Lexus’ RX has had an interesting history, with different tales on both sides of the Atlantic. Being based on the all-conquering Toyota Camry, the RX’s blend of luxury, reliability and semi-rugged appearance has meant that the car has been a runaway success. All 3 generations have been top sellers in the crossover sector and in fact is the Lexus that sells most numbers-wise. In Europe however, the lack of a diesel has always meant that the RX has been a niche model…buyers claim that the first and second generation models were the highest selling petrol SUV’s in the UK, but given the tiny proportion of buyers who go for the thirstier models this is hardly surprising. The hybrid model was introduced in 2005 and from then the lion’s share sold were the 400h model, and with the introduction of the 3rd generation in 2009, the petrol model was dropped and only ‘450h’ model remains.
I have already touched on the RX’s origins, and in other posts I have talked about how it was the first car-based luxury SUV to be launched (pre BMW X5). The first generation model looked quite similar to the Mercedes ML, with a slanted C Pillar and truck-like design. I actually find the original very attractive, if a little dated in certain areas like the grille. It’s interior even holds up well and being a Lexus it will definitely be reliable. Yet although a decent model can be had for a mere £4,000 (for a 2002 model), the V6 petrol only gets about 20mpg…and then there are the horrific mirrored rear windows which look a mess.
The second generation RX was launched in 2003 and blends certain aspects of the original with a softer, more futuristic look. It is this more feminine aspect along with the predominantly petrol powered models which has put me off the RX before, but the 400h has recently entered my budget and so I decided to take a look online at reviews and videos etc, and it quickly became a strong competitor to be my next car choice…to the extent that I told my Nan that she’d be climbing up into a Lexus into a few months! Why is this? Well the Lexus possesses loads of qualities which the majority of competitors in this category don’t.
Probably most important to me is reliability, yes a bit boring but if an X5 broke down and needed a £4k new gearbox I simply would not be able to afford it. Obviously any luxury car won’t be fault free but buying a Lexus seriously reduces the risk. Second there is the hybrid engine; I’ll accept that the 35 mpg fuel estimate is abit unrealistic but 30+ should be attainable, and the ability to cruise around on electric-only power is something that really appeals. Performance is an extra bonus, and 7.9 seconds 0-60 is faster than any other vehicle I’m considering, but despite this insurance isn’t that expensive. Lastly are the equipment levels; all RX400h’s come with heated leather seats and the majority come with an electric tailgate(!) and sat nav/rear view camera…a rear DVD system is abit more rare but not really something I am interested in.
So we’re looking at a freshly (if feminine) styled car, reliable, well-equipped and reasonably cheap to run. Negatives? Well a couple of easy to explain ones are the high price, or rather the fact that cars in my price range are a little higher mileage than I’d like and also a bit thin on the ground-so I might have to travel to find the car I want (and also settle for less desirable equipment/colours). But my main problem with the Lexus is…erm that its a Lexus. The Japanese brand suffers from the same sleepy image as Honda and Toyota, and the traditional RX buyer is probably over 50 (at least) and female. For the average buyer this might not be a problem, but for a 22/23 year old male it is a reason to be hesitant.
I would definitely like to test drive an RX400h, just to see how I get along with the CVT gearbox, handling and hybrid drive. On that front handling reportedly abit soft (although the ride is meant to be good) and the gearbox is bearable…but this still pales in significance to the issues I might have with the car’s image.