In late 2019 the Lexus RX large SUV received a mid-life facelift that included a number of clever selling points and convenience improvements, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, additional USB ports, powered tailgate, lane keeping assist, and an updated radar system which can sense cyclists (daytime only) and pedestrians (day and night).
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Lexus’s engineers also finessed its styling and driving dynamics, particularly in the areas of ride quality and refinement. The clever adaptive suspension system fitted to F Sport and Sports Luxury grades has also been reworked; Lexus says it is now more harmoniously in tune with the road surface.
All that sounds impressive, but what does it mean and does it make a difference in every day driving? That’s what I’m keen to find out, hence the six-week ownership test we’re putting the RX 300 F Sport through.
At its core, the RX 300 F Sport which I’m testing here is a five-seat large SUV, and while it has plenty of space inside, it feels more like a mid-sizer to drive which is a good thing. The RX 300 is front-drive only, and sits at the bottom of the RX range below the more powerful RX 350 and even more potent RX 450h, which is a hybrid.
Its price is $71,200 plus on-roads, which puts it just about the top of the Mazda CX-9 range and well below what Lexus sees as its natural rivals, the Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q7 and BMW X5.
The RX 300 F Sport I’m testing is a bit more expensive - $86,800 at the time of writing. It gets head-up display on the windscreen, heated leather seats, Drive Mode Select which allows a driver to tailor suspension tune and engine response, and larger 20-inch alloy wheels.
It will be interesting to see how the updated RX 300 fits in with a major upheaval coming my way, and I’m not talking about COVID-19. My wife and I are expecting our first (and hopefully only, but that’s not entirely my call), so the RX will definitely come in for some rough treatment during the weeks ahead.
Life in the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown is not as mobile as it once was, so actual road testing is limited to the odd trip to Bunnings for home improvement jobs and the grocery store for supplies. There are also semi-regular trips to the hospital for the many appointments that go with ‘expecting’. Still, that’s more than enough to build a first impression of the Lexus RX, and it’s a case of so far so good… with a few caveats.
Going into this sixth-week of ownership, my expectations of the Lexus brand are for fuss-free premium mobility with plenty of bells and whistles, and in the first week or so with us, the RX 300 is proving a mixed bag – but all of my issues to date are minor, and easily outweighed by the good.
Firstly, I am now a big fan of seat heaters. Never realised such a small thing could bring such comfort on those cold Autumn mornings.
The standard electric driver’s seat with memory adjust means my wife and I can save our driving settings. I would like the rearview mirror’s position to also adjust automatically, but I haven’t driven a car yet that offers that level of convenience, so the Lexus can’t really be marked down for that. It’d be good to have memory settings on the passenger seat too, since that’s where the other one is when not driving.
While we’re on the seat’s memory function, it seems wrong to me that the seat’s first move when transitioning from the wife’s close-in, high-up driving position to my lower down and therefore further back position is to cramp me closer to the wheel before descending and giving me space.
Push the starter button and the Lexus RX 300’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine fires quietly into life. Select Drive or Reverse and the park brake automatically disengages which is nice. As for how the drivetrain performs, let’s just say it punches harder than its on-paper specs would suggest.
It is quite lively from the get-go, which hasn’t always been a Lexus brand hallmark, has more than enough performance to fulfil expectations, and is relatively economical – we’re averaging 9.5L/100km to date.
Back in the driver’s seat, the Lexus RX F Sport’s leather-clad cabin strikes a good balance between old-school luxury like the analogue clock and high-tech wizardry like the touchpad and huge 12.3-inch touchscreen. Big front door pockets fit our tall water bottles, and the centre cupholder has a clever adjustable floor to more securely hold tall bottles if the door pockets are full.
As part of the late-2019 update, Lexus added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the entire Lexus RX SUV range, which makes it easier to listen to my Spotify playlists and use Waze navigation. The touchscreen however, appears to be out of calibration with my finger, or I’m not doing it right. For instance, there’s a row of menu buttons along the bottom of the screen. Pressing the icon above the word doesn’t work, but pressing the word does. Why?
An alternative to the touchscreen is using the touchpad control on the centre console. My wife likes it just fine, but I find it takes too much concentration to understand where a finger swipe will end up.
The second row of seats appear spacious enough for adults, and I found them comfortable the one time I rode back there. I’m guessing once Bump becomes Baby Butler, one of the parents will be riding back there a lot more.I’ve heard stories about the challenges of installing baby capsules, and had people warn me how difficult it is. Perhaps they are all pre-2014 reviews, because the ISOFIX system is simple, as I have learned.
The boot will soon become a semi-permanent home to a pram and the many bags that go everywhere with a newborn. I suspect the boot’s electric opening and closing feature – which can now be activated by pretending to kick the rear bumper – will prove a godsend.
I did have concerns about how my not so tall wife (1.6m or 5ft 3in) will go lifting the pram into the boot. We gave it a test run and the 80cm high loading lip is not a problem for her or our relatively lightweight BabyBee pram.
Speaking of prams, who knew there were so many! And every one purporting to have something new or unique or better than the next. And the prices… That’s not limited to prams, though. Everything to do with babies seems to attract a premium. Guess I will have to get used to that.
That’s enough for now. I’ve just been told we have to go to Baby Bunting now to buy nappies and jumpsuits for D-Day (Delivery Day). That’s still six weeks away, so I don’t understand the urgency. But then, I’m a bloke, so I am resigned to not understanding much for the next six weeks – the next 18 years probably.
June 11, 2020
Km driven: 1850km
Avg fuel use: 9.7L/100km
Six weeks blurs by when you’re living the Groundhog Day every Aussie is enjoying during this COVID-19 crisis. All those personal events and engagements that we took for granted were great for differentiating one week from the next.
Going to the footy with mates, dinner with friends or family, weekends away with the other half, or even a simple trip to the movies or a friends’ place down the Peninsula… There’s none of that during lockdown.
But as I alluded to above, there is plenty of time for home improvements. And my move into a new house means there’s lots that needs doing.
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By last count I’ve made 14 trips to my local Bunnings in the last six weeks, collecting everything from light bulbs and heater vent covers to some new tools to build a workbench. It’s fair to say the Lexus RX 300’s boot has copped a serious workout through it all, and the back seats have been folded quite a few times.
One load that tested its limits, size-wise, was two 2.1m by 0.9m pine boards which would become the workbench top. Heavy buggers, because a workbench needs to be sturdy, and the only way to fit them lengthwise was to fold the rear seats and push the front passenger seat all the way forward. But I got them in, along with 4x4 posts for legs and 4x2s for framing.
All those short runs to the shops and back means the Lexus’s average fuel economy hasn’t changed much from the 9.5L/100km we achieved previously. But still, anything less than 10L/100km for a big SUV can only be seen as good.
My relationship with the RX 300 has mellowed. All those concerns I raised in the first update have now just become part of the process of driving the car. People adapt, and the Lexus’s little foibles weren’t exactly world-breaking, so I’ve got over them – or figured out how to work around them.
As for the RX 300’s safety systems… In the past I’ve had cause to question the calibration of some systems like lane-keeping and AEB sensing. I’ve found the first too crude and the latter too sensitive – sometimes returning false warnings from roadside poles or bus stops shelters and the like.
But those hiccups are now a distant memory because the RX 300 has not done it once. I can’t comment on the AEB’s effectiveness because it has not been called on to intervene once, and I’m not brave enough – or rich enough – to deliberately trigger it by trying to run into something.
Next week we’re swapping into the bigger brother RX 350, which has a much more powerful 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine. I don’t think the RX 300 is lacking for performance at all, but I’m guessing that the V6’s extra power will be noticeable.
Overall, the RX 300 has been a welcome motoring companion for the last six weeks, and I’d have no reservations in recommending it to friends and family – as long as they can live with the multimedia system’s useability shortcomings. Everything else is very much in keeping with Lexus’s premium brand ethos.