2016 Lexus RX350 – a new luxury paradigm

The Lexus RX has undergone a generational change and now both looks and feels like the top of its breed. Does the car bring anything new to the equation? Automan tests the RX350 in Oman

Lexus_RX350_roadtest_2Lexus has a rather unique position in the brand universe. It is known as the brand that was created to signify luxury. And it has done that job – the products and experience it offers stand apart from the mainstream and as the years go by its offerings get taken to a new level.

The RX350 is a good example of the dynamics that underly Lexus as a brand. Like Goldilocks’ bears were quoted to say, “this one’s just the right size”. And that’s what draws in the buyer who would normally have been looking at the size and convenience of a sedan yet wanted something different. It’s larger than the new addition compact size NX, yet doesn’t get as large and unwieldy as the GX and LX, which take the off-roader tag a lot more seriously.

Lexus_RX350_roadtest_7The new generation RX is marginally larger than the previous one at 4,890mm. But the wheelbase has grown disproportionately (now at 2,790mm) and thus the new RX looks more tied together with the feel of a shorter rear overhang. The new treatment of the C-D pillar area also changes one’s perception of the profile. Now there is a lot happening visually, with a busy form that highlights the swoosh from nose to tail on multiple levels. The front fascia has also changed dramatically, with a sharper form of the Lexus spindle grille (almost notched in at logo level) and a larger logo. This generation brings new lighting technology  with the complete move to LED lights. The headlights are now called 3-eye projector-type headlamps (quite self-explanatory) on every trim level except the base Premium grade (which gets single Bi-LED element). The taillamps also carry the new layered LED motif in a signature pattern.

This generation of Lexus lighting also translates into turn signal indicators that don’t just flash, they ripple outwards, effectively creating more drama and catching your eye, just that bit more.

Flared wheel-arches and the matched spindle like treatment of the rear panels add to the drama of the RX.

The interiors also reflect the new Lexus philosophy. The cabin layout is more driver centric, with the dashboard and centre console skewed towards the driver. To effect this the passengers side of the dashboard is lowered and made flatter, although by doing so the dashboard is now layered. This layering even extends to the glove box zone. More visual energy is created by the recesses around the centre console.

The central screen is an almost tab like 12.3” display (8” is the base size) which also has character with its trapezoidal form (put in there to add to the visual skew towards the driver).

The controller on the centre console is the haptic feedback unit used elsewhere in Lexus.

Of course the number of variants available mean that you get sound systems from a 9-speaker Lexus unit, to a 12 or 15-speaker Mark Levinson system. You also get panoramic roof in grades above Premium and two rear screens in the top grades.

What doesn’t change is the power unit, which is a 296hp 3.5-litre V6 unit with VVt-i and direct injection mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox and an all-wheel drive system. The torque is a healthy 362Nm.

The headers for the engine have been redesigned with new intake ports. The engine also offers the ability to switch to an Atkinson cycle to conserve fuel. The AWD system now adopts dynamic torque control that uses a series of sensors to determine the torque split between front and rear, while detecting wheel slippage and compensating accordingly.

Along with moving the wheels out further, the new chassis layout incorporates a re-engineered front strut and rear double wishbone layout. Additionally, the engine subframe has been modified to increase its bracing, adding to a tighter handling and better feel.

The modified platform has allowed Lexus to lower the driver’s hip point and thus makes the car feel slightly less SUV like.

If you fork out for the higher grades, the RX gets adaptive suspension too – although this is limited to solenoid control over the oil in the dampers. However, the effect is worth it, especially in terms of the recoil response and ride quality.

Steering feel is still very much along traditional Lexus territory. Soft and still a hint vague, the motor in column electric power steering is nonetheless a blessing in  very tight parking situations. You can steer the car with a finger if needed.

Drive mode selection is an added bonus, with the ability to switch between Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+ modes. The Normal mode is very American tuned, which meant that we switched it to Sport mode the minute we realised it. It isn’t as if the RX becomes and oversize go-kart. Far from it, the car still has roll. But th eSport mode means that the roll is held in check and the swing back is controlled and muted. This allows you to feel the road better, especially to control the understeer of the platform better.

Driving Impressions

If you are looking for a city SUV – the RX350 fits your needs perfectly. It doesn’t try to growl its way ahead (with even the F-sport being primarily an appearance package), nor does it lag in any department. Switch the engine on and you can see the modern day Lexus talk back. Everything falls into place, you don’t have to shift your right hand off the console if you really don’t want to and the best thing is that all essential controls are available off the console. You only have to get into the infotainment screen for Navigation and setup related entries if at all.

Dial in Sport mode, put it in D and you can floor it. Engine noise remains muted, with all of the brand’s expertise in NVH reduction coming through. Push the car hard through corners and you can get the tyres to squeal although that’s where you find that the adaptive suspension control is really meant to reduce, not eliminate roll. The car’s 235/55 R20 wheels and tyres are large enough to fill the profile visually, yet supple enough to take a bit of pounding. Even in sport mode, speedbreakers should not be an issue as there is enough give in the springs.

Brakes are 328mm in the front and 338mm in the rear although the front ventilated discs are way thicker. The pedal feel is good, with limited travel.

Verdict

What’s not to like in the RX350? Lexus has now taken this urban crossover well away from its original positioning where it was seen as a ladies’ car. The styling itself will tell you that alongwith the rest of its stable Lexus wants the RX to appeal across genders and types of buyers.

Also the investment in new age technologies is commendable, from the extensive use of LED and piped LED technology both outside and in the car. The cabin has an expansive feel to it, accentuated by the enormous panoramic sunroof. The dashboard too is now busier and more interesting to look at, while interfaces with modern day conveniences like your smart phone are more intuitive.

And it has all the safety features you may ever wish for like airbags all around including knee airbags.

About Raj Warrior
Raj Warrior is the managing editor of Automan Magazine and has been a part of the Middle East’s automotive landscape from the past 15 years. He has run top rung car magazines in India and Oman and is often referred to as the Automan of Oman. With a background in mechanics, mechanisms and software programming, he is able to visualise the intricate workings of the modern automobile and brings a mix of technical and lifestyle based assessment to his writing. He is also an avid Photographer, often shooting the cars and motorcycles he tests for the magazine. As comfortable on a motorcycle as he is in cars, Raj is driven by his love affair with all things on wheels and brings his passion to all his automotive ventures. Raj has chosen Oman as his home base because he loves the country, its friendly people and its great driving and riding roads.

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