Lexus RX350 gets a serious face

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:01 19/07/2012

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Lexus has had an RX crossover vehicle on the world markets for quite some time now - 14 years, in fact. And the current third-generation model has been on sale in New Zealand for more than three years.

So it says a lot about the exterior design excellence of this vehicle that it still looks appealing. That's despite the fact that in the intervening 36-plus months, a whole swag of new luxury mid-sized SUVs have muscled their way in on the motoring scene, showing off all their new-age features.

But time does go on, and motor vehicles have to move with it. So the RX has just been refreshed, the facelift project including introduction of snazzy F Sport versions of both the petrol- powered RX350 and the RX450h hybrid.

I haven't seen any of the F Sport versions, but I have just been driving an RX350 Limited and I do like what the vehicle designers have done to it.

They've finally put paid to what I always considered to be a fairly girly front-end design, and replaced it with a nose that has a more substantial look about it.

It has what is called a spindle grille, which is a new Lexus trademark design that apparently will be progressively introduced to all its vehicles. So far, in New Zealand, we see it in the RX, the larger LX SUV, and the GS sedan.

The ''spindle'' is the outline that connects the upper and lower grilles, and depending on the intent of individual Lexus models, the grille inserts are different - in the case of the RX, the sporty version has a mesh upper grille, while the Limited and the hybrid have horizontal inserts.

There are also new headlights with LED daytime running lights, changes to the design of the fog- light surrounds, and a new front sports bumper, and it all adds up to a frontal design that is much better than before.

And frankly, that's about all that needed to be done to the exterior of this vehicle. Our test Limited also featured new-design 19-inch alloys and its paint hue was a new colour called Garnet Red, but those are the sorts of changes one always expects of a cosmetic tidy-up that comes with any facelift.

There have also been a number of interior enhancements. The steering wheel has been redesigned, the glovebox area now has metallic-look accents, and the centre console has been changed. Audio has been updated so it now features Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming capability, and the Limited model's audio is now a 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium system.

All the RX models have leather upholstery; and as part of the 2012 facelift, perforations have been added for a sportier look.

And that's about it. In other words this update of the RX is entirely cosmetic, which is something that should be expected of the mid-life facelift of any vehicle.

Model lifespans usually last around five years, so this will do it for the RX350 until a brand-new model arrives around 2014.

I'm a bit of a fan of the Lexus RX. Its exterior might not be the most attractive around - although the new nose does make things much better - but its interior environment and quality of drive is right up there.

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I like the way the cockpit area is split into 'display' and 'operation' zones for ease of use. The passenger side of the frontal area is also nicely separated from the driver's side by a half-circle design of the centre console which accentuates all controls towards the driver's seat.

Single outstanding interior feature is a computer mouse-like controller on the centre console, which Lexus calls Remote Touch and which is used to control everything from the navigation system to the climate control. It is intuitive and it reduces eye movement away from the road by up to 30 per cent.

Ride and handling feel firm. Helping things along is an Active Torque Control on-demand all- wheel drive system that can automatically change the RX from front-wheel drive to a 50:50 torque split when required. The driver can also manually override the system at speeds of up to 40kmh by pushing an AWD lock button to achieve maximum all-wheel grip.

Powering the SUV is a 3.5-litre six-cylinder VVT-i engine offering 204kW of power and the torque is 346Nm, most of it available through the so-called normal driving range when it is needed most of all. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic with sequential manual shift. The transmission appeals as a real beauty, with quick and almost imperceptible shifts.

The Lexus RX is an important model, one that has been a regular volume seller in the luxury SUV segment in New Zealand. This facelift should help keep it there for the next couple of years at least.

LEXUS RX350 LIMITED

POWER PLANT: 3.5-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 engine with dual variable valve timing, 204kW at 6200rpm, 346Nm at 4700rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: On-demand all-wheel drive. Six-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift. MacPherson strut front suspension, trailing arm- type double wishbone set- up at the rear.

HOW BIG: Length 4770mm, width 1885mm, height 1720mm, wheelbase 2740mm.

HOW MUCH: $116,900.

WHAT'S GOOD: I like the revamped looks. Very quiet drive, feels secure on the road, Remote Touch controller.

WHAT'S NOT: Big front head rests impinge on rear-seat visibility.

OUR VERDICT: This facelift is almost all cosmetic, but that speaks plenty about the quality of the RX350 in the first place

- Taranaki Daily News

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