Where’s the tip-in point for premium plus-sized family hauling?
By Lexus’s reckoning, it’s at the low-seventy thousand mark for its RX300 Luxury: the most affordable option in its large SUV stable, and something of a fiscal demarcation splitting the premium haves from the mainstream have-nots when it comes to big wagons.
Interestingly, if you scale up the rest of the 12-strong Lexus RX range all the way to the elaborate RX450hL Sports Luxury, you’ve only just nudged the ground floor for what premium German marques ask for their large-SUV alternatives. The big Lexus wants to be considered a premium player yet, on pricing at least, the RX family parks itself in the middle-ground between top-shelf Mazdas and basement-grade Audis.
So, surely the price-busting 2022 Lexus RX300 Luxury would want to measure up more closely against the likes of a Mazda CX-9 Azami LE than an Audi Q7 45 TDI. That’s where buyers are most likely to go cross-shopping and it appears that’s how Lexus has chosen to position its cheapest RX.
Working against the RX300 Luxury pitch is age. It’s an old generation – due for replacement in 12 to 18 months with an all-new successor. This model is anchored to varying degrees, by old design and tech, be it in appearance or functionality.
The flipside is that it benefits from the old-school craft and execution Lexus prides itself on. As we’ve discovered reviewing this generation of RX in the past, much of that premium goodness is more felt than conspicuously apparent on the surface.
Still, you don’t arrive at the bottom of 12 variants without trimmed fat and shaved corners. So, the big question is whether the RX300 Luxury can convincingly live up to both its namesake and the sort of premium experience its maker promises in its leanest iteration.
Without any options the most affordable RX variant lists for $74,822 before on-road costs, or between $80,483 and $81,390 drive-away for Sydney/Melbourne postcodes.
On a firm budget, logical five-seat SUV alternatives include: Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander Diesel AWD ($65,200), Jaguar F Pace P250 R-Dynamic S ($76,050), the (V8-powered) Jeep Grand Cherokee S-Limited ($74,450), Kia Sorento GT-Line Diesel AWD ($64,070), Land Rover Defender 110 P300 ($76,836), the aforementioned Mazda CX-9 Azami LE ($73,875), and Toyota Kluger Grande AWD Hybrid ($75,400).
You’ll need to loosen the purse strings further to break into the Audi Q7 45 TDI ($105,100), BMW X5 xDrive25d ($104,400), Genesis GV80 2.5T RWD ($90,476), Range Rover Velar P250 R-Dynamic S ($89,147), Mercedes-Benz GLE300d ($118,700), Volvo XC90 Momentum ($86,990), or even the mainstream-badged Volkswagen Touareg 170TDI ($82,990).
Premium paint adds around $1350, while a $6300 Enhancement Pack brings feel-goodies such as 20-inch wheels, heated and ventilated leather-accented seating, a panoramic roof and a memory driver’s seat with easy access.
Need or want seven seats? You need to cough up 10k for the six-cylinder RX350L Luxury at $85,206 plus on-roads (or around $95k drive-away).
Fancy the mid-spec RX300 F Sport instead? That’s an extra $15,750 investment. The same Luxury bundle in six-cylinder AWD RX350 form? That’s an extra $10k again.
RX300 Luxury highlights:
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (wired)
- Satellite navigation
- Reversing camera
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Nuluxe leatherette upholstery
- 10-way power front seats
- Keyless entry and start
- DAB digital radio
- Bi-LED headlights
- LED daytime running lights
- 12-speaker sound system
- Dual-zone climate control
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Heated side mirrors with memory
As an entry-level premium proposition, it’s interesting to see where the RX300 Luxury package delivers and where it holds back, in terms of features and equipment.
Running gear is one area: the RX300’s turbo-four front-drive format with passive single-mode suspension and smaller 18-inch wheels accounts for the $10k saving over an RX350 Luxury.What you don’t get in the RX300 compared with Luxury spec in RX350 and RX450h are larger 20-inch wheel and leather-appointed trim for heated/cooled memory seats.
There’s also a lot of stuff omitted from the equipment list compared with that $15k-pricier F Sport version, including: 20-inch wheels, mirrors, steering-wheel, LFA-inspired semi-digital instrumentation, and front sport bucket seats. Also missing are triple-stack adaptive LED headlights, adaptive suspension, and details such a head-up display, rear window blinds and auto-folding for the side mirrors.
All in all, the features bundle looks fit for the price point.
All versions of the RX range are included in ANCAP’s five-star rating from 2015, off the back of Euro NCAP testing.
The range received an adult occupant protection score of 83 per cent (despite a 0.0 from 3 result for AEB City), 82 per cent for child occupant protection, 79 per cent for pedestrian protection and 74 per cent for safety assist (with 0.0 out of 3 for speed assistance systems).
Standard safety equipment includes:
- AEB with pedestrian/cyclist detection
- Forward collision warning
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep/centring assist
- Auto high beam
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Reversing camera
- Rear-cross traffic alert assist
- Parking Support Brake collision mitigation
- Traffic sign detection with Road Sign Assist
In addition is a neat Drive Start Control that reduces power output in the event of miss-shifting between transmission drive modes (Drive to Reverse or vice versa). The ten-airbag fitout includes front, driver’s knee, front passenger cushion, side and curtain coverage.
As fortune would have it, my time in the RX300 Luxury followed a lengthy stint in the higher-grade and sportier RX350 F Sport, with a $20k higher asking price.
Does the base RX feel $20k cheaper inside? Not at all.
The vibe is suitably rich and convincingly upmarket, even if some of the details – such as the pleasing analogue instrumentation and paint trim insert work – are mainstream. Importantly, that sense of Lexus solidity: the quality of the build and materials, the variety of colour (especially with the fetching Ivory leatherette seen here) all contribute to the premium ambience Lexus creates.
The front seats aren’t as form fitting as the wonderful F Sport buckets, but their design makes them quite comfortable and the neatly perforated fake leather is suppler than some of economically treated real stuff used by some carmakers. The light two-toned interior scheme also makes it feel particularly airy in both rows of seating.
The RX300 does have an older style interface. It clings to classic styling and a typically Japanese take on luxury design, with lots of dedicated buttons. It eschews the sort of streamlined approach favoured by German carmakers today – if crisp digital eye candy and slick haptic touch interfaces are a top priority, the Lexus mightn’t be for you.
Bar the lack of seat heating and cooling, the base RX doesn’t feel stripped out. The inductive phone charger is a nice and necessary inclusion these days. There is also ample USB-A power and connectivity up front – four outlets in total – and decent amount of storage (if no logical area to stow the key). The dual-zone climate controls too, are simple enough to negotiate.
Despite being a key highlight of the RX line’s recent 2019 update, the large 12.3-inch touchscreen system (replacing an older 8.0-inch system) only kicks Lexus’s infotainment format along just enough to avoid a sense of genuine redundancy. Apple CarPlay functions as expected – wired, so inductive charging in its tight cubby is somewhat superfluous.
Many of CarPlay’s features are accessible via the screen on the move, but in appearance, response, user-friendliness, and content design, it’s long in the tooth, including the clunky sat-nav.
Finally, there’s the touchpad console controller, a thing of frustrating and distracting fumbling that needs to be put to pasture; hopefully, in RX’s next redesign.
As a dedicated five-seater, the regular-length RX works well. The rear seat backs are fixed, rather than adjustable as found in the seven-seater, but the packaging feels less of a compromise than in the stretched RX L version, and row two offers decent if not quite class-leading roominess in every measure.
Rear head, shoulder, knee, and toe room are all quite good, with a reclined static seatback angle for a pleasing luxury feel. Rear air vents and USB ports also bring expected convenience to the party.
Boot space is 453 litres, converting to 924 litres with the rear seats folded. Looks trim on paper, though Lexus measures to the top of the seats backs and, in effect, luggage space is more generous than the figures suggest.
The boot is wide and has good length, if limited a little in absolute height thanks to the high-set floor which covers a temporary spare wheel.
Each numeric grade in the RX line-up gets its own powertrain, and the 300 exclusively gets turbo four-cylinder power and dedicated front-wheel drive.
Engine of choice is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol unit that, for its size, packs a decent wallop, with 175kW (at 4800-5600rpm) and a healthy 350Nm (at 1650-4000rpm). That’s 20Nm down on the RX350’s naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre V6, which generates peak torque much further up the rev-range (from 4600rpm).
On paper, at least, the suggestion is that turbo four lacks little to its larger stablemate for around town driving – though at 9.2 seconds for the 0-100km/h measure, it’s no rocket ship (RX350 quotes 8.0sec, comparatively).
The sole transmission offered is a six-speed conventional automatic, rather than the eight-speeder in the V6.
The positive trade-off is that, with its 8.1L/100km combined claim, the RX300 is quite a bit more economical than the regular RX350 (9.6L/100km). The turbo four also happily drinks E10 from its 72-litre tank, which is handy when it’s cheaper at most filling stations than its minimum recommended 95 RON.
The powertrain is a bit of a surprise. My expectations for how a two-litre four might cope with a two-tonne luxury SUV were fairly low before setting off on my first drive, but right from the get-go the RX300 proved a handy and competent package.
While not quite as quiet and silky an operator as its sister V6, the turbo four is polite and dignified, fitting the luxury bill nicely. But how it plies torque; nice and low in the rev range and with lots of gusto, that’s properly impressive.
Around town and at part throttle, it doesn’t realistically lose anything to its larger-capacity stablemates; undoubtedly working hard for its keep at times but rarely displaying signs of sweat or toil.
Dig in, such as firing into flowing traffic from a side street, and the front wheels will spin up momentarily with a noticeable amount of torque steer – but this is realistically no foul. The good part is that there’s plenty of energy on tap for merging or overtaking or any situation where you want to get you and your loved ones out of danger’s way.
Too often carmakers tune small engines for outright economy to the detriment of driveability, but not Lexus when it came to the RX300 – nice work. Where you do trade, though, is in fuel economy. Across the balance of mixed driving, the on-board computer revealed the Lexus rarely dropped into single-figure consumption.
The six-speed auto is solid and unremarkable, as slick as most premium-grade SUVs and not demanding any sort of drive mode fiddling to return pleasing and obedient behaviour.
Similarly, no gripe to report for front drive, other than a bit of wheel tugging when you really bury the right foot without the car pointed in a straight line. Otherwise, the RX doesn’t really want for all-wheel drive in the urban environment.
While those 18-inch wheels mightn’t look as fetching as the 20s found further up the RX range stream, the larger-sidewalls add a little extra compliance to the single-mode suspension’s ride. The tuning is, for the most part, nicely balanced between bump control, filtering out smaller road imperfections and providing firm enough body support to eradicate any ‘wooliness’ or ‘floatiness’.
Bar a touch of sharpness across speed bumps, it’s wholly a premium experience, one not left wanting for the lack of adaptive dampers.
There’s nothing sporty about the RX300 Luxury, but it’s quite a pleasing thing to drive – with light and direct steering that only gets a little heavy when parking, and a good sense of connection with the road underpinned by decent road-holding grip.
It’s reasonably easy to judge in tight confines and when parking, though the high bonnet line makes judging objects forward a little tricky, and the reversing camera is hardly a pillar of clarity and sharpness.
The big rave, though, is how solid and unfatiguing it is to drive. It feels accomplished and well-polished – indeed, Lexus put much effort into refining the quality of the drive of the RX throughout its lifecycle, and it pays dividends in both the overall feel and in the details.
The biggest annoyance, outside of the incessant speed camera warnings, is the distraction of the clumsy infotainment system on the driving experience.
No biggie, you think, until you want to meddle with sat-nav settings or change app settings on the move, forcing you often to stop the SUV for even mundane changes to some of the functions.
Lexus recently moved to a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
That’s longer than the three years offered by BMW, if similar to the five-year surety of Audi, Genesis, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar Land Rover or Volvo.
Servicing intervals are a typical 12 months and 15,000km per visit, whichever comes first. Lexus’s servicing is capped at $595 per visit for the first three years/45,000kms.
You also get access to the Lexus Encore ownership program, which gives owners access to Caltex fuel discounts, invitations to luxury dinners and events, as well as luxury hotel partnership benefits.
As one of the most affordable access points to premium large SUV ownership, the RX300 Luxury does make a case for itself.
It’s easy to look down the wider RX model features list and judge the base version as slim pickings. But taken on its merits, there’s little about the RX300 Luxury that feels cheap, overly trimmed, or substandard.
There are a few little reminders that you haven’t splurged – no auto-folding mirrors, say – but the wider experience of how it feels and drives does measure up to the premium promise.
The RX300 Luxury mightn’t lay on as many trinkets as a mainstream flagship, but the general depth of quality and upmarket execution largely compensates for it.
However, it’s getting along in age and feels it in places. And, the cut of its jib will certainly find favour with some buyer tastes more than others.
But if you are drawn to the RX model and don’t want to wait for the all-new replacement due in a year or so, we recommend checking out the base version, even if you’re inclined to spend more further up the range.
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