Lexus moves to plug-in power with its new RX

Fifth generation of premium Japanese SUV lands in Ireland in December as a plug-in hybrid

Lexus RX

In 2018, Lexus predicted “diesel is dead”. It ruffled a lot of motoring feathers at the time, but the sales figures suggest that, while it’s not dead yet, it’s receiving palliative care.

For a brand that put all its chips on petrol-electric hybrid, the future should look bright. Yet Toyota’s premium brand has been relatively slow to embrace the leap to full electric. It currently has a small all-electric crossover, the UX300e, while the larger new all-electric RZ – boasting a range of 400km between charges – will land in Ireland later this year.

Coincidentally, it will land at roughly the same time as the new-generation RX. A firm favourite of well-heeled families in the leafy suburbs, the Lexus SUV is now entering its fifth generation. And while the new generation has been completely revamped, it still bears some styling cues from the earlier iterations.

The RX was also something of a crossover than a fully-fledged rugged SUV, which is a benefit these days as car companies seek to avoid the flak and ire that three-letter abbreviation draws down.

Though this new five-seater RX may look similar to the past versions, the big news is that it now comes with a plug-in option, albeit one supported by a petrol engine. Lexus has opted for a plug-in hybrid powertrain for the RX 450h+. After years of dismissing PHEVs, the Japanese brand has now embraced them.

Lexus RX

The fact is that buyers in this market are migrating en masse to PHEVs in an effort to get their first experience of the new electric age, but with the support of a regular combustion engine.

Built on the same underpinnings as the smaller Lexus NX450h+, this new RX is the same length as the outgoing model but is 10mm lower. It also boasts a wider track front and rear and a longer wheelbase and this added distance between the front and rear wheels can be seen in the cabin that has an impressive “big car” feel.

The cabin has undergone a major revamp, dominated by a new 14-inch multimedia touchscreen on the dash. Lexus has long been criticised for sticking with outdated touchpad controls, but this new approach is much closer to class-leading German rivals.

Lexus RX

Like rival models from BMW and Mercedes, the RX is a connected car and gets a smart voice assistant so you can say, “Hey Lexus” to access connected features; “Lexus I’m cold” the car turns up the heat. As you’d expect, there will be a Lexus Link app with a range of remote interactive functions.

The new RX has a lower centre of gravity and new multilink rear suspension that Lexus says will deliver a unique Lexus driving experience. Noise, vibration and harshness levels are also expected to be impressively low as the rear gets additional stiffening to reduce body flexing. The Japanese premium brand has always been fixated on comfort and refinement issues – rightly so in this segment of the market – and we expect the same attention to detail will be delivered here.

Under the bonnet sits a four-cylinder 2.5-litre petrol that combines with an electric motor and small “self-charging” battery to make it hybrid. The RX’s plug-in element uses a much larger lithium-ion rechargeable battery with a 18.1kWh capacity. Like the NX450h+, the RX450h+ is also all-wheel drive with an additional electric motor powering the rear wheels.

The car’s output is 307hp and it is expected to deliver a 0-100km/h time of circa seven seconds. Emissions and fuel consumption figures will be low with Lexus aiming to achieve an official CO2 emissions rating of less than 26g/km and fuel economy of less than 1.2l/100km.

The new RX will be sold in Ireland in 450h+ guise but you can get the more dynamic RX 500h F-Sport hybrid (HEV) on special order. This RX 500h is a 371hp turbocharged 2.4-litre regular petrol hybrid with adaptive variable suspension and dynamic rear-wheel steering that on paper at least sounds exciting as does its 0-100km/h time of six seconds.

Pricing and equipment details are not yet finalised for Ireland, but the good news is that this new RX450h+ is expected to cost less than the current RX450h hybrid.

Its main rivals will continue to be the BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90. However, another rivalry may come from the all-electric RZ. While some families may be tempted to play it safe and stick with the RX in plug-in hybrid format, the 400km range of the RZ, along with a similarly spacious five-seater set-up, may just lure a few Lexus buyers to make the leap to full electric.

Either way, so long as they are choosing between two Lexus models, there will not be many complaints from the company bosses in either Ireland or Japan.

Lexus RX