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2016 Lexus RX unveiled at the 2015 New York International Auto Show.

Darren McGee/The Globe and Mail

The vehicle

The fourth-generation RX crossover utility is the last of the seven new Lexus models introduced in what has amounted to a total remake of the brand. The RX is the most important of them all. This one model represents 40 per cent of Lexus' worldwide sales. The 2016 lineup includes the standard RX 350, the sporty RX 350 F Sport and the gasoline-electric RX 450h hybrid. For the first time, Lexus will sell an F Sport version of the hybrid for 2016. How important is the RX to Toyota's luxury brand? RX equals Lexus, they say. "You wanna change the perception of Lexus, you change the RX," says Lexus Canada boss Cyril Dimitris.

Signature feature

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Toyota Motor Corp. CEO Akio Toyoda stunned the development team when he declined to rubber-stamp their final styling concept – throwing the entire development schedule into crisis. This last minute smack to the team's collective temple shocked and motivated them, says chief engineer Takayuki Katsuda. Toyoda-san felt the exterior design needed to be sharpened after three generations and nearly 20 years of round, mushy RX shapes. A good savaging from the top boss brought the team together, he adds. The result is an RX with some panache, despite the spindle front grille that might also look at home on a snowplow.

What else is new

The 2016 RX is longer overall and between the wheels, as well as wider. It is also roomier inside than the outgoing 2015 model. The body structure is stronger, which helps reduce noise and improve handling. The optional panoramic glass sunroof provides for more headroom than the old model. The V-6 power train with its eight-speed automatic gearbox is more powerful and refined. Rear passengers now get the legroom of an LS luxury sedan. The new and optional touchless power back door – a Lexus first – gives the RX something Ford Escape buyers have had for years. Here, to open the rear hatch, just place a hand near the Lexus emblem. You'll also find a new centre console, a new-look instrument panel with heads-up display. The redesigned instrument cluster is clean and useful.

Under the hood

The basic RX and RX F Sport get a revised 3.5-litre, direct-injection V-6 with variable valve timing (292 horsepower/265 lb-ft or torque). The engineers point to the Atkinson cycle capability that helps fuel economy by altering the engine's breathing in certain conditions. The eight-speed autobox is a quick and seamless shifter. The completely re-engineered 3.5-litre, direct-injection V-6 in the hybrid is an evolution of the base six with, among other things, new intake ports and combustion chambers. The hybrid system is carried over, though it has been updated with changes to the power management system and to the control functions of the electric motor on the rear axle (308 hp/247 lb-ft torque). All RX wagons come with all-wheel drive – a mechanical system for gasoline-only models, while electric motors control things for the hybrid.

When can we buy it, and for how much

On sale in November. Prices will be announced closer to that date. Look for them to start in the low-$50,000s for the gas model, mid-$60,000s for the hybrid.

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Cool quotient

4 stars (out of five)

While the Germans have been getting more careful with their crossover designs – case in point the latest Audi Q7, a true 1960s station wagon – Lexus has had the guts to strike off in a very, very aggressive direction with its designs. You may not love the Lexus design language, but you'll certainly notice it in its various iterations across the model line. The hybrid remains the industry standard and the human-machine interface is outstanding.

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