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Review: 2016 Lexus RX 200t F Sport – Has Lexus Gone Manga?!

REVIEW BUYER'S GUIDE
Hans April 8, 2016 08:59

Globally, the past three generations of Lexus RXes were hugely successful. In Malaysia however, the RX was a bit of a one-hit wonder. The first generation model was made a lot of money for grey importers but by the time Lexus Malaysia was setup in 2007, the BMW X5 and later the Audi Q5 had carved up the market between themselves.

The smaller, more attainable NX, which starts from just below RM300,000 has reclaimed some ground for Lexus, allowing Lexus to overtake Audi for the third spot in Malaysia’s premium car segment.

This significantly more expensive RX however, which starts at RM388,800, is going to have to work a lot harder to persuade buyers to walk away from the default German Big-3 brands.

Specifications for Lexus RX 200t F Sport:

  • Price: RM422,990 excluding insurance
  • Engine: 8AR-FTS 2.0-litre transverse four cylinders Dual VVT-iW, turbocharged
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic, All-Wheel Drive
  • Power: 235 hp, 4,800 – 5,600 rpm
  • Torque: 350 Nm, 1,650 – 4,000 rpm
  • Safety: 10 airbags, electronic stability and traction control (VSC, TRC), Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), hill start assist, ABS with EBD, brake hold, blind spot monitor, 360 degree panaromic view parking camera with rear cross traffic alert, tire pressure monitor
  • Origin: Fully-imported from Japan

Overview

Lexus has a rather odd way of positioning its SUV models. While the IS, GS and LS models are clearly aimed at the 3 Series/A4, 5 Series/A6 and 7 Series/A8 respectively, the competitive matrix for Lexus’s SUV range is less clear.

The NX for example, is slotted between a BMW X1/Audi Q3 and a BMW X3/Audi Q5 – both in terms of price and size. It’s the same with the larger RX, which straddles between the X3/Q5 and X5/Q7.

The RX 200t F Sport variant tested here asks for an extra RM14,590 over the RX 200t Luxury, but buys you the following features:

  • Adaptive variable suspension
  • Drive Mode with additional Sport+ and Customize function
  • VDIM, which works on top of the existing VSC for a more seamless and faster intervention
  • 360 degree Panaromic View Monitor
  • F Sport instrument panel - adds a G-force meter and a turbo boost pressure gauge
  • F Sport leather trimmings in the cabin
  • F Sport leather trimmed steering wheel with paddle shifters
  • Aluminium pedals
  • Aluminium roof rails
  • Dark metallic painted wheels (20-inch, same size as RX 200t Luxury)
  • L-motif mesh ‘spindle grille’ at the front
  • Slightly sportier lower front bumper
  • Black colour wing mirror casings

All variants of the RX sold by Lexus Malaysia, including the RX 450h hybrid, come with AWD, and all are strictly five seaters.

Exterior

It might look a little over the top, but the added road presence is exactly what Lexus needs right now. This is one car which you can clearly identify as a Lexus from far away, doesn’t matter if it’s night or day.

Against the look-alike models from Audi and Mercedes-Benz, whose products are now merely XS, S, M, L and XL-sized versions of the same formula, Lexus models a refreshingly unique, each with their own distinct identity.

If the RX’s standout looks don’t start conversations, the animated light patterns of the LED turn signals will.

In dark conditions, puddle lights integrated under each door handles (as opposed to under the wing mirror in most other premium cars) light up as you approach the car, which is nice. 

The tailgate is power operated, but all RX 200t variants misses out on the ‘Touchless’ feature available in the RX 350 – which opens the tailgate simply by hovering your palm over the Lexus badge. Not a big deal because it’s quite gimmicky. The feature is not going to be of much use if you are carrying your groceries on one hand and your baby in another, precisely why Ford (Kuga) and Mercedes-Benz (E300 Bluetec Hybrid) uses feet gesture activated solutions.

Interior

Step inside, the all-new RX’s interior is visually arresting, and feels a lot more special than an equivalent BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz.

We loved the driver-focused cockpit, and the strip of (faux) brushed aluminium highlight running the width dashboard, emphasizing the RX’s width, as well as demarcating the driver’s controls area. The F Sport instrument cluster is a full colour TFT LCD display, similar to the one used in the IS 200t F Sport and the limited production LF-A, but minus the super impressive mechanically sliding cluster ring.

Everything looks and feels good on first impression, but upon closer inspection, you will notice that the brushed aluminium are actually made of plastic.

Step out of the RX and jump into an equivalent Audi or Mercedes-Benz, the superiority of the Ingolstadt’s and Stuttgart’s teams in cabin materials is marginal, but noticeable.

On the upside, the RX’s interior is still more impressive than most BMWs bar the 7 Series.  The Bavarian models are the best to drive but they have the poorest interiors.

Lexus’s signature Remote Touch Interface (RTI) is now improved with ‘Enter’ buttons on either sides. RTi is actually easier to operate than the rotary dial-type controls used by BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz, but because we’ve been so accustomed to rotary dials, new users might find the RTI’s ‘mouse’ harder to use.

Once you’ve familiarised yourself, operating it is easy, even while driving. The 8-inch colour display is positioned low enough to not get in your view, but far in front enough to be close to your field of vision.

However, RTI is also a case of two steps forward and one step backward. While it’s easy to operate, the menu structure is rather counter-intuitive. Setup for FM Radio or Bluetooth handsfree functions for example, are not in the Radio or Phone menu, but buried under the Settings menu.  

Oddly, given its premium appeal, the FM radio doesn’t auto-adjust for optimal reception when you drive from one region to another. It’s a minor annoyance but the feature is already available in some lesser Toyotas.

Apart from that, ergonomics are spot on. The seats provide excellent support for long distance drives, and cabin space is ample for five adults to travel in comfort.

The door pocket is extendable to swallow a 1.5-litre water bottle too!

Despite it being an AWD vehicle, the floor at the second row seat is flat, offering rear occupants a lot more space than the German competition.

The car is even smart enough to confirm with you if you have intentionally left the moonroof or windows opened after you’ve shut down the engine. Tilting the moonroof slightly up while leaving the blinds pulled is an effective way to keep the cabin cool in a hot afternoon.

As the boot extends quite deep, folding the seatbacks can be done electrically. The switches are located on the boot and on the lower side of the seats.

Driving Experience

If you live in an urban environment, the RX 200t F Sport is the pick of the range because it’s the cheapest RX variant with a Panaromic View Monitor – an important feature if you are going to drive/park the RX in tight spaces.

The RX is slightly smaller than the seven-seater X5 (xDrive35i only) and Q7, but is considerably harder to park due to the complex interplay of concave-convex surfaces on its bonnet and fenders.

While the more angular shape of the Q7 and X5 makes it easy to judge the edges of the cars, the way the RX’s front fenders and bumper dip sharply out of view before extending outwards means that without the Panaromic View Camera, you will find yourself negotiating a lot of tight spots by faith rather than by sight – not impossible, but unnecessarily difficult.

The thick C-pillar indivertibly results in a huge blind spot too but it’s a good thing that the blind spot monitors work in a very unobtrusive manner.

The single twin scroll turbocharger with active wastegate control 8AR-FTS engine is a gem among the crowd of turbocharged engines. Flex your right foot, and the engine responds almost like a naturally aspirated engine. It revs considerably faster than the similar capacity 2.0-litre B48 engine in the F30 LCI BMW 330i that we recently tried.

For optimal efficiency, clever valvetrain trickery allows the engine to switch between regular Otto cycle and fuel sipping Atkinson cycle on the fly.

Despite having ‘just’ 235 hp on tap, in real world driving, the RX 200t hardly made us felt wanting for more performance. Keeping up with fast moving traffic is effortless. The six forward ratios are well spaced, shifts are quick and hardly necessitated use of the paddle shifters.

Coupled with AWD, the RX hugs the road very well, with excellent body control.

How comfortable is it?

For any Lexus, comfort is a given, and the RX is no different, despite the sportier pretensions of the latest RX.

Wearing huge 20-inch tyres, some amount of tyre roar is to be expected but the cabin remain impressively quiet even at speeds exceeding 160 km/h. The steering also firms up nicely and progressively as you dial in more angles. It not the sharpest or the most communicative steering around, but it exceeds our expectations for a luxury-biased SUV riding on 20-inch wheels.

Undulating surfaces and poorly patched roads don’t trouble the RX’s fine damping. Ride only becomes noticeably stiffer when the Drive Mode is switched to the most extreme Sport+. Even with the Drive Mode switched to Eco, air-conditioning performance remains adequate.

How economical?

Just because the Lexus RX is sold by the same company that sold you your Toyota Camry doesn’t mean that the maintenance is going to be cheap. It’s aimed Germany’s Big-3 and Lexus dealers are not going to charge you any cheaper than the competition.

Over a 600 km plus distance, with a mix of highway and urban traffic, the RX 200t returned an average fuel consumption of around 11-litre/100 km, more or less what we expected for an AWD vehicle of this class. Most of the urban driving are done with the Drive Mode set to Customised - Eco for engine, Normal for air-conditioning and Chassis.

Conclusion

Compared to its very well-built, comfortable but mostly forgettable predecessors, this all-new RX represents a more assertive Lexus. The styling might polarise, but we wouldn’t want to have it in any other way.

Its in-between segments positioning makes it tricky to make any direct comparisons with its German rivals but put it this way - if the Audi Q5 or BMW X3’s cabin are a bit too small for your liking, have a look at the RX before going for the seven-seater Audi Q7 or 5+2 seater BMW X5 xDrive35i.

The RX has a lot going for it. Reasonable pricing for its segment, an almost lag-free turbocharged engine that responds faster than the competition’s, traffic stopping looks, and an impressive cabin. Plus it’s a Lexus, and that usually means a lot less maintenance headaches than its German peers (dodgy history, non-tropicalised grey import Lexus don’t count).

The only reason one would walk away from the RX is because of its badge. For many, Lexus, despite how well established it is in the US, or how well put together it is, still doesn’t resonate as much as a BMW, or an Audi or Mercedes-Benz. This is a segment that speaks to the buyer’s emotions. Pragmatic considerations like reliability often takes the backseat over snob appeal.

For those who can look beyond the badge and appreciates the RX’s values, just make sure you bought one with a Panaromic View Monitor. 

Review: Lexus RX 200t F Sport Gallery

About Hans

As someone who appreciates cars not just for their horsepower value but also for their cultural significance, he is interested in the art of manufacturing and selling cars just as much as driving them. Prior to swapping spread sheets for a word processor, he spent his previous life in product planning and market research.

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