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Driving impression: Lexus RX 350 EX

4 July 2014

The Lexus RX is a prime example of a car that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. For some reason it’s often overlooked by customers shopping around in this particular segment, which is unfortunate, because it’s one of those cars you need to experience first hand to appreciate how good it really is.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting much. The RX has been around for a few years now and cars like the new BMW X5, Mercedes ML and Porsche Cayenne have moved the segment forward quite a bit. Is there any good reason why you’d choose the older Japanese competitor over its seemingly sleeker and newer German competitors?

As it turns out, the Lexus makes a very good case for itself. Yes, in certain places it’s starting to show its age, but it remains a strong competitor thanks to Lexus’ unique approach to standard equipment levels and ride refinement.

You start appreciating the luxurious nature of the beast as soon as you hop in the car and experience those front seats for the first time. I don’t know Lexus does it, but the seats in the RX are more comfortable than on any other car I’ve driven before. They’re firm enough to offer support in all the right places, but soft enough to pamper the back and bum. I’ve never sat on one before, but I imagine one would get a similar experience from sitting on a marshmallow.

It’s pretty much the same story with the rest of the interior. Quality levels are exceptionally high thanks to premium plastic and leather. Standard equipment includes keyless entry, voice control, a 12-speaker sound system with navigation and Bluetooth connectivity, a sunroof and an electronically operated tailgate.

The big news is the upgrade to the infotainment system, or Remote Touch Interface as Lexus calls it. You basically get a big screen on top of the centre console and a mouse-like mechanism at the bottom. It falls easily within reach and is easy enough to understand and operate. It can be a bit frustrating at first, but, then again, what new technology isn’t? I think most owners would be comfortable with this system within a week of taking delivery.

There is, however, one glaring oversight I can’t wrap my head around. Why kit out an interior with the latest in premium gadgetry and not remove the cut-rate digital clock from centre console? As far as criticisms go it’s not a biggie, but it does spoil an otherwise marvelous interior.

The driving experience is definitely secondary to the sensory deprivation tank that is the interior, but that’s the way it should be in SUVs like the RX. As long as the suspension is soft and the acceleration is brisk, there’s nothing to complain about.

The 3,5-litre V6 petrol engine offers up 204kW and 346Nm of torque and is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. With that much power it’s certainly a brisk car, but it prefers to be driven in a leisurely fashion. In doing so, you might even get close to Lexus’ claimed combined consumption figure of 10,9 l/100km.

The biggest surprise of all is the fact that Lexus has introduced this facelifted model, with all of the new exterior and interior upgrades, at exactly the same price as the old car.

The RX 350 EX offers truly exceptional value for money compared to its German rivals. Priced at R644 000, it represents a saving of more than R150 000 in some cases, while offering more standard equipment.

It may be old, but it still has enough fight left in it to find some buyers in this hotly contested segment.