The Lexus brand name represents the finest that Toyota can
produce, even if they would like you to think that Lexus is a stand-alone
company. In different parts of the world some vehicles are badged as Lexus, and
in others as Toyota. The RX series Lexus is, I believe, one of those, being
called a Toyota Harrier in Japan, but a Lexus here and in Australia, where our
down-under correspondent John Weinthal has just finished testing the latest RX
330. The RX 300 is catalogued as being sold in Thailand, and commands the
whacking price of just under 4 million baht. Ouch! For an ‘off-roader’ too.
Is it that good? Here’s what John Weinthal thought of it.
Lexus RX Series was the first of the relatively new wave of luxury sometime off-roaders.
The first RX was launched in the US in 1998. It was an instant and enduring hit.
Australia gets the second generation high riding luxury full-time
four-wheel-drive five-seater Lexus; the all-new RX330.
“Its primary competitors are the similarly pedigreed
Mercedes Benz ML wagons and the BMW X5. Both are substantially more expensive -
and even more so if you tick enough boxes on the order form to get close to the
Lexus’ lavish equipment levels.
doubt all these factors contribute to the Lexus’ domination of this rapidly
growing sector in the USA, even though the Lexus is imported from Japan while
both the BMW and Mercedes Benz are home-grown Yanks.
“The Lexus is sold in both front wheel and 4-wheel-drive
outside Australia, while the BMW and Merc are 4-wheel-drive only. There are
other competitors including VW’s true luxury on and off-roader - the all-new
Touareg. However the excellent Touareg, which we will report on shortly, is more
sensibly positioned compared with its sister, the Porsche Cayenne and
Britain’s brilliant Range Rover. Honda sees its MDX as a competitor, but I
suspect few customers will.
may well be vehicles without real purpose. They are heavier, less wieldy and, in
spite of the ads, only remotely car-like in their driving characteristics. As
off-roaders there are perhaps a dozen much more useful devices around, most of
which cost less, carry more and go further. Lexus at least makes no pretence
about off-roading intentions for the RX 330; they call it a sports recreation
“As with the Benz and to a lesser degree the BMW these are
neither sporty nor terribly useful. Their primary purpose is to provide a
luxurious ride slightly above the mass of traffic with their high fashion badges
prominently applied to impress or incense the neighbours.
“The Lexus does not offer the swag of models and engines of
the Benz and BMW.
This can confuse comparisons. The American pair need a host
of expensive extras before they come near to matching the Lexus standard
specification and these can take them anything up to AUD 20,000 above the Lexus
asking price, before ticking the box for their most powerful V8s. There’s one
172 kW 3.3 litre Lexus-smooth V6 model. It costs AUD 69,990.
“There’s just one option pack call Sports Luxury which
costs an extra AUD 8500. For this you add a no doubt frightfully clever colour
rear view fascia mounted TV screen - which I found to be almost totally useless
in the real world; a multi-vision display, sat nav and an Opera House quality
Mark Levinson audio system.
“So, you get that lot plus the standard RX330’s moon
roof, steptronic-style automatic transmission, climate-control air-con, 17 inch
alloy wheels, leather trim, power sun-roof and too much more to list here for
less than AUD 80,000. At this stage the Lexus starts to look something of a
bargain compared with the Merc and BMW.
“In the real world the Merc may be best off-road and the
BMW offers the most communication with the road for a relatively sporty drive.
The Lexus is quickest as it is the lightest and most aerodynamic of this trio -
until you stretch way beyond AUD 100,000 for the V8 BMW and Benz.
“I drove and enjoyed a friend’s V8 BMW while I had the
Lexus but he was quick to comment on the solid feel, the quiet and the
refinement of the Lexus. All three are immediately apparent when you move from
one to the other.
“Safety is a big deal in each three of these larger luxury
soft-roaders with all the electronic aids imaginable and air bags everywhere.
There is even one for the driver’s knees in the Lexus.
“Did I enjoy it? Too right I did, even if it makes little
sense beyond its pose value and the satisfaction one derives from being in
command of something of such tangible quality, not to mention one of the most
appealing fascia designs of almost any car I know, regardless of purpose.
“For anyone with any serious off-roading pretensions, or of
a practical bent, the recently tested 4 litre 179kW Toyota Prado Grande for
about the same money makes far more sense. The Prado has greater carrying
capacity and can seat eight when required. But no Toyota has the cachet of the
same company’s Lexus badge, even when both exude similar quality and comfort
traits. Both represent good value in their respective fields, with Toyota and
Lexus quality and reliability as added attractions.”
(I must say I do agree with John Weinthal’s comments
regarding the practicality of these cars as pseudo-offroaders. One wonders why
bother, but it probably is for the snob value. Whoever thought that one day a
“Toyota” would have snob appeal? Shows that we are living in an
ever-changing world. Dr. Iain.)