The new Lexus RX350 is the perfect blend of tradition and technology

It's a brand that made its name with ludicrously quiet limousines and engaging sports sedans in the 1990s.

But as it settles into middle age Japanese car maker Lexus has shifted heavily into the SUV space, to the point where 80 per cent of its sales are made up of high-riding wagons.

Sure, all brands are undergoing an SUV boom – offering more models and selling more of them – to the point where 80 per cent of Porsches are also now SUVs and 97 per cent of Volvos.

But the Lexus SUV rise has outstripped its key rivals.

BMW (62 per cent) and Audi (56 per cent) are well behind in the SUV sales mix. Of the mainstream luxury brands only Mercedes-Benz (39 per cent) trails the overall market average for SUV sales of 45 per cent.

Two into one

Part of the Lexus sales SUV success has come down to what's under the bonnet.

Being owned by Toyota gave the brand access to leading petrol-electric hybrid technology, something that has filtered across most of the range (only the LandCruiser-based LX and sporty RC two-door lack a hybrid option).

These days almost 30 per cent of Lexus sales include assistance from an electric motor.

While it's not the newer lithium-ion batteries and rechargeable tech of some rivals, the keen pricing has ensured a much higher take-up than the predominantly German opposition.


It's also created queues for some models, with people forced to wait up to three months for an NX mid-sized SUV or RX large SUV with petrol-electric propulsion. 

Pricing up

It's easy to see the appeal.

In the just updated RX the hybrid is the most powerful of the three drivetrains on offer but is also by far the most fuel efficient, sipping a claimed 5.7 litres per 100km. Fuel use around town should be about half what the equivalent V6 model uses.

However, there's a relatively large premium to step into that RX450h, as it's called. Think almost $10K more than the price of entry for the most popular model, the V6-powered RX350.

For that reason, the RX350 is by far the most popular model, accounting for around half of all sales.

Tech focus

Whichever you pick there's more tech in the latest version, including basics such as (finally) Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a tailgate that opens with a kick of the foot.

The RX is as connected as a Lexus has ever been. There are also USB plugs throughout, including two below the dash, two in the centre console and another pair for the back seat (the regular RX has five seats, but a seven-seat model, denoted with an "L" on the badge, adds back seats courtesy of a boot that is 110mm longer).

Just to ensure all gadgets are suitably juiced up there's a wireless charging pad, too.

One of the more advanced features are the "blade-scan" headlights that use a fast-spinning mirror to reflect individual LEDs further and more precisely.

Like other intelligent headlights they can shade or black out other road users, allowing the high beams to run even when in traffic or with other cars approaching.

It's tricky tech and works well on the RX.

Hardening up

The adaptive dampers on the Sports Luxury and F Sport models have also been tweaked as part of suspension revisions that improve the driving experience.

The RX has typically lagged rivals such as the BMW X5 and Audi Q7 when it comes to cornering nous.

While those Germans still have a dynamic edge, the gap has narrowed with the RX dialling up more flair to its comfort-focused setup.

Full of lust

Less ground-breaking is the 3.5-litre V6 in the RX350.

It's the same basic engine used in the Toyota Kluger, albeit tuned to run on premium unleaded so making a healthier 221kW of power.

It pulls strongly when you step into it and works succinctly with the eight-speed automatic, although the transmission is often too eager to slide into taller gears.

What it lacks in the turbo-assisted low-rev huff of European rivals it makes up for with crisp responses and a lusty upper rev range.

Details, details

Anywhere you look attention to detail is superb on the RX, from the lustre of the paint to the way the woods and leathers meld in the cabin. Even the twirl of the dials of the sound system have some weight to them to reinforce quality.

Quality is something the sound system also does beautifully.

Lexus's long running relationship with top end audio brand Mark Levinson translates to a 15-speaker system that outpunches most. It's beautifully crisp and clear with defined bass adding depth.

Every millimetre counts

You've got to love the accuracy of Japanese manufacturing.

In announcing the update to the RX, Lexus boasted of the new 12.3-inch screen that takes pride of place in the centre of the dashboard and does a better job of presenting infotainment details as well as a clearer reversing camera image.

That screen has been positioned precisely 137.9mm closer to the front seat occupants "to support new touch-display functionality".

Even then, it's still a lean to the screen to be able to better navigate your way around, rather than rely on the Lexus touchpad that has a knack of not landing where you want it to.

Old and new

Despite the tech overload Lexus has blended just enough tradition, either with perforated leather or wood finishes, the latter available with an interesting pinstripe effect.

But it's the analogue clock that sits proudly in the centre on the dashboard that reinforces that tradition.

The RX also comes with an old school value pitch – more for less. Priced from $71,920 up to $110,070 it undercuts key rivals and throws more gear into the mix.