No one likes to be the target of the competition.
Say that you created a product that launched an entire market segment. The product was innovative enough to break several rules and spawn all comers to create their interpretation of the original. Then, you revised it and reinvented it a few times to ensure its freshness with consumers. Though consumers still loved the original – even a few generations away from the first – pundits and enthusiasts already found a new player more to their liking.
We get it. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. To create an equal or better product is honoring the originator. The challenge is to remain relevant in the eyes of consumers. To do so, one must keep an edge on the competition through innovation, technology and engaging design inside and out.
This is the story of the Lexus RX.
The story began when Toyota created an upscale crossover that would serve as a global product for its luxury brand. The original RX was also sold as a Toyota in select markets as the Harrier, but it is widely known as a Lexus. In March of 1998, the RX arrived as an early 1999 model giving Lexus customers a way to cart the family around in style.
It became a success throughout its three generations so far. Eventually, the RX would also be built in Canada to offset North American demand for the luxury crossover. By 2006, it was the best selling luxury crossover in the USA. The RX was the best selling model in the Lexus lineup towards the end of this decade.
Because of this leadership, every mid-sized luxury crossover sold anywhere on the globe had their sights on the RX. Even softroading SUVs positioned themselves towards humiliating the RX in its wake. Even after Lexus’ sales slump in the wake of recalls and corporate-related lawsuits, the RX remained one of the strongest choices in its segment.
Which brings up an important question – is this Lexus still worthy of its leadership? Or, should we be looking elsewhere to spend our $45,000-plus budget on a premium family hauler?
When you look at the RX, you immediately know it is a Lexus. If you listen to a few pundits and a certain television program from the UK, Lexus design would be best described as “boring.” I disagree. The RX is one of those vehicles you can spot a mile away as being a Lexus. There was enough design language and outward elegance that announced its membership in the oval-L club.
From some angles, the mid-cycle refresh of RX’s third generation design worked. It has a robust presence through height, ground clearance, the huge “spindle” grille and mere details all around. Big doors welcome you and four others inside of a well-appointed cabin. A huge lift gate takes care of swallowing a week’s vacation or a day’s bounty at Crate & Barrel.
Ah, but wait, this is something even more special than the usual RX you see out on the road. This is the new 2013 F Sport model. Graphite-finished nineteen-inch wheels are clean in design and complementary to the F Sport package. The spindle grille gets a specific graphite flavored texture with a chrome surround. An extended air dam and other subtle ground effect body extensions round out the F Sport package. The F Sport look may not be for every Lexus owner, but it creates a twist for those of us who want to be different than the rest of the pack.
Once you enter the cabin, expect to be pampered. Both rows of seats are big and comfortable. The driver’s seat slides out of the way when you exit, but slides you right into position when you fire up the RX. Both front seats get power adjustments – the driver gets much, much more. Anyone can find a good position behind the wheel – guaranteed. The F Sport adds a bit more bolstering to keep you in your seat. Rear passengers can slide their seats back and forth, as well as recline the seatbacks. In this class, regardless of how many rows of seats the vehicle has, this is where I want to be when driving or being driven.
Instrumentation is supersized with big dials and readouts. The cowl is low for tall drivers, but the right amount of adjustment will balance out your vision with quick readouts. High in the center stack is the video screen housing the navigation, rearview camera and all of the functions for the climate control, audio system and the Lexus Enform telematics suite. The gear selector is mounted upward off of the center console to make room for the handy Remote Touch Controller.
The twelve-speaker upgrade from the standard audio system filled the cabin with a beautiful noise. Lexus Enform and Safety Connect infotainment and telematics package were included – already tested on previous Lexuses to high praise. If you do buy a Lexus, make sure you do sign up for all of the subscriptions to Enform and Safety Connect. Plus, you can connect your favorite apps from your smart phone – including Pandora and Open Table – to connect through the Bluetooth set-up.
We can argue as to which engine is the best made by Toyota – for all of its brands. My nomination would be for the 3.5 liter dual overhead camshaft, four valves-per-cylinder V6 under the RX’s hood. Rarely do I get a chance to run this motor. When I do, I have plenty of power available to my right foot – 270 horsepower, to be exact. Do not expect fast acceleration times in an RX, but it is powerful enough to get across town or on the other side of the state with ease.
A new 8-speed automatic transmission is connected to this V6 providing smooth and quiet shifts across the band. This RX 350 had all-wheel drive with a button locking in the system when weather becomes a bit unruly. That means it can get through the snow with all four wheels providing traction down on the white stuff.
The RX is all about one thing: The ride. It is very smooth, but it will inform you of road imperfections, bumps and cracks. On the other hand, it is as quiet as one could get in a luxury crossover. Stopping power is fantastic in both normal and panic situations. Speed sensitive steering exhibits minimal play at center, but it reacts quite well to your wheel action. Sharp turns were done with plenty of assist from a very smart steering system.
Where the F Sport comes in is right in the bends. While the tightened up suspension controls the ride through a balance soft and firm, the F Sport additions kept the RX in place by minimizing body roll. It also helps to have a great set of rubber to keep the RX sticking to the road – the nineteen-inch Dunlop tires are grippy and quiet at the same time.
Unless you have the RX 450h Hybrid, one does not expect exceptional fuel economy from this big luxury crossover. The RX 350 F Sport turned an average of 17.4MPG – right about where the competition has been.
How much are you willing to pay for the best selling member of the Lexus lineup? Prices start just over $39,000 for a front-wheel drive model, but the moment you add packages, your wallet will get a bit lonely. The sticker price for the F Sport tester reached above $51,000.
The Lexus RX has been on sale for a few years now. Even through the years when sales were tougher to come by, the RX remained the brand’s top seller. Both repeat and new buyers to the brand gravitate to the big crossover – which prompted putting it on its Cambridge, Ontario line, the first Lexus to be built outside of Japan.
In all, the RX offers a very special experience for the family on the go – your definition of family is valid here. Even if you do not have a family, the RX serves as a sophisticated, elegant and extroverted conveyance to navigate through life and work. The F Sport adds a new flavor to the RX through its aggressive looks and big bulldog stance.
You never can deny a leader its place on the pedestal. You can try to find other choices, but you still have to compare it to the Lexus RX. It is not easy being everyone’s target, but when you pull a bull’s eye – make sure it has an “L” intertwined with an oval first.