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New Cars Review: 2016 Lexus RX is radically reworked and reinvented

Three generations of history stand in the way of success for the reinvented 2016 Lexus RX luxury crossover.

How so? People such as Janice and Peter in North Vancouver, B.C., see little reason to trade in their first-generation RX 300. It's as good now as day one in 1999 and looks at home in the parking lot of the Hollyburn Country Club. Why trade?

Well, the RX accounts for 40 per cent of Lexus sales. Lexus, desperate to be seen as the embodiment of edgy sophistication, wants to jolt the marketplace here.

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Thus, Toyota Motor CEO Akio Toyoda gave his RX development team a verbal punch to the guts. Its final design proposal was mushy, he said. Devastated, team members got off their complacent backsides, chief engineer Takayuki Katsuda says.

Which brings us to the radical 2016 RX. For a stark comparison, consider the bland blob that is the newest version of Audi's also successful Q7. A true Lester Pearson-era wagon.

The RX is a visual mind-bender – all lines and sharp creases, topped off by the snowplow "spindle" grille carried into the rear shapes. The sexiest version has the optional L-shaped LED headlight array set off by another 18 individual LEDs that surround the main lights and also act as turn signals.

Inside, the seats are wonderfully well padded. The mouse-like controller on the centre console is superb. A giant colour screen stacked on the dashboard may not be pretty but is a visual and functional treat. The instrument cluster is a work of excellence. Unfortunately, that console between the front buckets is big as a beer fridge, compromising an otherwise roomy cabin.

The base engine in the RX and RX F Sport is a revised 3.5-litre, direct-injection V-6 with variable valve timing (292 horsepower/265 lb-ft of torque) with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It's more than strong enough and smooth. The RX 400h hybrid gets a completely re-engineered 3.5-litre, direct-injection V-6 and the Lexus hybrid system (308 hp/247 lb-ft torque). All RX wagons come with all-wheel drive.

The most entertaining RX is the F Sport, but the base model is fine. The hybrid feels a little heavy and ponderous and slow to respond.

In all versions, the design is staggering. Cyril Dimitris, the Lexus boss in Canada, says if you want to change the perception of Lexus, change the RX. Done.

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You'll like this luxury crossover if ... You want the brand's superb quality in a design that is the automotive equivalent of OOFJ or Orchestra of Jenno. See the first, listen to the second.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: TBD closer to the November on-sale date. Look for a starting price in the low $50,000s for the gas model, mid-$60,000s for the hybrid.
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V-6 in the gas model and a 3.5-litre V-6 paired with the hybrid system in the 400h.
  • Transmissions: Eight-speed automatic for the gas, CVT (continuously variable transmission) for the hybrid.
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.2 city/8.9 highway for the gas, 7.7 city/8.0 highway for the hybrid.
  • Alternatives: Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Lincoln MKX, Volkswagen Touareg, Infiniti QX70, Volvo XC90, Land Rover LR4.

RATINGS

  • Looks: The design as a whole is a visual slap and in a good way – so much so we’ll forgive that cow-catching spindle grille.
  • Interior: Those in back get more legroom than passengers in the rear of a Lexus LS sedan. The optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system delivers the sort of clear and crisp audio that will make you weep for joy.
  • Performance: The power is good in both versions, gasoline and hybrid, although the hybrid has a throttle delay that can become irritating. The gas version has a mechanical all-wheel-drive system, while the hybrid is all electric motors. The ride is shockingly quiet no matter how fast you’re going. The hybrid feels ponderous even in a straight line.
  • Technology: The hybrid really is a technological tour de force. Reliable and efficient, this is the “green” ride for the luxury buyer who does not want to take a chance on the new German enthusiasm for hybrids and plug-ins.
  • Cargo: There is space for luggage or golf clubs, even in the hybrid.

The Verdict

9.0

A design departure for Lexus and a challenge to the competition to avoid out-boring the lot of us.

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The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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