WITH all the fuss surrounding green motoring at the moment, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Lexus makes cars other than hybrids.
Unlike the fanfare which greeted the firm’s RX400h hybrid SUV when it was launched, another version of the RX family has slipped in almost unnoticed. The RX350 is the entry-level model, now powered by a more powerful and more efficient V6 petrol engine than in the old RX300.
As the name suggests, engine capacity has risen from 3.0 to 3.5 litres, and power has risen from 201bhp to a healthy 276bhp. And, as is the case so often these days, more power doesn’t mean more emissions. The more efficient engine in the RX350 returns 25.2mpg (RX300: 23.2) and emits 264g/km of CO2, compared with 288. OK, so neither figure will impress Greenpeace, but at least they’re going in the right direction.
Even so, the RX350 is still firmly planted in the maximum benefit-in-kind band for 2007, so it isn’t going to be cheap on tax.
So, if your drivers really demand a petrol-engined SUV, what does the RX350 offer?
Well, the power upgrade is not only welcome, but also immediately noticeable, giving this hefty car a decent turn of speed. You realise this the first time you join a main road from a short sliproad and floor the throttle – the RX surges forward and is soon up to cruising speed with little fuss.
Once on a main road the RX is in its element, with low levels of wind and engine noise intruding into the cabin, a relaxed engine pulling low revs at 70mph and a compliant ride which soaks up bumps and holes with ease.
However, veer away from straightish roads and the RX doesn’t impress as much. The main problem is the steering, which is so incredibly light that it gives absolutely no feedback at all. Coupled with a huge amount of dead feel around the centre, this spoils the drive.
Which is a real shame, because for an SUV the Lexus handles very well. It isn’t as sharp as a BMW X3 or X5, but it turns in sharply and body roll is well suppressed.
Never mind, because SUVs are more about image than the pure driving experience.
The Lexus brand is certainly strong enough to mingle with the best from Germany at this level, although strangely this car seems to fail my ‘home-town’ test.
Let me explain: I live near a private girls’ school and every morning legions of SUVs chug into town driven by yummy-mummies delivering their kids.
Now, I’ve not seen one of them driving an RX – instead they drive Discoveries, X5s, Range Rovers and the odd Cayenne, seemingly preferring the more butch, chunkier lines of these cars than the far more svelte styling of the Lexus.
Perhaps because it’s not quite as ‘in your face’ as other SUVs that it goes by somewhat unnoticed.
P11D value: £35,810
CO2 emissions (g/km): 264
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 25%
Graduated VED rate: £210
Insurance group: 16
Combined mpg: 25.2
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £13,525/38%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £679
We don’t like:
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
JUST £1,300 separates these four cars, with the Touareg proving the cheapest despite having leather seats and satellite navigation as standard. The Mercedes-Benz is the most expensive, and leather seats are a £680 option. The Lexus has leather but no sat-nav.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
ALL four fall into the maximum benefit-in-kind tax band, so tax bills are not going to be cheap. The Touareg has the lowest P11D price, so is the cheapest, costing a 40% taxpayer £416 a month, compared with £417 for the Lexus, £421 for the XC90 and £431 for the ML350.
THE Lexus will be the cheapest to service, maintain and repair over three years/60,000 miles, with a bill of just over £2,900. The Volvo is close behind at £3,000 and the Volkswagen is £100 further back. Higher garage rates hit the ML, which will cost £3,400.
RX350: 4.85 (pence per mile) £2,910 (60,000 mile total)
XC90: 5.01 £3,006
Touareg: 5.17 £3,102
ML350: 5.68 £3,408
PETROL engines and SUVs are not a match made in heaven for economy, with all four in the low-20s mpg. The Lexus leads the way, returning a claimed average of 25.2mpg for a fuel bill of £10,700 over 60,000 miles. The Touareg returns 20.5mpg and will cost more than £13,000.
RX350: 17.81 (pence per mile) £10,686 (60,000 mile total)
ML350: 18.61 £11,166
XC90: 18.78 £11,268
Touareg: 21.88 £13,128
THE Volvo and Mercedes-Benz are both predicted to retain 41% of their cost new after three years/60,000 miles, according to CAP. However, the XC90’s lower front-end price sees it lose less money. The Touareg will retain 39% of its cost new, with the Lexus last on 38%.
XC90: 34.63 (pence per mile) £20,778 (60,000 mile total)
Touareg: 35.11 £21,066
ML350: 35.86 £21,516
RX350: 35.89 £21,534
THE Touareg’s thirst means it can not challenge for honours, leaving the other three closely matched. The XC90 takes victory thanks to its depreciation performance. The Volvo and Lexus are separated by less than £100, with £1,000 between the XC90 and ML350.
XC90: 58.42 (pence per mile) £35,052 (60,000 mile total)
RX350: 58.55 £35,130
ML350: 60.15 £36,090
Touareg: 62.16 £37,296
COMMON sense dictates that diesel is the fuel of choice here, not only for the lower fuel bills but also the higher residuals they attract. But a few drivers will insist on petrol – at this level another £100-odd a month on BIK tax isn’t going to break the bank. The Volvo is the cheapest to run, while the Touareg pips the others on tax. However, the Volvo is well down on power here, which leaves the Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. As an all-round proposition the ML350 is a better bet, but the RX350 wins thanks to its running costs advantage.