On the road
It drives like little else with a level of smoothness, refinement, and silence that makes some other vehicles feel like old tractors in comparison. That its climate control, allied to ventilated (and heated) seats is among the finest I've yet encountered, turning the cabin into an arctic igloo in seemingly seconds on even the hottest day, makes for added appeal.
But it's not a real off-roader. In fact, Lexus says the RX - tested here in RX 350 EX guise, as opposed to more expensive RX 450h SE hybrid guise - is "credited with pioneering the luxury crossover segment." So it sits in the same category as the likes of the BMW X5/X6 or perhaps the Range Rover Sport, although the Rangey is a proper off-road tool.
Except it's not as chuckable and agile as the competition, and it always feels like a weighty machine with vaguely nautical overtones. You're not going to carve through traffic and tight twisties in this Lexus.
It's also larger than the outgoing RX. Cars almost always get bigger don't they? With some exceptions such as the new Mazda MX-5. Quite a bit larger, in fact, being 120mm longer, and 10mm wider but 20mm lower, which naturally means more interior room.
The RX 350 comes courtesy of a naturally aspirated, petrol-powered 3.5-litre V6. It's a good and silky powerplant this, banging down 221kW and 370Nm (17kW and 24Nm more than the previous generation). Performance is brisk with rest to 100km/h taking some eight seconds, topping out at 200km/h. But at power-sapping altitudes its lack of forced induction will naturally weigh against it.
Power is to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic 'box that - you guessed it - is as slick, smooth and silky as the rest of the package, and the RX rolls on quite beautiful 20-inch alloys. Fuel consumption is a claimed 9.6 litres per 100km in the combined cycle.
Cutting to the interior, the build quality is just off the charts. Indeed, I almost found myself caressing some controls, such is their satin-y smooth finish, while all is a paragon of logic and superb ergonomics. There's a big 12.3-inch display for most functions, and controls are accessible and ordered.
In fact, you kind of overlook some of the machine's drawbacks simply because the cabin is so superb. To quote Lexus "the all-new RX luxury SUV will be the first in the brand's line-up to feature an interior finish known as laser-cut ornamentation, which evokes the premium finish of high-end pianos."
Importantly (for people like me) the RX 350 also has an excellent 12-speaker sound system including a 20cm sub-woofer (the RX 450h gets more kit, including a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system).
In addition, almost every luxury you can conceive of is present and correct, from 10-way power front seats to what's billed as a world first: height-adjustable front cup holders.
All the safety kit you'd expect and hope for is standard, of course, including 10 airbags, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert (useful when backing out of a parking space), reverse camera, Vehicle Stability Control, and more. You also get a full-sized spare mounted on an alloy. Essential in South Africa, and good to see in an age of space-saver spares and so-called mobility kits where essentially you get no spare whatsoever.
Yours for R799,000 (the RX 450h SE costs R999,000).