Luxury and green tech combine in plush seven-seater
Big families can be expensive business.
Those looking for luxury and the ability to haul seven must have deep pockets. Prestige vehicles with the ability to carry a netball team are pushing six figures.
Lexus refreshed its RX last year with improved safety and infotainment, and surprisingly started the range cheaper than the previous iterations.
For those who want a big seven-seater and have a green conscious, or just hate going to the petrol station, there are hybrid derivatives.
The hybrid 450hL RX versions, which combine electric and petrol power, are about $10,000 more expensive than the 350L variants motivated purely by a V6 engine.
Starting from just above $100,000, it remains a hefty investment for those wanting space and grace.
Lexus excels with standard equipment, and it’s most often where the Japanese marque gets the upper hand against European rivals. That combined with an enviable reputation for reliability and cheaper running costs.
Updates to the RX have seen standard gear include a 12.3-inch touchscreen (increased from eight), 12-speaker stereo, satnav with live traffic alerts, digital radio, smartphone mirroring applications, smartphone wireless charger, real leather trim, power tailgate with kick function under the boot for touchless opening, along with front seats which have both heating and ventilation functions.
External colours are subdued consistent with the wishes of most SUV buyers who like to remain understated, including white, grey, black, bronze and blue.
Warranty coverage is short by mainstream standards at four years or 100,000km.
Membership of the Lexus Encore program is three years, which includes capped price servicing ($595 for the first three services due annually or every 15,000km) and a range of other benefits like exclusive access to hotels, events and experiences.
While the five-star rating carries over from 2015, the RX has strong credentials with radar cruise control to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles, blind spot monitoring and a new lane tracing aid designed to make cornering easier on long trips. Other safety changes include more sophisticated pedestrian and cyclist detection and speed sign recognition. Reverse automatic braking stops you hitting cars or obstacles when parking — useful given the length of the RX.
Depending on colour choice, the interior can be personality-packed. There is the basic black, but some slick options of ivory/bamboo, wood and open pore walnut are also on the menu.
Much has been said about the Lexus touchpad system (it’s morphed from what use to be a mouse style toggle). Most feedback is uncomplimentary.
Lexus and Toyota have added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto applications to its technological repertoire, and that combined with touchscreen functionality means those unhappy with the Lexus system can use the voice prompts or go straight through the phone mirroring operations.
Nothing else is too difficult to navigate, and the driver has a basic analog instrument structure with only a small TFT central screen rather than a full digital set-up which has become common in Beemers, Benzes and Audis.
Seven-seater models have a body length extended by 110mm at the rear and a steeper tailgate window angle.
The third row has air vents and its own zone controls. Access is relatively simple, but the space is best left to children. Even the shortest of adults will find knees at their chest and heads touching the roof liner.
Collapsing and raising the rear seats is completed via boot buttons, although shifting the centre row to allow for passengers has to be undertaken manually.
The centre row provides vastly improved confines, with excellent, head, leg and knee room. Even the middle passenger has reasonable footwell space with no transmission tunnel. The fold down arm rest has a pair of drink holders, controls for heated seats and a pair of USB ports.
Boot space with the rear two seats stowed is more than 590 litres, good for a couple of large suitcases with room to spare, but with all seven seats in use the stowage area condenses to just less than 200 — which isn’t bad in comparison to some rivals. There is also a handy 16 litres of underfloor storage.
Giving the 450hL a boot-full is accompanied by a nostalgic V6 soundtrack. In an automotive world of rapidly shrinking engines, the bent six is a rarity. But a key difference is the hybrid technology, which sees the V6 drive the front wheels and an electric motor on the rear axle to deliver all-wheel drive. Parent company Toyota has made an art form of hybrid technology, testament to the RAV4 Hybrid being named our Car of the Year in 2019.
Together, the V6 and electric motor pump out 230kW/335Nm. That helps deliver lusty acceleration.
Straight lines are fine, although challenging the 5m-long SUV that weighs more than 2200kg to tight bends results in ample body roll. Those buying a seven-seater aren’t typically looking to carve corners.
The petrol engine and electric motor combination works seamlessly, and the driver requires no intervention.
Maintaining the trademark Lexus hushed ride, it’s a quiet and cushy experience for all occupants and it’s only when you extend the right ankle that you can hear the engine note.
Average hybrid fuel consumption in the RX is officially rated at six litres for every 100km, but our test saw nine with a couple of long highway journeys. Hybrids often do their best work in stop-start conditions.
The design has more creases than our ironing basket, but I love sharp Japanese styling and that gigantic grille can’t be missed.
Hauling a netball team I need to make savings somewhere, so the hybrid drivetrain makes sense ... and cents.
MERCEDES-BENZ GLE 300D $115,685 D/A
Refined seven-seater which offers high levels of refinement. Not the quickest of engines, a 180kW/500Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, although more than adequate in most conditions and low fuel consumption with easy driving. Seven seats are a $3900 option.
AUDI Q7 45TDI QUATTRO $114,400 D/A
Updated last year with improved tech and functionality, the big seven-seater is also powered by an awesome 3.0-litre diesel engine that is smooth and quiet on the open road with impressive 170kW/500Nm outputs and thrifty 7.0L/100 claimed fuel economy. Also comes with standard air suspension.
AT A GLANCE
LEXUS RX 450HL LUXURY
PRICE $102,116 drive away (undercutting big guns)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 4 yrs/100,000km (short), $1785 for 3 years/45,000km (good)
ENGINE 3.5-litre V6, electric motor, 230kW/335Nm (powerful)
SAFETY 5 stars, 10 airbags, AEB, 360-degree camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise (excellent)
THIRST 6L/100km (9.0L on test)
SPARE Space-saver (expected)
BOOT 591L, 176 all seats in use (good)