Words and Photos by Nick Proctor
The team at Auto Exotica received an invitation from Lexus to attend a, “Unique media preview of the all-new 2016 Lexus RX, in Charleston, S.C.” Now, our crew is normally all about sports cars and high performance, but this posed an interesting opportunity to slow down a bit. Since I have owned and driven SUVs for quite awhile (Ford, Cadillac, Porsche, Volvo), I was nominated to attend.
The main events were scheduled for Friday and Saturday of the four-day excursion. Thursday was spent at the airport and on an airplane and I arrived in Charleston late in the afternoon. After I checked-in at the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel (Lexus’ hotel of choice for the event), I joined my 15 other fellow invitees and several Lexus hosts for a reception and get-acquainted dinner.
Friday morning dawned with nearly perfect weather: sunshine, low humidity, and reasonable moderate temperatures (70’s). After breakfast we all filed out to the portico to find nine of Lexus new 4th generation RX models with almost all of the different specs available. We received a briefing from a Lexus College (dealer training) employee on the changes that were incorporated into these new models.
The new RX is 4.7 inches longer with a wheelbase increase of 2 inches. The most obvious visual change is the much larger hourglass grill.
Lexus calls it the “spindle grill.” It looks at least twice as tall as the outgoing model, narrower at the top and wider at the bottom. The 3.5-liter double overhead cam (DOHC) V-6 remains the engine of choice. The RX 350 now has 295 HP (up from 270) and the RX 450 now has 308 HP (up from 295). Dynamic cruise control is available as is a heads up display (HUD) that shows vehicular speed, the speed limit, and navigation directions. Having navigation directions in the HUD is a very helpful feature so that you can focus entirely on the road ahead in unfamiliar territory, thus “reducing driver burden” in Lexus-speak.
After a walk through of the different models it was time to hit the road. We were asked to “buddy-up” with another participant for each car. I found a buddy and we chose the RX 350h, the hybrid version of the RX 350.
Lexus had pre-programmed six different destinations into the navigation system for us to choose from. We left the Belmond hotel and drove in every traffic situation imaginable. This ranged from extremely congested street driving to the on-ramps to the Arthur Ravenal Jr. Bridge. This spectacular bridge is a cable-stayed bridge connecting downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant. The 350h handled it all with ease. While it is not a powerhouse it is an incredibly smooth driving companion. It would be an excellent SUV for light duty traveling.
One of the programmed stops was The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina.
We drove onto the picturesque campus and found a place to park for photos. It was amazing to see the students, all smartly dressed in military uniforms, hurrying to their next classes. One item of note: no one was smiling. All the students looked dead serious which conveyed that they were engaged in very serious business. We felt just a little out of place.
During the rest of day our journey included a visit to the USS Yorktown, an Essex-class carrier that was originally named the “Bon Homme Richard”. It was renamed as the “Yorktown” in honor of Yorktown (CV-5), which sank at the battle of Midway in June 1942. It saw action in WWII and Vietnam. It was also the vessel that recovered the Apollo 8 capsule and astronauts. It can be toured for $20.00 and if you are ever in the area, whether in a Lexus or not, we recommend you do so. It is fascinating.
But, I digress. My driving partner and I had lunch and then made our way back to the hotel to bid adieu to our RX 350h. It is a very good SUV. The handling is very agile for something of that size, and it had plenty of power for around town and highway driving.
Friday evening the entire group had another spectacular meal, this time at the Tavern and Table Restaurant. This is another destination I can highly recommend.
Saturday morning, after my “buddy” had to fly home for his wedding anniversary, I headed out to the RX lineup to choose my steed for the day. I told one of the Lexus folks that I wanted to drive the highest-end model available, and requested a Lexus employee to accompany me so we could discuss the features of the car. This is where I hit the jackpot! I was introduced to Dave Smith, whose occupation is “the art of driver development. His Facebook page is: hyperfocusmotorsports. In other words, Dave is an instructor in driving racecars, who had been hired by Lexus to assist the attendees in the driving experience. I counted my blessings as we both climbed into the highest end Lexus RX available, the F Sport RX 450h. This model delivers an additional mode setting of Sport S/S+. Sounds promising.
Before I even started the car, Dave covered the basics of seat, wheel, and hand positions. According to Dave, the seat should be as low as possible to ensure the driver’s eyes are positioned to look as far down the road as possible. The steering wheel should be positioned so that the driver’s wrists lay on top of the steering wheel. New information to me was that Dave advises that the hands should be positioned at 9 and 3 o’clock. Traditional advice states that drivers should place their hands at 10 and 2 o’clock. Dave said that the 9 and 3 position causes less fatigue in the hands and arms during a race, and in general.
So, I tell Dave I want to find some on-ramps to the Ravenal bridge to see how the F-Sport accelerates into merging traffic. I fire up the RX and Dave immediately selects Sport S+. I really like this guy!
Sport S+ changes the throttle and transmission mapping. The suspension is stiffened to produce lateral stability and decrease body roll. This is also where the shifting paddles are the most effective. The transmission is described as “continuously variable” but paddle shifting works quite well in this mode providing a real sense of shifting. It does not cause discernibly rough down shifts, however. I liken it to how you would drive a magic carpet: smooth but very powerful if desired.
For the record, “ECO” mode provides more electric running. “Normal” mode softens the dampers to provide a more luxurious ride, and a subtler throttle response. It is described as “non-intrusive” and is the most compliant over bumps in the road or even mild off-roading.
After an enormous amount of fun driving around Charleston, it was time to return to the Belmond and consider the past two days.
Final analysis. As expected, the fit and finish of the interior of Lexus best-selling model is superb. No other SUV that I have been in drives as quietly as this one. The engineering team has paid serious attention to minimizing noise, vibration, and harshness. Even the glass used is designed to provide an acoustically pleasant environment. The F-Type Sport version features aluminum pedals and a few other trim pieces designed to project a sporty look and feel. The “F” notation is taken from the Fuji racetrack in Japan where Formula 1 races were run.
The navigation system has Destination Assist. It can be set to Voice Assist so that the driver can verbalize a destination to the Navigation system, and it all works very well.
For drivers who want smoothness in all modes of driving, including near racecar settings, this 4th generation Lexus RX is a definite contender. It is designed to be confidence inspiring to the driver and it does precisely that! One would expect nothing less from Lexus.