Fleet News

Lexus RX300



##lex300.jpg --Right##THE Americans rather like the Lexus RX300: they bought more than 55,000 of them between January and August 2000 and consumed 73,500 units in 1999, the sports utility vehicle's first full year Stateside.

That makes it the best-selling compact SUV in the USA, and it gives people like deputy chief engineer Yukihiro Okane a warm glow. This was his baby and he had his work cut out with a 1995 brief that demanded a luxury off-roader in the Lexus tradition.

So why has RX300 taken more than two years to reach Britain? It's the Americans again. They, and Japanese customers, apparently like their ride nice and squishy and they don't accelerate, corner or brake as violently as we do, so the car had to be comprehensively re-engineered at the Toyota Motor Europe Technical Centre in Brussels.

So - here it is: firmed up, refined and priced from £28,950 (and yes, we did check with Lexus GB whether another cut was on the cards. It provoked a sniffy response, but no, the price you see is what Lexus would like you to pay. And yes, the full 2001 year's sales target for the UK is 2,200, not 22,000, and across Europe about 6,000 in its first 12 months. There is only one engine, a 201bhp 3.0-litre petrol V6, and standard and SE trim, the latter expected to account for 90% of sales). Not exactly a volume vehicle, then, but nor are its rivals: in Britain Jeep Grand Cherokee does about 2,600, Mercedes-Benz M-class 2,500 and the full-year forecast for BMW X5 is 4,000.

Low numbers - most of them company funded - should mean strong residuals, although these days CAP Motor Research's 'strong' is a Mercedes-Benz ML320 with a 43% residue of price new after three years and 60,000 miles.

What you get for your money is an SUV which actually comes very close to achieving car-like comfort and handling. We got to throw an SE left-hooker round some hairpins en route from Madrid to the hills and paradors of Guadalajara. Enthusiastic cornering is not something to be recommended in any off-roader, and as the Spanish esses became zeds I was regretting the tapas and praying the RX300 was as efficient at staying in touch with the Tarmac as the man from Lexus had said it would be.

It never snapped out of line, despite 2.2-tonnes of momentum willing it over the edge, and there was little complaint from the tyres. On normal roads RX300 is as quiet as a Lexus should be - the engine can't be heard at tickover, and there's virtually no wind or road noise.

The official off-road section chosen by Lexus' route-planners was tame by 4x4 standards: dry tracks, gentle slopes and a piddly water splash in a paella western setting, and that's probably more than enough adventure for the average UK company RX300 driver. Lexus does not claim its permanent 4x4 is a match for a serious utility mud-plugger with low-range transfer gearbox, differential locks and hill descent control.

However, it is equipped to cope comfortably with moderate messes without calling on the driver to hit switches or pull levers while stacks of V6 torque are fed through a four-speed electronically controlled transaxle system linked to a viscous limited slip differential set-up with VSC (vehicle stability control). It'll get the shopping home.

By luxury SUV standards RX300 is a good buy. It's powerful, has a price CAP agrees is sensible and it is well equipped - Lexus claims another £3,400 or so would be needed to bring a Mercedes-Benz, Jeep or Land Rover up to the same level.

There are areas of disappointment. The cabin is roomy, well screwed together and is stuffed with goodies, but it falls short of the material closeness you expect of a Lexus and which is taken for granted in a Mercedes-Benz or BMW. Similarly, it lacks car park cred. It's got the chunks and the Lexus badge, but not the presence which makes some high-bodied vehicles something to be seen in.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

Lexus UX long-term test | time to say goodbye, but will we miss it?

During our four-month test, we’ve averaged 42mpg in the UX – impressive considering its 2.0-litre petrol engine

First drive: Suzuki Vitara 1.6 DDIS SZ-T car review

Affordable sport utility motoring, with extra large loading capacity and an imposing new look

Search Car Reviews