is used in a hybrid.

Don't rush

Does that make the Lexus the first dynamic competitor of the X5? No, Lexus is advertising a new, dynamic DIRECT4 all-wheel drive for the 500h, but on closer inspection it turns out to be an electric all-wheel drive without a mechanical connection between the combustion engine and the rear axle. It confidently puts all 550 Newton meters onto the road, but cannot dynamically intervene in what is happening or set itself apart from the other variants with the E-Four all-wheel drive in terms of towing capacity (all variants: 750 kg unbraked, 2,000 kg with brakes). But it fits, because the RX is one thing above all: a highly comfortable glider. The adaptive suspension AVS (standard on the 500h, optional on the 350h and 450h+) allows long lifting movements and lets the RX float comfortably over the sometimes heavily rutted Californian highways. Despite the sometimes large body movements, the structure calms down sufficiently quickly, the comfort experience is just a bit more old school, but not uncomfortable. Accordingly, the RX, with its linear but also comfort-oriented, sufficiently precise steering, still bends fairly willingly into the curve, but then also leans deeply into its springs in the somewhat firmer sport mode.No, it really isn't an athlete, but does an SUV really have to be one?,

Large selection of hybrids

The drive supports its character with a lot of quickly applied torque and the imperceptibly and sufficiently quickly switching automatic converter. Under full load, the turbo petrol engine is more clearly perceptible, and in sport mode it even gets a quite synthetic-sounding soundtrack played through the speakers. In Eco mode, the accelerator pedal characteristic is less direct, in Custom you can adjust the individual components to your liking. There is also a trail mode for rougher things. When changing to the 350h, some sovereignty falls by the wayside. The sucker sounds more strained, even if the CVT transmission usually keeps it within a tolerable speed window.,

The propulsion is still sufficient and the drive has already proven its economy in the Toyota RAV4. In contrast to the 500, there is also a purely electric mode. This is also on board with the first plug-in hybrid RX, the 450h+, and of course is of central importance. In it, Lexus is aiming for an electric range of 65 kilometers with the 18.1 kilowatt hour battery (net), the final WLTP homologation is still pending. Charging is single-phase with up to 6.6 kW, which should recharge the battery in around three hours. Otherwise, the PHEV is pleasantly quiet to work with. The higher-torque e-support keeps the combustion engine in hybrid mode at low speeds more often, the transitions are imperceptible and without jerks. Under full load, on the other hand, it hardly feels weaker than the 500, which is also confirmed by its factory specification for the 0-100 sprint, which is only three tenths slower (6.5 to 6.2 seconds). All three variants manage the transition between recuperation and hydraulic braking well. Striking: the composite brake system with 400 millimeter discs of the RX500h F Sport feels suspiciously like a sports car. The pedal travel is short, the pressure point rock-hard, the braking effect allows the front end to dive deep.

Safety thanks to electric door handle

A large arsenal of assistance systems is intended to keep the brand's safety promise. In addition to the usual suspects, there is also a proactive driving assistant, which offers the functions of an adaptive cruise control, even if it is not activated at all. The RX automatically brakes gently in front of obstacles, can adjust the speed before corners or pays attention to vehicles ahead. Known from other models: the camera that is supposed to detect tiredness or exhaustion in the driver. Also new: Safe Exit Assist recognizes road users approaching from behind and can prevent the doors from being opened. To do this, the door opener had to be electrified, which now opens the door from the inside with a button below the handle.It may sound strange, but it is extremely intuitive, since you can unlock and open the door in one movement and don't have to bang your elbow like you normally would. If the mechanism doesn't work, the opening button acts as a mechanical unlocking device in the opposite direction.,

You also have to dive deep into the touch-based 14-inch infotainment system to find certain functions, such as the display adjustment of the digital driver's display. Resolution and speed are excellent, the intuitive language assistant is very intelligent - although still in English - and understands natural language commands without any problems. Nevertheless, the operation in the submenus is a bit boxy and apart from the temperature and the window heating, other climate functions also have to be adjusted via the screen. The steering wheel buttons, which represent a control pad on the left and right, are also new. If you run your finger over the keys, a display pops up in the head-up display that illustrates which function is currently on which key. It is traditionally pressed with haptic feedback. The assignments can be changed with the bottom steering wheel button, and the individual buttons can be configured in the menu according to personal preferences. In fact, you don't have to take your eyes off the road when operating it, but it takes some getting used to not seeing what you're activating or controlling directly on the steering wheel. The speedometer display resolves less beautifully than the central touch screen, but provides the necessary information.

More comfort than space

While the seats in the normal models are more casual and comfort-oriented, the F-Sport seats are much tighter and also look a bit more ergonomic. Both variants are comfortable. The material quality is typical of Lexus at a high level, but without staging leather, wood, Alcantara and metal in the pompous style of a Mercedes. Things are simpler here, even if the workmanship in the pre-series models that have been driven shows small flaws with protruding strips and a few moderate fits. A row further back you sit conspicuously high. This ensures a comfortable seating position with sufficient leg support and a comfortable knee angle, but especially with the panoramic roof it gets tight from 1.85 meters. Even in the trunk, the RX, which is at least 4.89 meters long and weighs more than two tons, does not turn out to be a space miracle. The loading area is large, but the loading area is not particularly high, since there is hardly any space under the loading floor. Accordingly, the volume specification is only 461 liters.,

The new RX can be ordered from the end of the year, the first production vehicles are to be delivered at the beginning of 2023. However, Lexus has not yet given any prices, but they should be based on the previous starting price of around 65,000 euros.


Why the rush? The Lexus RX offers a comfortable and decelerating driving experience without false sportiness. Above all, the new turbo hybrid brings sovereignty, but unlike the other two variants, it still has to prove its efficiency. The interior concept is unique, but well thought out, the operation takes some getting used to. Only the space is likely to be more lavish with such a large car.


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