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Sensational SUV

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Ross Kiddie looks over the popular Lexus RX350.

Don’t be at all surprised if an SUV is the 2016 top-selling vehicle amidst the comprehensive Lexus line-up. Lexus New Zealand is anticipating that result as the company actively cashes in on the popular sport utility market.

Not counting the Land Cruiser-based LX, there are two SUV models in the Lexus range, the NX and RX. Both would be considered genuine five-seater models; however, the RX is the bigger of the two and it is a full-size wagon at almost 4.9m, and sitting tall at almost 1.7m.

And within the RX range there are many choices – mostly in specification, but you can also opt for hybrid power if you so wish.

For 2016 the RX is completely new. It is fresh both inside and out, and incorporates a host of new technologies especially for safety.

As its nomenclature suggests, the RX350 has a 3.5-litre V6 petrol-fuelled engine. It is a powerful unit at 221kW and 370Nm and it drives through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Even though it is an engine that has been used widely throughout a raft of Toyota (and Lexus) product, it has had a power boost in RX form; consequently, it stands out for its strength and performance, along with respectable fuel-usage statistics.

Lexus claims a 9.6-litre per 100km (29mpg) combined cycle average. I had two long, open-road drives in the evaluation car and I found that figure easy to replicate with a 10.2-litre (27mpg) figure showing on the fuel usage readout. At 100km/h, 7.5l/100km (38mpg) is possible with the engine turning over at just 1600rpm.

And that is the secret to this big V6. It works tirelessly low down, hauling in quick shifts before the revs rise unnecessarily high. That is the beauty of the V6 engine, it has good torque flow yet whisks to high revolutions freely if required – when overtaking for example.

The RX has an economy/normal/sport selector so that the driver can dictate how the engine works depending on preference. I used normal mode mostly, but did try the sport setting, which is great for providing overtaking opportunities. The RX will lunge from 80km/h to 120km/h in around 4sec, along with a standstill to 100km/h time of 7.8sec.

All of the time the engine works without sound intrusion, even when it is hauling in towards the 6300rpm red line. I guess you’d expect that in a prestige/luxury car, and it doesn’t disappoint.

And the sophistication within the driveline doesn’t stop there. The RX has a complex, fully independent suspension system, and it carries drive to all four wheels. Even though it has a generous 200mm of ground clearance, the RX can’t be considered an off-roader – put simply luxury SUVs aren’t aimed for those conditions – but the four-wheel-drive system is there for when grip is challenged.

I never ventured off the sealed surface, but I can also report that four-wheel-drive, in the RX’s case, is there to enhance its position on the seal, promoting a secure handling feel when pushed into a corner.

While the RX has performance that sits well in the sport SUV sector its primary role is to transport its occupants in the Lexus style of luxury and grace. It is a full five-seater with full leather trim, sat nav, heated and cooled seats, and most of the functions you would need every day as a premium car buyer.

The evaluation car was entry-level, but it certainly doesn’t miss out on much. Sure, it doesn’t get all of the trick stuff of its high specification stablemates, but then again it doesn’t need to in order to provide a satisfying driving experience.

I’ve written many times recently that cars without the full kit are far more appealing to me, but I felt right at home in the RX350 in this form. It still gets the specification to justify its $95,900 price tag. Incidentally, the V6-only range tops out at $107,900, while the V6/hybrid models list from $114,900 to $125,900.

I’m often asked what car I would buy if I had easy access to money. I never really commit myself to answer that question as there is just so much to choose from in the market place that I like. However, I often answer by saying I like Lexus product, simply because the range is beautifully built, easy to drive, and so vast there is something for all buyer profiles. I’d love to have a drive in the 450h, its V6/hybrid combination sounds tantalising.

That aside, the RX350 has done nothing to change my opinion of the brand. It is an involving drive yet a vehicle that equips itself well in so many ways.

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