Seven years have passed since Lexus introduced its fourth-generation RX, and while a dramatic departure stylistically than the more conservative model it replaced, time always takes its toll.
The RX’ continued success (it’s long been its mid-size luxury crossover SUV segment’s number-one seller, in both in Canada and the U.S.) means than even what once seemed daring and different can start to look commonplace and dated, but a fresh new RX will soon remedy any softening in the sales department.
Evolution of outgoing RX design makes for a fresh new look
First off, Lexus’ distinctive spindle grille is gone, but not entirely. As RX Project Chief Designer Jota Kusakari explains in a video (see below), it’s now a “spindle body,” encompassing the entire SUV.
This can clearly be seen up front, where the bulging hood forms into a body-colour nose-cap that melds almost seamlessly into the blackened grille opening below, much like Lexus’ new RZ electric. The spindle shape continues to flair outward as it reaches the lower valance, similarly to the previous RX, while it’s accentuated further via corner vents to each side.
Spindle grille gives way to new “spindle body-concept”
As dramatic as the frontal redesign, the spindle body-concept enhances the new RX’ rear design even more than the outgoing version, where an angled crease, parallel to the rear clip cutline, slices upwards from the aft portion of each rear wheel cut-out, overtop an identically angled rear corner vent, before ending where a singular taillight element forms into its centre section, which, much like that on the smaller UX, features a light bar lamp that appears stretched between two sharply angled outer lenses.
This design increases the visual tension started by the previous RX, almost as if the new model’s sides have been pinched together slightly at centre. There are plenty of other details worth noting too, some being quite creative, yet while nothing remains the same from old to new, no one will mistake this fifth-generation RX for anything other than a mid-size Lexus.
All-new RX sits on Toyota GA-K platform architecture
The new RX is built upon Toyota’s well-proven GA-K platform, even though it might appear as if it was formed off the back of the outgoing model’s Toyota K architecture. The latter is due to some carryover design elements like the lower half of the just-noted grille opening, the sharply angled LED headlamps with checkmark-style LED driving lights, forward-canted vertical corner vents with circular LED fog lamps, sweptback roofline with floating D pillars, and sharply angled wraparound LED taillights.
Even the rear reflectors, which make way for sportier vertical vents, are at the same angle in more or less the same place, while F Sport models receive much larger vents next to new rear reflectors on the bumper cap, providing a much more aggressive appearance.
Lighter and stiffer makes for better handling
The GA-K platform is is up to 90 kg lighter in the RX than the outgoing model, thanks to new materials in the main framework, while torsional rigidity has increased as well. Along with this is a lower centre of gravity and better weight distribution, while an all-new multi-link rear suspension design, attached to a stiff high-torsion rear body frame, “facilitates more consistent suspension input/travel during acceleration, deceleration and steering moments,” says Lexus.
It should all result in optimized performance, while the new model’s 60-mm longer wheelbase should improve ride quality too. Additionally, a 60-mm shorter rear overhang should also aid handling as well as providing a more athletic looking stance. Lexus managed to maintain an identical overall length to the previous RX too, so those trading up should feel right at home when parking.
More rear passenger and cargo room is always welcome in the mid-size class
The new GA-K platform increases the “front/rear couple distance” too, which provides greater rear legroom, while cargo space is reportedly improved too, as is access to the load floor thanks to a lowered liftgate sill that decreases the lift-over height.
The GA-K platform, incidentally, also underpins the new Lexus NX, the luxury brand’s latest ES, plus plenty of others from the namesake mainstream volume brand’s lineup, such as the Toyota Camry, Avalon, RAV4, Venza, Highlander, and Sienna, thus it will once again be ideal for the automaker’s range of hybrid powertrains.
RX powertrain options expand from two to four
Electrifying in mind, the entry-level RX 350 (more on that in a moment) will now be complemented by three different hybrid alternatives, including a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder version dubbed RX 350h that should be quite popular due to an expected lower price point and improved fuel economy than today’s RX 450h, with Lexus estimating a very thrifty 7.1 L/100km combined city/highway.
It should be more than capable of hauling a fully-laden mid-size crossover SUV too, being that it’s sourced from the aforementioned Venza and Sienna, which are now dedicated hybrids, plus Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid. It makes a net 246 horsepower and 233 lb-ft of torque, which is good for 7.6 seconds from zero to 100 km/h (just 0.2 seconds off of the base non-hybrid variant), plus comes mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) plus all-wheel drive.
Lexus adds plug-in and high-performance hybrid options to RX lineup
Additionally, there will be a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) using a similar name to the current V6-powered RX 450h, albeit named 450h+, but it’ll arrive later and therefore Toyota hasn’t provided any additional info. Due to the name, we should expect a bit more performance than the new RX 350, plus, of course, greater and more utile EV range.
Lastly, the pinnacle of RX performance will now be the all-new 500h F Sport Performance, which promises to be quite the mid-size family hauler, with the emphasis on hauling arse. This model combines the more potent 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder from the base RX 350 with a different six-speed automatic, an inverter, and all-wheel drive via Lexus’ eAxle unit boasting a stronger high output electric motor, inverter and reduction gearbox.
New 500h F Sport Performance puts RX in the mix with turbo-six Europeans
This results in a soul-stirring 367 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, which is similar to what we can find under the hood of twin-turbo six-cylinder-powered competitors like the Genesis GV80 3.5T and Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 hybrid, and considerably more than what BMW’s X5 provides from its 3.0-litre turbo-six. The benchmark here is Volvo’s XC90 Recharge, with 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged, supercharged and plug-in hybridized 2.0-litre four, but there will likely be a sizeable price difference between this new Lexus and the Swedish brand’s flagship SUV.
Where the XC90 Recharge can sprint from standstill to 100 km/h in 5.6 seconds, the top-tier RX 500h F Sport Performance can do so in a respectable 6.1 seconds, whereas the two competitors’ city/highway combined fuel economy is rated at 8.8 L/100km for the Swede and a very similar 9.0 L/100km for the Japanese. Incidentally, the aforementioned Mercedes-Benz hybrid SUV scoots from zero to 100 km/h in 5.7 seconds while achieving a claimed city/highway rating of 10.4 L/100km at the pump, while the non-hybrid X5 xDrive40i matches the Mercedes’ fuel economy while providing a sprint time of 5.5 seconds. Strangely, BMW has a pricier plug-in hybridized X5 dubbed xDrive45e that uses more fuel than the regular version, at 11.5 L/100km combined, and takes 0.1 seconds longer to hit 100 km/h.
Lexus introduces Direct4 all-wheel drive for new RX 500h F Sport Performance
Gripping pavement under the RX 500h F Sport Performance is a new Direct4 all-wheel drive system that Lexus is touting as its “highest technology all-wheel drive” system with “maximum grip, traction and acceleration in all situations.” Unfortunately, that’s all we know about it thus far, so we’ll just have to wait until more info comes out in order to learn what makes it better than Lexus’ regular AWD.
Overall, Lexus claims its RX 500h F Sport Performance provides “a sportier, more performance-driven look and feel,” thanks to its straight-line performance, of course, plus that all-wheel drive system and opposed six-piston brake calipers to enhance stopping power. These are framed in a set of 21-inch aluminum wheels “that exude a wide, confident stance,” and upgraded 235/50R21 rubber for enhanced traction.
Additional RX 500h F Sport Performance details include a unique mesh grille, plus special front and rear bumpers, while the cabin gets a whole host of F Sport upgrades such as a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, paddle shifters, aluminum foot pedals, additional aluminum trim, leather upholstery, microsuede-trimmed interior door panels, F Sport branded scuff plates, and more.
New RX 350 base model promises strong performance and better efficiency
Back to the basics, the entry-level and sole non-hybrid RX 350 drops the current model’s 3.5-litre V6 for a much thriftier 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that’s capable of 9.8 L/100km combined. It makes a solid 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, and while this might seem like a downgrade of 20 horsepower compared to the outgoing model’s 295, it’s also an upgrade of 50 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a net positive. It also comes mated to a sporty yet efficient eight-speed automatic transmission with standard all-wheel drive, so therefore, once factoring in pricing, which has yet to be released, this will likely be Lexus’ best-selling RX trim level in Canada.
The RX 350, and all RX trim lines, come standard with a generous supply of advanced safety and convenience technologies that the luxury firm dubs Lexus Safety System+ 3.0. This suite of features includes Pre-Collision System (PCS) with Pedestrian Detection, Intersection Support and new Motorcycle Detection; as well as All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with new Curve Speed Management (DRCC); Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA); and Emergency Driving Stop System (EDSS).
On the high-tech options list is Advanced Park that helps out when parallel parking, or when wanting assistance for back-up parking, forward-facing parking, or forward-facing and back-up exiting.
Seven grades mean standard and optional equipment will be plentiful
As for additional standard features, the new 2023 RX will get 19-inch alloy wheels, Lexus’ e-Latch proximity sensing access, and Lexus Interface, these details garnered from the Canadian press release, whereas the few options specifically mentioned include multi-coloured illumination accents, “tasteful” door trims, a head-up display (HUD), a 14-inch Multimedia Touchscreen Display, navigation, and a panoramic glass sunroof. Of course, there will be plenty more available in the 2023 RX’ seven grades, which will include Premium, Luxury, Ultra-Luxury, Executive, F SPORT 1, F SPORT 2 and F SPORT 3, but we’ll need to wait until closer to launch before knowing details.
A total of 10 exterior colour choices will be available too, depending on the chosen grade, including Caviar, Copper Crest (a Lexus-first), Eminent White Pearl, Grecian Water, Iridium, Matador Red Mica, Nebula Gray Pearl, Nightfall Mica, Nori Green Pearl, and Ultra White, while inside there’s a choice of four grade-dependant “ornamentation styles” including Ash Bamboo, Black Cascade, Black Open Pore, and Dark Graphite Aluminum, as well as six cabin colours including Black, Birch, Macadamia, Palomino, Peppercorn and Rioja Red.
Lexus expects the new 2023 RX to go on sale at the end of 2022, so it’s probably a good idea to claim your spot in line if you want to be first.
The All-New 2023 Lexus RX – World Premier (9:50):
Introducing the All-New RX | Lexus (2:51):
The Lexus RX | Lexus (8:35):
2022 Lexus Product Showcase | Lexus (24:40):
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Lexus
Subcompact crossover SUVs are the new gateway to the luxury market sector, so therefore if a premium brand doesn’t have one in its lineup, it’s missing out on an important conduit for conquesting…
Subcompact crossover SUVs are the new gateway to the luxury market sector, so therefore if a premium brand doesn’t have one in its lineup, it’s missing out on an important conduit for conquesting new luxury buyers.
Let’s face it, small luxury sedans and hatchbacks aren’t selling as well as they used to. Certainly, Mercedes-Benz has enjoyed recent success with its affordable new A-Class sedan and hatchback thanks to 2,355 buyers in Canada throughout 2020, plus a reasonable take-rate for its updated CLA four-door coupe at 1,085 units over the same 12 months, while BMW’s new four-door 2 Series Gran Coupe (redesigned for 2022) helped that three-model line stay relevant with 1,358 deliveries last year (the 2 Series Cabriolet will be discontinued for 2022), although Audi’s A3 (plus the S3 and RS3), that was doing decently with 1,720 sales in 2020, saw its numbers fall off a cliff over the first six months of this year with just 131 down Canadian roads, but this was more than likely due to an all-new 2022 model arriving in four-ringed dealers as “pen” goes to “paper” (the A3 Cabriolet was just cancelled, but an all-new 400+hp RS 3 Sedan is expected soon).
That’s a good sign for small sedan lovers, but the return of this now niche model is only possible because Audi does so well in the crossover SUV sector. The same goes for its German counterparts, plus Japan’s lone small sedan contester, Acura, that only sold 774 ILX sedans in Canada last year. They’d better get a move on with their long rumoured CDX subcompact luxury SUV, because as noted a moment ago, they’re missing out on an important gateway for Honda HR-V fans (and there are plenty of them) that want something a bit more upscale (will it happen when the soon-to-be nine-year-old HR-V gets a redesign for 2023?).
To put things into perspective, last year’s best-selling subcompact luxury car was Mini’s Cooper with 2,739 units down Canadian roads (thanks to 3-Door, 5-Door, extended Clubman, and Convertible variants), while the subcompact luxury crossover SUV segment’s chart-topping Buick Encore found 6,650 new buyers last year, plus that model’s stretched and modernized Encore GX sibling pulled in another 5,045 for a total of 11,695 units. Granted, some will find it another stretch to consider Buick a premium brand at all, this especially true in the smallest of SUV categories where the Encore is priced tens of thousands lower than most “rivals” at under $25k (plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $10,000), but it does go to show how important this burgeoning segment is to luxury carmakers (and entry-level luxury brands).
Audi Q3 tops the subcompact luxury SUV list amongst desirable premium brands
No doubt, some of the dwindling Audi A3 buyers mentioned a minute ago have gravitated to the taller, more utile Q3 in recent years, noted by sales that have steadily grown from 1,566 units in 2014, when it first arrived, to 5,949 deliveries throughout 2020, making the Q3 the true best-selling model in the subcompact “luxury” crossover SUV class (sorry Buick). Even better, Audi sold 4,224 Q3s over the first half of 2021, once again showing every competitor how critically important this new category is to securing future growth.
Moving into the 2022 model year, Canadian-spec Q3s are available in three trims including Komfort, Progressiv and Technik, all standard with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic, and the brand’s renowned Quattro all-wheel drive system. The base “40” engine makes 184 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a 9.1-second sprint from standstill to 100km/h, while a more potent version of the same powerplant, dubbed “45”, is good for 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a much more satisfying 7.4 seconds from zero to 100 km/h.
Fuel economy is a Q3 strongpoint, with a claimed rating of 10.4 L/100km in the city, 7.7 on the highway and 9.2 combined for the more economical 40 engine tuning, or 11.7, 8.4 and 10.2 respectively when moving up to the 45. A fully independent MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension setup makes sure handling is nimble too.
The base 2022 Q3 40 TFSI Quattro starts at $38,400 (plus freight and fees), while the top-line Technik 45 TFSI Quattro is available from $47,200, plus nearly $5,000 in options are available. What’s more, Audi is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives for 2022 Q3 buyers, although average CarCostCanada membership savings are currently $2,200, so therefore, make sure you find out how dealer invoice pricing can save you thousands too.
Those buying a new Q3 have the confidence that it’ll hold its value better than some competitors, thanks to its runner-up status in the latest Canadian Black Book 2020 Best Retained Value Awards in the “Sub-Compact Luxury Crossover” category, where the Győr, Hungary-made crossover matched BMW’s X1, and was beaten by Mercedes’ GLA.
The Q3 also tied for runner-up in the “Small Premium SUV” segment of the latest 2021 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS), matching the Volvo XC40, but both Europeans were edged out by Lexus’ new UX. Additionally, the same third-party analytical firm’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) has it solely owning the runner-up position in the same category, once again behind the GLA.
Lexus UX second in sales after just two years on the market
Lexus smartly said goodbye to its Prius-based CT 200h hybrid compact hatchback in 2017, and hello to the new UX soon after in 2019, thus helping to pave the way for other automakers to do likewise once realizing the Japanese luxury brand’s ability to earn second place on the sales charts in less than two years of availability.
A total of 2,520 UX models rolled out of Lexus dealerships in 2020, beating a best-ever total of 1,640 CT 200h deliveries in 2012, which is a gain of more than 50 percent, while at the close of Q2 2021 the UX had found 1,525 new buyers, showing that it’s on target for an even stronger third year.
For 2022, the UX is only available with one drivetrain in Canada, having dropped its entry-level front-wheel drive UX 200 designation north of the 49th parallel (and we’re guessing Alaska, Hawaii, etcetera, too). This means last year’s base window sticker of $38,450 gets a $2,250 bump up to $40,700 for 2022, but that’s a small price to pay for all-wheel drive, via an electric motor driving the rear wheels, plus a more potent hybrid drivetrain that’s better on fuel. Before segueing into the UX 250h model’s performance and fuel-efficiency advantages, it should be said that Lexus is currently offering factory leasing and financing rates from 2.9 percent, while CarCostCanada members were saving an average of $1,964 at the time of writing.
Where the outgoing UX 200 only put 169 horsepower down to the front wheels, the UX 250h once again makes 181 net horsepower, which gets close to base Q3 performance on paper, and actually matches it on asphalt as well, evidenced by its 9.1-second 0-100 km/h acceleration in a straight line (the discontinued UX 200 managed 9.2 seconds).
The UX 250h also delivers much better fuel economy that’s estimated at 5.7 L/100 city, 6.2 highway and 6.0 combined, a feat that’s no doubt assisted by a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT), albeit expensing some performance. More engaging F Sport trim adds paddle shifters, however, making the most of the equipment on hand, which includes standard Sport mode that, together with the UX’ well balanced front strut and multi-link rear suspension setup, improves fast-paced handling.
As noted earlier, the UX claimed top spot in J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, while it also tied for runner-up with the GLA in the same company’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, only beaten by the XC40, while the entire Lexus brand topped J.D. Power’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study overall, and is also the most reliable luxury brand according to Consumer Reports.
Additional reasons to consider the new UX include J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards that ranked it number one in its Premium Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category, while the UX also achieved a best-in-class score in the “Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover” segment of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards (be sure to check out our 2021 Lexus UX Road Test).
BMW X1 slipping in popularity yet still a top-three contender
Talk to anyone considering a step up from a mainstream volume brand into the luxury sector and the names BMW and Mercedes-Benz will inevitably be included in the conversation, and for good reason. With almost and more than a century respectively behind them, the two German brands have earned most consumers’ respect, and the prestige that followed plays an important part in premium brand decision making.
While priced near the bottom of BMW’s lineup, at $42,425 (the aforementioned 2 Series Gran Coupe is $1,000 less), the base 2022 X1 xDrive28i is hardly the least expensive SUV in the subcompact class (although up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $2,000 might help). Still, 2,384 new buyers didn’t mind paying close to that much in calendar year 2020.
What’s more, after six months of 2021, the X1 had managed to sneak past Lexus’ UX with 1,616 deliveries to its credit, but these numbers are a far cry from sales in 2017, 2018 and 2019, that saw the X1’s popularity steadily slipping downward from its once grand heights of 6,120, 5,308, and 4,420 units respectively.
This negative trajectory might have something to do with the sportier X2 stealing 1,856 buyers after arriving in 2018, although the sleeker SUV’s sales have been sliding too, with 1,383 delivered in 2019 and just 790 in 2020. As of Q2 2021’s close, a 495-unit midterm tally looks like it might be improving on last year’s total, so we’ll need to see how things shake out after the rest of the year gets added up.
The X1’s performance wouldn’t be the issue holding buyers back from signing on the dotted line, however, as its sole 2.0-litre turbo-four puts out 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a blistering (compared to most competitors) 6.2-second sprint from zero to 100 km/h, thanks in part to a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, and standard all-wheel drive, while the latter aids the front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension make BMW’s usual magic through the corners (although take note, the first-generation X1 was a sharper handler, with this one increasing the comfort quotient).
The X1 also performs well when it comes to utility, offering the most dedicated cargo volume available in the entire class at 767 litres (27.1 cu ft). Additionally, folding its conveniently-divided 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks forward results in a grand total of 1,775 litres (58.7 cu ft) of gear-toting space, also the most in the segment.
The next best is Mercedes’ new GLB-Class, incidentally, with 700 and 1,680 litres (24.0 and 62.0 cu ft) respectively, while the worst when it comes to dedicated cargo room is the same automaker’s GLA-Class with a token 435 litres (15.0 cu ft) to its name, which it mostly makes up for when dropping its rear seats down, resulting 1,430 litres (50.5 cu ft) of load-hauling capacity. In case you were wondering, Infiniti’s decommissioned QX30, which was developed alongside the GLA-Class, offered more space behind the rear seats at 543 litres (19.2 cu ft), but it suffered from the least amount ever offered in this class when laid flat, at 963 litres (34.0 cu ft). This may have been one of the key reasons for its slow sales, as the great-looking QX30 was a wonderful little SUV other than that.
Volvo XC40 earns a well-deserved fourth place on the sales charts
Speaking of cargo shortcomings, Volvo’s XC40 can’t attribute its top-five success to luggage carrying prowess, being that it only manages a scant 586 litres (20.7 cu ft) of volume behind the rear seats, and 1,336 litres (47.2 cu ft) when folded, making it the third smallest in the segment (not including the Encore) with respect to the former, and second smallest (including the Encore) for the latter, but it does most everything else so well that its consumer take-rate truly deserves to be above average.
Like the majority in this subcompact luxury SUV class, the XC40 is the most affordable way to own a new Volvo, not to mention that it’s one of just five contenders in this 10-model segment priced below $40k. Specifically, the base XC40 Momentum T4 AWD starts at $39,950 for 2022 (plus Volvo is offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives, while CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $2,250), and packs a lot of style, quality, performance and versatility for its small package.
At 4,425 mm (174.2 in), it’s actually the shortest from nose to tail amongst the top five, yet its 2,702-mm (106.4-in) wheelbase is longer than all of the above (although not the Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class below), which gives it an athletic visual stance while making as much of the available interior space as possible.
Another bonus is the XC40’s multiplicity of powertrains, starting with the T4 designated engine only available in base Mlomentum trim. With 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, it’s nowhere near the least potent in the category, and at just over 8 seconds from a standing start to 100 km/h, it’s hardly the slowest base model either. Much of its energetic takeoff can be attributed to its precise-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission and just-noted standard AWD, while the fuel economy tradeoff is reasonable at 10.2 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 9.0 combined.
Moving up to the T5, a stronger version of the same engine doesn’t impact efficiency much either, with a claimed rating of 10.7 city, 7.7 highway and 9.4 combined, especially considering output increases to 248 horsepower, torque to 258 lb-ft, and its zero to 100 km/h time comes down to just 7.2 seconds.
So far so good, but speed demons will want to move up yet another notch on the ladder to the XC40 Recharge Pure Electric, an EV version of the little SUV that’ll blast from standstill to 100 km/h in a mere 4.9 seconds, making it one of the fastest subcompact luxury SUVs currently available. The Recharge incorporates a 75-kWh battery and two electric motors for a resultant 402-horsepower, plus the grip of AWD. What’s more, it can travel up to 335 km (208 miles) on a single charge.
The XC40 Recharge is already gaining respect in the industry too, with highest marks in the “Luxury Electric/Plug-In Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards for consumers. The regular XC40 has also done well, with a top-tier result in the “Compact Luxury Crossover SUV” class of AutoPacific’s most recent 2020 Ideal Vehicle Awards, plus as noted earlier, it tied with the Q3 in the “Small Premium SUV” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, while also receiving best-possible honours in the same firm’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study. That’s quite the trophy case!
As for sales numbers, both conventional and electric versions accounted for 2,254 Canadian deliveries in 2020, its best year yet (out of two full years), while it already achieved sales of 1,829 units by this year’s halfway mark, putting it on target for second in the class if momentum (sorry for the pun) continues. Again, the XC40 deserves its success.
Mercedes GLB newcomer edges ahead of GLA for top-5 honours
Mercedes believes so much in the entry-level luxury SUV sector that it introduced a second entry for 2020, and despite being the new GLB’s first full year on the scene it still managed to edge out the smaller GLA with 1,775 units to 1,759. Any question about which model will dominate moving forward is being answered this year, with the first six months of 2021 resulting in 1,474 deliveries for the GLB and 1,291 for the GLA.
To be totally fair to Mercedes, like BMW and its X1/X2 combo, the GLA/GLB duo actually compete with each other as much as they battle against rival brands, so therefore when combining the sales of both SUVs into one, the three-pointed star brand ended up second in the class with 3,534 units rolling out of its Canadian dealerships last year, while even better, it found 2,765 new subcompact crossover SUV buyers over the first two quarters of 2021.
While the two models offer very different takes on styling, size and utility, the fact you can get into the larger GLB for only slightly more than the diminutive GLA might have more to do with its success than its more traditional, upright, SUV-like design. Size in mind, the new GLB-Class is 224 mm (8,8 in) longer than the GLA-Class, at 4,634 mm (182.4 in) from front to back, while its wheelbase spans 100 mm (3.9 in) more. That makes it just 22 mm (0.9 in) shorter than the compact luxury GLC-Class, although true to its subcompact classification, the GLB’s 1,834-mm (72.2-in) width is 56 mm (2.2 in) narrower than the GLC, while identical to the GLA’s width. Its height, however, is 20 mm (0.8 in) taller than the larger GLC, and 47 mm (1.8 in) higher than the GLA, making it the clear winner for headroom.
The GLB’s second-best-in-class cargo capacity was already noted (in the X1 overview), but differences between the GLB and GLA weren’t covered, those being 265 litres (9.3 cu ft) of extra space behind the larger SUV’s rear seats, and 250 litres (8.8 cu ft) more when both second-row backrests are laid flat.
Pricing for the GLA starts at $42,400 (plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,750), whereas the most affordable GLB begins at $46,500 (plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $2,450), while AMG 35 variants of both models are priced at $52,900 and $57,500 respectively.
AMG? That’s right. Mercedes hasn’t forgotten to include performance variants, even in this more affordable market segment. Both M-B models offer a fuel economy-focused variant and at least one that makes daily commutes and weekend getaways a lot more fun, with the GLA and GLB 250 4Matic duo utilizing a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that’s good for 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, plus the AMG GLA and GLB 35 4Matic models make a sizeable 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Straight-line acceleration equals 6.7 seconds to 100 km/h for the base GLA and 6.9 for the GLB, while the AMG versions scoot away to the same speed from a stoplight at 4.9 and 5.2 seconds apiece. Shifts are lightning quick too, thanks to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, while economy is decent considering their go-fast capability, with the GLB rated at 10.3 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.2 combined in its most efficient form, or a respective 11.1, 8.9 and 10.1 with its formidable AMG badging. Similarly, the GLA is good for a claimed 9.8 city, 7.2 highway and 8.7 combined rating in base form, or 10.4, 8.1 and 9.4 with its mid-range AMG-lite upgrade.
AMG-lite? Yes, there’s more. Mercedes’ GLA can also be had in brilliantly fun AMG GLA 45 4Matic trim, which means for $60,500 its 2.0-litre turbo four puts out a whopping 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, resulting in the segment’s fastest acceleration at just 4.4 seconds to 100 km/h.
How the rest of the subcompact luxury crossover SUV field stacks up
Enough has already been said about the sixth-place GLA-Class throughout this top-5 review, particularly when it comes to its many awards, which left the Mini Countryman (available from $32,990, less up to $3,000 in additional incentives) in the luxury crossover SUV segment’s seventh sales spot last year with 1,637 deliveries, although 2021 might lower its ranking significantly, as the BMW-owned British brand had only sold 310 examples as of Q2 2021’s end (a chip shortage issue?).
The Countryman’s lacklustre 2021 sales performance is just a bit more than half as much of the ninth-place Land Rover Range Rover Evoque’s January-through-June year-to-date tally of 609 deliveries ($49,950 for the P250 AWD, plus factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent and average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,000), after selling 1,410 units last year, while BMW’s X2 ($44,950, plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $3,000) once again found 790 customers in 2020 and 495 over the first six months of this year.
Last, but nowhere near least when it comes to premium-level accoutrements, features and performance, is Jaguar’s somewhat pricier E-Pace ($51,500, plus factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent and average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,250) that earned just 265 sales last year and a nominal 80 as of June 30, 2021. The E-Pace, which initially hit our market in 2017, was stylishly refreshed from the outside in for 2021, and truly deserves more love than it gets.
That covers everything in the subcompact luxury crossover SUV segment, so far at least, but stay tuned for Alfa Romeo’s new Tonale, which should provide a lot of performance in a small package, and who knows, maybe Acura’s CDX, or whatever they’ll eventually call it, will arrive alongside the upcoming HR-V. We should also expect an entry-level Genesis crossover in this class, because the South Korean premium upstart is working feverishly to fill holes in its new lineup, evidenced by their new 2022 GV70 compact luxury SUV, and the just-announced all-electric GV60. Being that we all now know how important this smallest of SUV categories is, could a Cadillac XT3 be in the works? Lincoln needs to attract new entry-level buyers too, so due to their naval naming scheme theme we think a new Patrol is in order (although Nissan may own the global name for its Armada in our market too, so maybe the tiny ship’s “Cyclone” class designation would be more fitting. We don’t think a new Infiniti QX30 is in the works, however, being how terribly Nissan’s luxury brand is struggling to survive right now.
Likelier, expect larger, more profitable luxury brands such as Audi and Lexus to double down on their efforts by supplementing their existing models with roomier alternatives, just like Mercedes has done with the GLB, or sportier variants like BMW’s X2.
Be sure to check out the gallery (above) for photos of each and every subcompact luxury SUV mentioned in this Top 5 overview (even the Buicks), plus use the linked model names throughout the article to find out more about each SUV.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Manufacturer supplied photos
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene…
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene around the same time in 1989, about three years after Acura, but Lexus has achieved far greater overall sales success than the other two Japanese marques.
Last year, Lexus sold 23,793 new vehicles into the Canadian market and 275,042 units in the U.S., while Acura sold 16,712 and 136,982 cars and crossovers respectively, but Infiniti found just 5,786 and 79,503 buyers. Where Lexus placed fourth in both markets, and Acura a respectable fifth and seventh, Infiniti only managed 12th out of 17 luxury brands (including Buick and Mini, but not Maserati, Bentley, etcetera).
The same scenario has played out in separate segments, where Lexus’ RX has dominated in the two-row mid-size SUV arena and Acura’s MDX amongst three-row mid-size utilities, whereas the latter brand’s RDX has mostly topped the Canadian sales charts in the compact luxury SUV class, although in the US it’s dropped down the podium thanks to Lexus’ NX that sat in second place as of the close of 2020.
Infiniti should be given a shout out for helping to initiate the subcompact luxury SUV category along with Mercedes-Benz, the two brand’s codeveloping the GLA and QX30, but alas the latter left the market after 2019, just when Lexus swooped in to sweep up the spoils with its tiny UX. That ultra-angled utility now sits third in the Canadian subcompact luxury SUV segment and sixth in the U.S., behind Buick’s Encore and Audi’ Q3 in the northern jurisdiction, plus the just-noted GLA, Volvo’s XC40, and Mercedes’ slightly larger GLB in the mostly southern nation.
Acura has yet to offer anything in this class, which is odd considering Mini and Jaguar, two of the slower selling brands in the premium sector, do. Even Alfa Romeo will enter the fray with their Tonale next year, so we may eventually see a CDX, as the rumour-mill has been calling it, at some point in the future. As it is, the Encore, Q3 and UX are followed by the BMW X1, XC40, GLB, Mini Countryman, GLA, Range Rover Evoque, the coupe-like BMW X2, and the Jaguar E-Pace. As for others that might come down the pipeline, Cadillac is enjoying a reasonable take-rate for its larger compact XT4, so an XT3 could potentially be based on Buick’s slightly larger new Encore GX, and we’ve got to expect that Hyundai’s upstart Genesis brand will want in on some of this action too.
This is becoming the entry-level gateway for many luxury brands, after all. Lexus gave up on its smallest CT 200h hatchback back in 2017, only leaving the Germans (including Mini) and Acura’s beleaguered ILX to fight over the remaining scraps, so it’s either join the subcompact luxury SUV party or hope you’ll manage to snag up-and-coming premium customers that bypass the subcompact sector altogether. That’s a choice most are finding too risky to take, hence the quick buildup of new offerings in this relatively new category, despite significantly lower sales than larger compact SUVs.
At first glance, it’s difficult to tell the UX shares underpinnings with Toyota’s CH-R, but of course a lot of cars and SUVs utilize the Japanese automaker’s TNGA-C platform architecture, including the Corolla and Prius. Where the CH-R is swoopy and curvaceous, the UX is all angles and sharp creases, plus its big spindle grille could never be mistaken for anything but a Lexus. A menacing set of LED headlamps, complete with Lexus’ checkmark signatures, hover above vertical corner vents for some sportiness, while at the rear, even more angular taillights appear as if they’re being stretched apart by a narrowing strip of LEDs at centre.
This seems as good a point as any to point out that I tested two different UX trims, both featuring Lexus’ electrified 250h AWD running gear, the Nebula Grey Pearl (more of a taupe) example featuring the regular body style and the Ultra White version dressed up with Lexus’ more performance-oriented F Sport design details. Rather than thinking that one is lesser than the other, I found the regular one classier and the F Sport, well, sportier, so your choice will come down to personal taste.
If you just want the sportier styling, Lexus makes a basic $2,000 F Sport Series 1 package available that adds a larger, more aggressive F SPORT front grille, LED fog lights and cornering lamps, as well as 18-inch F SPORT alloy wheels to the outside, and on the inside a digital primary gauge cluster, a three-spoke F SPORT steering wheel with paddle shifters, an F SPORT shift knob, active sound control that mimics shifts to make it feel like the continuously variable transmission is changing gears, special Nuluxe (breathable leatherette) F Sport seat upholstery (mine done out in two-tone Circuit Red), plus eight-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger sport seats.
If you want the same look with more goodies, the $8,800 F Sport Series 2 package includes all of the above before adding triple-beam LED adaptive headlamps, driver’s seat and side mirror memory with reverse auto-tilt, a full TFT instrument cluster, a head-up display that projects key info onto the windshield ahead of the driver, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, navigation with Destination Assist embedded within a larger 10.3-inch infotainment display that also includes Enform Remote, Enform Safety Connect, and Enform Service Connect, as well as a wireless device charging pad, an eight-speaker audio upgrade, a remote garage door opener, and a gesture-controlled (kick motion) powered rear liftgate.
The white UX 250h in the photos came with the latter package, while the taupe-coloured one included a $5,300 Luxury package that added many of the same features, such as the seat and mirror memory, head-up display, wireless charging, auto-dimming centre mirror, garage door opener, upgraded display with navigation and Enform functions, improved stereo, and gesture/powered rear hatch, plus on top of these it also came with a special Washi instrument panel design, a wallet-sized smart key, and Lexus’ Intuitive Parking Assist with Auto Braking, a.k.a. self-parking. My tester’s fabulous looking “Glazed Caramel” seat, dash bolster and door armrest upholstery is only available with the Luxury package too, an upgrade that really makes the interior look rich compared to the regular all-black colourway.
Speaking of all-black, the only other package Lexus is offering UX customers for 2021 is an $1,100 upgrade dubbed Black Line Special Edition, which rides the current wave of blackened trim replacing otherwise chrome accents (or in this case, mostly black, as there’s still some metal brightwork blinging up the side mirrors, side window surrounds, and branding/badging), with glossy black being added to the grille surround, wheels, and roof rails, plus the mirror caps that remain black even if choosing a non-black (or Caviar, as Lexus calls it) exterior colour, while inside it gets blue stitching around the inside of the black leather-wrapped steering wheel, and yet more blue accents elsewhere, while Lexus includes LED headlights with auto high beams for this package as well.
Attested by the sales numbers noted earlier, I’m not alone in liking the way this little SUV looks, either on the outside or from inside the cabin. The protruding instrument hood is bookended by the same types of control pods first used in Lexus’ now legendary LFA supercar, the one of the left for turning off the traction/stability control, and the right-side knob for switching between Normal, Sport, and Eco driving modes (the EV mode is a separate button found on the lower centre console). The instruments under the hood are digital, as noted above, so only similar to the LFA, from a design perspective, while the widescreen display atop the dash is a real feast for the eyes, thanks to the organic way Lexus laid it out, to the beautifully detailed colour graphics on the high-definition monitor itself.
It’s not a touchscreen, as it would be a bit too far to reach for most drivers, but Lexus has upgraded the old lower centre console-mounted joystick-style Remote Touch Interface with the newer RTI 2.0 touchpad that I prefer more, if only because it looks more up-to-date and takes up less space. It works well enough too, but then again, I’d rather have the option of a touchscreen, because, like most people, that’s what I’m used to.
The backup camera is excellent, thanks to the big, high-definition display and active guidelines, while the array of quick-access buttons and dials around the front portion of the centre armrest, just behind the trackpad, is an innovative way to search through and select infotainment features, of which there are plenty. Navigation is included in upper trims, of course, although I prefer using Android Auto via my smartphone, which is included with the UX, as is Apple CarPlay. A colourful array of climate controls show up on the centre display too, and while you can modulate them there, I appreciate the narrow strip of quick-access buttons just below on the centre stack, while a second row of switches incorporates buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and two-way heated steering wheel rim.
Overall, the UX is an enjoyable place to spend time, from the interior’s aesthetics to its overall comfort and roominess. The driver’s seat is generously adjustable and the powered steering column provides ample reach and rake that should allow for a good seating position no matter your body type, which isn’t always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame. The seatback provided decent lower support too, the same for both cars, other than the two-way powered lumbar support that didn’t quite meet up to the small of my back. The F Sport’s front seats were certainly bolstered more effectively up by the shoulders, however, yet they’re designed to fit a wider backside than mine, so they’d probably do more to keep a larger person in place during fast cornering than me.
Despite the F Sport’s steering wheel looking sportier and receiving textured leather for its lower two-thirds, both rims felt equally thick and padded and therefore good in my hands, with identically comfortable thumb to optimize control. Of course, I preferred the paddles attached to the F Sport’s wheel more than merely shifting via the console-mounted gear lever on more luxuriously appointed UX, but honestly, I drove these little SUVs conservatively throughout each two-week stint, other than for testing purposes, so I doubt I would end up missing the paddles all that often if this were my regular daily driver.
Instead of taking advantage of this perfect segue into the UX’ driving dynamics, I best finish off my tour of the cabin, particularly how the rear seating area measured up to my average-sized (for a teenager) five-foot-eight stature. For starters, I wouldn’t try stuffing three adults into the second row, unless they’re smaller folk, but there should be plenty of space for two in all directions, no matter their shape or size. They shouldn’t be thrown around if you decide to get enthusiastic behind the wheel either, thanks to good bolstering in the outboard positions. They’re comfortable too, with decent lower back support, plus a wide armrest filled with cupholders folds down at centre to improve things more. Two USB charging ports can be found on the backside of the front console, just below a set of HVAC vents, but that’s it for rear seat luxuries.
As far as touchy-feely surfaces go, the entire dash-top is made from a pliable composite and includes a wonderfully upscale stitched and leather-wrapped section that visually flows all the way from the left side of the gauge cluster, under the centre display, to right side of the dash. This is joined by a padded section just below, ahead of the front passenger, which perfectly matches the back half of the door uppers and inserts. The front portion of those door uppers are finished in the same premium composite as the front dash section, which Lexus also finished the edges of the centre console in a really soft, plush leatherette to protect the inside knees of larger occupants from chafing. Other niceties include cloth-wrapped A pillars and touch-sensitive LED overhead lamps, while all of the switchgear was made from a high-grade dense plastic, with tight fitment and good damping. I was surprised, however, to learn that the rear door uppers were finished in hard plastic, which just isn’t good enough for this class, plus rear seat heaters aren’t available either.
The cargo compartment is luxurious enough too, with a nice quality of carpeting in all the expected places, plus chromed tie-down hooks at each corner, but Lexus didn’t go so far to add stainless steel sill plates. They did upgrade the 2021 UX 250h’s cargo floor with an adjustable section, however, which adds 141 litres (5 cu ft) to its dedicated volume, increasing from 481 (17) to 623 litres (22 cu ft). When folding the 60/40-split rear seats down, available stowage space increases to 1,231 litres (43.5 cu ft), but this brings up one of my lone complaints, the lack of a centre pass-through or even better 40/20/40 rear seat configuration.
I should also mention that all UX trims now come standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as part of the Lexus Safety System 2.0 for 2021, which also includes the brand’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), All-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beam assisted headlamps.
Even before being upgraded, the 2020 UX received a five-star rating from the U.S. NHTSA (there was no info for the 2021 model), but the IIHS gave it Top Safety Pick status, with best-possible “G” (for good) ratings in all categories except for the headlights that received a worst-possible “P” (for poor) result due to excessive glare when using the low beams around sharp corners, plus only fair nighttime visibility scores in both sharp and gradual corners. I certainly didn’t notice any negatives after dark, but I’m not about to argue with America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The only utility in this class to earn higher Top Safety Pick Plus status was Volvo’s XC40, while Buick’s Encore GX was the only competitor to match the UX, albeit with a mixture of “A” (for acceptable) and “M” (for Moderate) headlight and child seat LATCH results. All others didn’t receive either Top Safety Pick honour, so kudos to Lexus for being much better than average.
Straight-line performance and at-the-limit handling aren’t better than average, however, but ride quality, quietness and other types of refinements are near the top, which means Lexus has managed to give its smallest, entry-level model a level of driving comfort and poise that comes near to matching the larger compact NX. The 250h is the UX you’ll want to own if the traction benefits of all-wheel drive are important to you, incidentally, thanks to an electric motor driving the rear wheels that automatically adjusts the torque-split between both front and rear axles. This improves handling when accelerating and cornering, especially when driving on slippery roads, plus it makes the UX easier to get off the line. The base UX 200 utilizes a front-wheel drivetrain, by the way, so the hybrid is really the way to go for both performance and fuel economy.
Regarding the former, the base UX 200 slots a 169-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine behind its gaping grille, while the 250h gets a net horsepower rating of 181. As noted earlier, a CVT transmits torque to the front axle, resulting in power delivery that’s smooth and linear, rather than aggressive. Then again, the aforementioned active sound control made the F Sport version sound more exciting, and Sport mode (standard across the line) elevated performance parameters, improving shift response, but all said, this is probably the type of SUV best left in Eco mode more often than not, because that’s how you’ll eke out its impressive 5.7 L/100 city, 6.2 highway and 6.0 combined fuel economy rating, which gives the hybrid a significant edge over the base UX’ 8.0 city, 6.3 highway and 7.2 combined results.
This efficiency makes the UX 250h easy to live with, but the little luxury SUV’s resale value might pad your wallet even more when it comes time to trade-in or sell. It was deemed best-in-class in the “Premium Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, while it also came out on top in the “Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover” segment of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards.
Also notable, the UX was the highest ranked “Small Premium SUV” in J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, and tied for runner-up in the same third-party analytical firm’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, while Lexus topped J.D. Power’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, and is also the most reliable luxury brand according to Consumer Reports.
If that’s not enough to interest you in a new UX, consider that Lexus least expensive model starts below the $40k threshold, at $38,450 (plus freight and fees), which is the mid-point in this class, once again if we include Buick and Mini as luxury brands. The Encore starts at just $24,998, which really doesn’t qualify it for premium status in base form, but the price rises to more than $35k when loaded up, while the Encore GX can easily be optioned past $40k. The Countryman, on the other hand, starts at $32,990 and can be upgraded to almost $60k, so it definitely qualifies as a luxury contender. In fact, a fully loaded UX 250h, which starts at $40,250, doesn’t even break $50k, at $40,090 (plus freight and fees), while Lexus was throwing in up to $1,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, as per CarCostCanada’s 2021 Lexus UX Canada Prices page.
Important for 2022, Lexus will eliminate the base UX 200 trim, causing the base price to rise to $40,700, so we’ll need to see how this impacts sales. I’m guessing not too much, because it this FWD variant wouldn’t be getting the axe if it sold well. If you’d rather have the initial savings of the less expensive UX, however, you’ll need to act quickly, if any are still available.
Whether you go for a 2021 UX or a 2022, you’ll be getting a very comfortable, well-appointed and efficient subcompact luxury SUV. It’s got to be one of the easiest vehicles to drive in any class, and thanks to its diminutive dimensions it’s even easier to park. If you, your partner, or child is learning to drive, or if they simply feel uncomfortable wielding a big, heavy utility around the city, yet appreciate the outward visibility gained from a small SUV’s ride height, this little Lexus is a very good choice. Of course, the UX can be seen as a smart decision for all the other reasons outlined in this review too, therefore it’s easy to recommend.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Following its bigger RX brother’s lead, the Lexus NX came out of nowhere a half-decade ago to immediately become a frontrunner in the compact luxury SUV class. Currently sitting second in U.S. sales…
Following its bigger RX brother’s lead, the Lexus NX came out of nowhere a half-decade ago to immediately become a frontrunner in the compact luxury SUV class. Currently sitting second in U.S. sales and fourth in Canada, Lexus hopes the new second-generation NX, just introduced last week, will become just as dominant as its mid-size offering, and it really doesn’t have far to go in order to catch up to the segment leaders.
While the RX more than doubles deliveries of its next closest BMW X5 rival in the U.S., and comes close to doing likewise to Mercedes’ GLE here in Canada, the gap between NX and X3 sales in the U.S. was narrower than 4,000 units last year, meaning this redesign could push the Japanese model upward enough to claim most popular status. Here in Canada, another 50 sales in 2020 would’ve ranked it third in its class, leaving it about one thousand units behind the Q5 and slightly more than 2,000 deliveries below the RDX.
Exactly how this redesigned 2022 NX will impact the burgeoning compact luxury SUV market is unknown, but Lexus isn’t leaving anything to chance. First off, recently released photos of the all-new model make it clear the premium brand isn’t deviating far from the original NX formula that’s won it so many fans, with evolutionary new styling that should appeal to current buyers and newcomers alike. Its large spindle grille is as easily defined as ever, despite subtle changes all around including a more three-dimensional effect, while new LED headlights with an optional three-projector upgrade, combine some of the design elements from the previous model’s blockier main LED lamps, and the Nike swoosh-style “L-shaped” driving lights, into one curvaceous cluster.
Likewise, the old NX’ chunkier side panels have been smoothed out for a more refined look that’s still plenty muscular, while the rear design replaces the outgoing SUV’s angled individual LED taillights with a set of more organically shaped L-style lenses connected by a thin horizontal strip that spans the entirety of the liftgate, this design, which pulls cues from new UX and IS rear styling, dubbed a “full-width blade rear lamp” by Lexus. New wheels round out the updated package, the F Sport’s gloss black rims growing to 20 inches, but not before Lexus literally signed off on the design with five elegantly placed block letters designating its brand, the new NX becoming the first model in its lineup to replace its usual “L” centre rear branding with this new written logo.
Inside, a completely reworked dash panel adds a high-definition 7.0-inch multi-information display to the gauge cluster and projects an available 10-inch head-up display onto the windshield ahead of the driver, while the top half of the centre stack can been optionally taken over by a massive landscape-positioned 14.0-inch touchscreen display (that incorporates controls for the automatic climate control system and more) in top-line conventionally-powered and plug-in hybrid trims, meaning that Lexus finally appears to being giving up on controlling its infotainment systems through a lower console-mounted joystick or trackpad Remote Touch Interface.
Another sign of progress is the Lexus Interface multimedia system within that infotainment system, which has been designed specifically for the North American market. Along with the usual infotainment features, the new interface incorporates over the air updates and untethered smart phone connection to a user’s unique profile (that includes a new digital key for opening, starting up and remote parking via smartphone verification that can be shared with up to seven confidants), while a new Virtual Assistant, that incorporates multiple microphones, enhanced noise cancellation capability, plus seat-detection sensors for determining where users are sitting, has been designed to become the primary way users interact with the system. Optional wireless charging will keep devices ready for use, while connectivity via wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto comes standard.
The new NX’ standard touchscreen measures 9.8 inches diagonally, incidentally, which is pretty sizeable all on its own, with the end result of both touchscreen displays being a more familiar tap, swipe and pinch user experience for an easier learning curve when Toyota (or other volume-branded mainstream) buyers test this new Lexus SUV for the first time.
Astute readers will have noticed the words “plug-in hybrid” in the previous paragraph, a move that should have been expected by anyone with knowledge of Toyota’s RAV4 Prime. The RAV4 and NX have always shared platform architectures, with the new 2022 version now riding on the same TNGA-K (GA-K) underpinnings found in today’s RAV (codenamed XA50 for the RAV4 and AZ20 for the new NX), so therefore, incorporating the new RAV4 Prime’s PHEV components into the updated Lexus only made sense.
Lexus’s new plug-in hybrid, dubbed NX 450h, is the first of its type for the luxury brand. Its EV range is claimed to be 58 km, depending on how it’s being driven, exterior conditions, and other factors, while it can achieve much higher speeds in EV mode than any previous Lexus hybrid, the latter of which normally kick into gasoline-assisted hybrid mode below posted city speed limits. The new NX 450h will deliver significantly higher levels of performance than previous hybrids too, or for that matter the upcoming non-plug-in NX 350h hybrid, even going so far as to add more drive bias to the rear wheels than the RAV4 Prime’s more comfort and fuel-efficiency focused setup, in order to improve high-speed handling.
Before delving into the regular NX hybrid, the new NX 450h plug-in puts out a fraction more horsepower than the RAV4 Prime it shares components with, with 305 ponies compared to 302, but the more luxurious NX takes 0.2 seconds longer to arrive at 100 km/h from standstill, its time being 6.2 seconds compared to 6.0 seconds flat for the plug-in RAV4, likely due to the extra weight carried by luxury features and refinement-enhancing sound-deadening materials.
Lexus has achieved shorter charging times by installing a standard high-output, high-efficiency 6.6-kW Expedited Onboard Charger that reduces power loss when converting from AC to DC power, which means the NX 450h can achieve a full charge when hooked up to a 240-volt power source for about two-and a-half hours.
While understandable excitement surrounds this new plug-in hybrid variant, it’s important to point out that a total of four power units will be available from the onset of the new NX launch this fall. The base NX 250 model will receive a new 2.5-litre four-cylinder capable of 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. A new standard eight-speed automatic transmission with start/stop technology will help maximize fuel-efficiency, yet it won’t have any trouble keeping up with traffic either thanks to zero to 100 km/h acceleration of just 8.8 seconds. While hardly neck-snapping, the base NX will be quick enough for most peoples’ wants and needs, while this new model could also allow for a more approachable entry-level price point than the current SUV, being that today’s 2021 NX comes standard with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder making 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque.
The second engine in the NX hierarchy, which is expected to be “the volume model in Canada” according to a Lexus press release, will be a 2.5-litre four-cylinder mated to a hybrid drivetrain. The NX 350h will make 239 net horsepower, which is 20 percent more than the outgoing NX 300h hybrid thanks to a pair of high-torque electric drive motor-generators (the second motor is in the rear resulting in eAWD). The combination allows for a 7.4-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h, which is 1.7 seconds faster than the current hybrid model. Even with this performance upgrade, however, Lexus estimates combined fuel economy of 6.5 L/100km, which is an impressive 1.0 L/100 km improvement over the 2021 model.
Depending on priorities, you can consider the aforementioned NX 450h or the all-new NX 350 top-of-the-line (although pricing may dictate otherwise), the latter model housing a new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder good for 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. This model’s eight-speed automatic is tuned more for performance, the uprated combination resulting in standing-start acceleration times of 7.0 seconds to 100km/h, making it a significant half-second quicker than its turbo-gas-powered predecessor.
Handling should improve further due to a lower centre of gravity and more rigid body construction, Lexus having increased torsional rigidity via laser peening welding and new high rigidity foam, both firsts for the luxury division. Another first for the brand is a twin hood lock that increases front lateral flexural rigidity while also enhancing aerodynamics overall.
What’s more, both turbo and PHEV buyers can upgrade their suspensions with an F Sport Handling package that adds an Active Variable Suspension (AVS) along with front and rear performance dampers, plus the aforementioned 20-inch wheels and all of this trim’s usual styling enhancements from the outside in.
Additionally, a new electronically controlled, full-time all-wheel drive system improves NX 350 control both on and off the road. The driver now has the ability to optimize front and rear torque distribution in order to adjust for weather and road conditions, while a high level of standard electronic safety equipment will further keep things in check.
These come as part of Lexus Safety System+ 3.0, which now features a new Risk Avoidance Emergency Steer Assist function that helps to avoid accidents via automatic braking and steering inputs. Another update includes a Left Turn Oncoming Vehicle Detection/Braking technology that does exactly what its name describes, while a new Oncoming Pedestrian Detection/Braking function will brake automatically when a driver turns left in front of pedestrians and/or cyclists.
Additionally, new standard Dynamic Radar Cruise Control features a “curve management” feature that will maintain the NX’ cruising speed to align with traffic flow while also keeping speeds in check when cornering. Lastly, a Digital Latch system, that features an electronically-actuated release, opens each door smoothly while scanning the periphery around the SUV with a Safe Exit system that’s been designed to prevent passing pedestrian or cyclist accidents.
Extra head and legroom should make ingress and egress easier, not to mention more comfortable when seated front to back, while a new panoramic glass sunroof visually opens up the cabin to an airier experience. That revised interior will be quieter too, not to mention more calming thanks to 14 nature-inspired Thematic Ambient Illumination settings. Lexus has also redesigned the front seat heaters, and once again makes rear outboard seat warmers available, while the cargo area can now stow more gear.
For a final bit of NX news, the redesigned model will now be built in Canada, making the purchase of the new SUV as much of a patriotic move as a smart choice, the latter being a nod to better-than-average dependability and lower depreciation costs. The NX was a runner-up, next to Mercedes’ GLC, in the latest 2020 Canadian Black Book Best Retained Value Awards, the compact luxury SUV winner being Porsche’s Macan. Considering there are 16 competitors vying for top spot, tying for second is a noteworthy feat.
Lexus also took top honours in the most recent 2021 J. D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, and while the NX once again failed to achieve best-in-class due to the mighty Macan, it earned a respectable second.
NX quality may even improve thanks to its new home of production in Cambridge, Ontario, where it will be built alongside the RAV4 and larger RX. The Cambridge facility was the first production plant outside of Japan to build a Lexus model, and has earned many awards since it first did so in 1986. As for the new NX, its operations retooling and training efforts began in 2019, while production will start in the fourth quarter of 2021, with deliveries expected shortly thereafter. Pricing will be available closer to this launch date.
First things first, the 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance isn’t exciting news because of any styling updates. Lexus made most of those with the current turbo-four- and V6-powered 2021 IS models, resulting…
First things first, the 2022 IS 500 F Sport Performance isn’t exciting news because of any styling updates. Lexus made most of those with the current turbo-four- and V6-powered 2021 IS models, resulting in an attractive refresh that sharpened the already angular sedan to a finer point, with newly formed edges, an even more dramatic spindle grille, and an LED taillight treatment seemingly inspired by Lexus’ UX subcompact crossover. What makes the IS 500 awesome is the 472 horsepower V8 stuffed below a new aggressively domed hood.
Design does play its part. The new hood bulges up two inches for a more pumped-up level of IS masculinity, plus Lexus slightly widened the front fenders, modified the both bumpers, and beneath the bodywork, moved the radiator forward to accommodate the engine. Most of the model’s metal brightwork has been eliminated too, excepting the stylized “L” badge at both ends, the thin highlights on each two-tone gloss-black and body-colour mirror cap, the dazzling split-10-spoke 19-inch Enkei lightweight alloy wheels, the massive quad of “throaty” circular “dual stacked” tailpipes, and all the model and trim designations, the IS 500’s deck lid badge notably changed.
This said, being that the IS 300 and IS 350 are the sportiest sedans Lexus offers, they’ve been mostly de-chromed already, with some 2021 trims blackened out even more so thanks to dark-painted wheels. The IS 500’s only notable differentiator is the addition of dark chrome side window trim, a tiny IS F Sport rear deck lid spoiler, and a new diffuser-style rear bumper required to house the enhanced exhaust system.
Likewise, changes are subtle inside as well, with black “F SPORT” designations on the door sill plates and steering wheel, the latter heatable and leather-wrapped, of course, while the throttle, brake and dead pedals have also been upgraded from the IS F Sport catalogue. Completely unique to the IS F 500, however, is the startup animation in the mostly-digital primary gauge cluster’s multi-information display. As for the rest of the interior, it’s much like the IS 350 F Sport.
In other words, the IS 500 F Sport Performance is a sleeper. We’re ok with that, especially when it’s got what it takes to go head-to-head with its more aggressively penned rivals. Before listing off its competition, however, a rundown on some specs is necessary. Lexus’ well-proven 5.0-litre V8 not only puts out 472 horsepower in this iteration, but it nearly matches that thrust with 395 lb-ft of twist. This nearly matches the same engine’s output in the mighty LC 500 sports coupe and convertible, the IS version adding a single horsepower and losing three lb-ft of torque, but either way it’s a significant upgrade over the next-best IS 350 that only puts out 311 horsepower and 280-lb-ft of torque, or even the old 2014 IS F’s 5.0-litre V8 that made 416 horsepower and 371 lb-ft.
Back to the competitors alluded to a moment ago, top of the list is Alfa Romeo’s Giulia Quadrifoglio, good for a phenomenal 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, while BMW’s M3, the segment’s longest running entrant, would still be daunting to go up against in either 473-horsepower regular trim or 503-hp Competition form. Unlike the IS 500 that looks similar to its less potent brethren, it’s easy to spot a new M3 from a mile away thanks to its unorthodox bucktooth grille and more daring styling departure from regular 3 Series trims (for now), whereas Mercedes-AMG is more discreet, albeit unique enough when compared to regular C-Class models. It hits this market with three four-door variations, the 385-hp AMG C 43, 469-hp AMG C 63, and 503-hp AMG C 63 S.
Honourable mentions include Volvo’s new S60 Polestar Engineered, which is good for 415 hp from a turbocharged, supercharged and plug-in-hybridized four-cylinder; the Swedish brand certainly earning points for maximizing efficiency, while Infiniti’s 400-hp Q50 Red Sport 400 is wonderful, but not quite in the same league. We’d also be remiss for not mentioning Tesla’s top-line Model 3 that makes 480 instant electrified horsepower along with 471 lb-ft of torque. We should also expect Hyundai’s new Genesis luxury division to soon arrive with some super sedans and SUVs of its own, this compact luxury four-door segment currently filled with the impressive, albeit nowhere near as powerful G70. This in mind, and factoring in the IS 500’s choice of Lexus’ mid-performance “F Sport” naming protocol, could Lexus be saving the vaunted “F” badge for an even more capable super sedan? Let’s keep our collective fingers crossed.
Unlike some of the just-mentioned rivals that utilize all-wheel drive, the IS 500 sends all of its abundant power through the rear wheels via the same quick-shifting eight-speed Sport Direct automatic transmission already used by V6-powered rear-drive IS models, complete with Custom, Sport S and Sport S+ engine and transmission mode settings, the latter also adjusting EPS steering assist and shock damping force, resulting in a 4.6-second sprint from standstill to 100 km/h, accompanied by a “ferocious” sounding exhaust note to “perfectly amplify the new V8 engine,” or so says Lexus in their press release.
Keeping all that power in check is the very effective Dynamic Handling Package that’s also found under the US-spec IS 350 RWD F Sport (AWD is standard in Canada), which features an Adaptive Variable suspension with Yamaha rear performance dampers along with a Torsen limited-slip differential, but unlike the less capable IS, the 500’s brakes have been upsized with 14-inch two-piece aluminum rotors in front and 12.7-inch rotors at back, plus special cooling ducts to optimize their binding power. Making handling and braking even more manageable is minuscule weight gain over the IS 350 AWD F Sport, the new IS 500 only adding 5 kilograms for a total of 1,765 kg.
No other automaker has sold more hybrid electric vehicles than Toyota, the brand having initiated the electrification revolution way back in 1997, and now it’s surpassed 15 million units globally.
It took three years to get a slightly updated version of the first-generation Prius to North America in 2000, but four generations and some interesting side roads later (notably the subcompact Prius c hatchback and tall wagon-like Prius v) Toyota’s dedicated Prius hybrid has long become legend. It has sold more examples than any other electrified car in history, but Toyota has plenty of additional hybrids to its name.
Along with the plug-in Prius Prime that allows for more EV-only range, Toyota most recently added the all-new 2020 Corolla Hybrid to its gasoline-electric lineup, while the Camry Hybrid has long been popular with those needing a larger sedan. We don’t get the Avalon Hybrid here in Canada, but the RAV4 Hybrid more than makes up for the large luxury sedan’s loss, and next year it arrives as the 2021 RAV4 Prime plug-in too, whereas the Highlander Hybrid remains the only electrified mid-size SUV available in the mainstream volume-branded sector. Additionally, Toyota offers one of the only hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles available today, its innovative Mirai taking the hybrid-electric concept into completely new territory.
Of note, Toyota’s 15-million hybrid milestone was partially made up by its Lexus luxury division, which adds seven more gasoline-electric models to Toyota’s namesake range of eight, including (in order of base price) the entry-level UX 250h subcompact crossover SUV, the NX 300h compact SUV, the ES 300h mid-size sedan, the the RX 450h mid-size SUV, the RX 450h L three-row mid-size SUV, the LC 500h personal sport-luxury coupe, and finally Lexus’ flagship LS 500h full-size luxury sedan (Lexus previously offered the HS 250h compact sedan, the CT 200h compact hatchback and the GS 450h mid-size sport sedan).
While 15 hybrid models from two brands is impressive, outside of Canada Toyota and Lexus provide 44 unique hybrid vehicles, while hybrids made up 52 percent of Toyota’s overall volume in Europe last year. What’s more, Toyota accounts for 80 percent of all hybrid sales globally.
Despite recently dropping the Prius v and Prius c models, Toyota shows no signs of slowing down hybrid integration, or continuing to develop its hydrogen fuel cell and full electric programs moving forward. Back in June last year, Toyota Executive Vice President Shigeki Terashi announced that half of the automaker’s global sales would be electrified by 2025, which is five years more aggressive than previously planned. This would likely be a mix of hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV), and fully electric (BEV) vehicles, but Terashi was clear to point out that an entirely new line of BEVs would be designed for global consumption, and while Toyota had previously spoken of 2020 for the launch of its first BEV, our current global health problem and concurring financial challenges will likely interfere with this plan.
Story credit: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Toyota
Lexus’ RX and I have had a long, mostly pleasant relationship, dating back to the beginnings of my career as an automotive journalist. In fact, since first starting to write road tests of new vehicles…
Lexus’ RX and I have had a long, mostly pleasant relationship, dating back to the beginnings of my career as an automotive journalist. In fact, since first starting to write road tests of new vehicles at the turn of this century, I’ve tested, photographed and reviewed at least 15 individual RX models in every generation, state of trim, powertrain, and body style available, plus I’ve also been fortunate enough to attend a number of RX launch programs.
I once even piloted the then-new 2006 RX 400h from a waterfront hotel in Waikoloa Village (just outside of Kona), Hawaii, around the northern tip of The Big Island toward Hilo, and then inland a ways before summiting the 4,250-metre-plus (14,000-foot-plus) peak of Mauna Kea, all before heading back down the east coast, circling Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park’s 17.7-kilometer Kilauea Crater Rim Drive, and more (thoughts and prayers for all the families from Leilani Estates this time of year). That experience stamped an indelible memory on my heart, and no doubt helped forge a personal fondness for Lexus’ most popular model.
When taking in the paradisiacal coastal vistas, mountaintop views, thick tropical foliage and harshly rugged lava rock terrain of Hawaii’s amazing spectrum of climate zones, comprising 10 of the world’s 12 types, it’s good to be in a vehicle that isolates all occupants from the elements so effectively. From the dry heat of Kona to the humidity of Hilo, through the more temperate regions inland to the polar/tundra heights above, the RX never wavered from climate controlled comfort, something I’ve grown to appreciate even more with each weeklong test enjoyed over the years since. Truly, each and every time I get behind the wheel of this impressive luxury crossover SUV, I’m reminded why it’s been number one in its mid-size segment since day one.
It helps that Lexus defined this category together with Mercedes’ M-Class (now GLE) way back in 1997 when the original RX 300 arrived, a luxury crossover that’s held up so well I still see them on the roads in my community (not so with the first-gen ML). The RX has been around for 22 years and four generations, with the upcoming 2020 model about to bring a number of subtle styling updates and other improvements as part of its mid-cycle makeover, but despite its updates you may still want to consider getting a deal on a 2019.
Before delving into the 2019, updates for 2020 include refreshed front and rear fascias, slimmer triple-beam LED headlamps and revised taillights with new “L” shaped LEDs, redesigned 18- and 20-inch wheels, and claimed driving dynamics improvements via thicker yet lighter-weight stabilizer bars plus a firmer retuned suspension to enhance handling with new dampers that smooth ride quality. Handling in mind, new active corner braking reduces understeer and paddle shifters, now standard across the entire lineup, should enhance the driving experience, while new standard safety features include daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection along with Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), and lastly a revised infotainment system with new touchpad control and integrated Android Auto (a first for Lexus).
Even though its brand new, CarCostCanada members can save up to $2,000 in additional incentives on the 2020 RX, while those willing to forgo some of the improvements for a discount can access up to $4,500 in incentives for a 2019 model. According to the popular website, members are saving an average of $2,777 on both models, by first learning about available manufacturer rebates that your local retailer probably won’t tell you about, and then finding out the dealer invoice price before negotiating.
Lexus will offer the same four RX models for 2020 as it did in 2019, including the RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid, plus the new long-wheelbase, seven-passenger RX L with both powertrains. Pricing starts at $55,350 for the 2019 RX 350, and then moves up to $64,500 for the 2019 RX 450h, $66,250 for the RX 350 L, and finally $77,600 for the RX 450 L, while the refreshed 2020 base model’s pricing expectedly rises by $700 (not bad considering all the aforementioned standard upgrades), but get this, pricing for all other trims have surprisingly been lowered by $5,700, $7,200, and $1,500 respectively due to new more affordable decontented packaging, or in other words, fewer standard features. This intelligent move makes the base long-wheelbase and base hybrid models accessible to many more luxury buyers, and still shouldn’t cause too much difficulty for Lexus retailers to sell off the remaining 2019s.
For this review I rounded up three 2019 Lexus RX models, including an RX 350, RX 450h and an RX 350 L, the two regular-wheelbase models in the Japanese luxury brand’s sportiest F Sport trim, and the latter long-wheelbase version in six-passenger Executive trim, its seat-count reduction caused by the replacement of its second-row bench with two individual buckets, while $6,050 Executive trim also adds LED illuminated aluminum front scuff plates, premium leather, a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a head-up display, 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound audio, wireless device charging, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, power-recline rear seats, rear door sunshades, power folding rear seats, and a gesture-actuated power liftgate.
F Sport trim takes a more sporting approach to styling and features as the name implies, with the former including a more aggressive front grille and fascia design, premium LED headlamps with cornering capability, a sportier set of 20-inch alloy wheels, an adaptive variable air suspension, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), special “F SPORT” branded scuff plates, a mostly digital LFA-inspired primary gauge cluster, a special steering wheel with paddle shifters and a unique shift knob, aluminum sport pedals with rubber inserts, unique performance seats covered in premium leather upholstery, plus more.
Combining three distinct RX trims into one review provides an opportunity to not only show their unique characteristics in the massive photo gallery above, but also to help would-be buyers choose between this luxury crossover SUV’s dual personalities, one visually and dynamically more sport-oriented, and the other biased towards luxury. To be clear, the sportiest RX 350 F Sport will never challenge a BMW X5 M, Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S Coupe (or even the GLE 43 version), Audi RS Q8 (or even an SQ8 or SQ7), Porsche Cayenne, Jaguar F-Pace SVR, Range Rover Sport (or Velar SV Dynamic), etcetera, but as far as this comfort-oriented mid-size crossover SUV goes, it’s the sportiest, and more fun to drive than any Infiniti QX60, while more or less on par with the Acura MDX, Lincoln Nautilus, and probably the new Cadillacs XT6, although I have yet to drive the latter. This said the new 2020 RX should perform better than the three I’ve tested here, but we shouldn’t expect a radical improvement through the corners as it wouldn’t make sense for Lexus to stray too far from such an obvious winning formula.
Unlike most of the competitors noted, Lexus only provides its RX with one conventional powertrain choice, and despite once being wholly original in offering mid-size luxury SUV buyers the sole hybrid-electric available, it can now only take credit for being first. Still, no one can argue against the success Lexus has had with this comparatively simple powertrain lineup, consisting of its ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6, and the nearly as well-proven electrified version of this dependable Toyota-sourced six-cylinder engine.
Despite what appear to be identical powertrains on paper, the conventional V6 used in Lexus’ RX 350 and RX 350 L produce different performance numbers, the regular wheelbase model outputting 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque and the long-wheelbase version making just 290 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque, while the RX 450h manages a slightly more potent internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric motor mix that nets 308 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque in both regular and extended body styles.
The biggest difference between these three powertrains can be seen in fuel economy, with the standard RX 350 good for a rating of 12.2 L/100km in the city, 9.0 on the highway and 10.8 combined, and the slightly modified engine in the RX 350 L managing 13.1 city, 9.4 highway and 11.1 combined. The lighter weight regular wheelbase model is thriftier when comparing the RX 450h and RX 450h L too, with the former achieving the best model’s rating at just 7.5 L/100km city, 8.4 highway and 7.9 combined, and the latter doing extremely well amongst three-row luxury SUVs with a claimed 8.1, 8.4 and 8.1 respectively.
The extra power provided by the motive battery, which like other all-wheel drive hybrids uses its ICE to power the front wheels and electric motor to twist the rims in back, doesn’t give the hybrid any more oomph off the line yet certainly helps it keep up despite its 160-kilo increase in curb weight. The efficiency of the hybrid’s continuously variable transmission may assist with its straight-line performance, but the eight-speed automatic in the conventionally powered RX is probably not all that more taxing and its more positive shift response makes for a sportier driving experience overall.
Enhancing engagement with both drivetrains in F Sport trim are standard paddle shifters as already noted, while this performance-oriented upgrade also gets an edgier Sport+ setting added to the base RX’ Normal, Sport, and Eco Drive Mode Select choices, plus hybrids benefit from an EV mode. The EV mode only works at very slow parking lot speeds, but it can reduce consumption while circling the mall parking lot or when stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, while at the other end of the performance spectrum I didn’t feel much difference when switching from Sport to Sport+, other a firmer setting from the adaptive variable air suspension.
Speaking of the chassis, the RX’ fully independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension setup feels a bit tauter in the F Sport than with more comfort-focused trims, while the long-wheelbase RX L felt comfortable without giving much up in the handling department, or for that matter straight-line performance (it only weighs an additional 105 kg). As mentioned earlier, all RX models provide comfort first and foremost, which is exactly what most buyers in this class want, while noise, vibration and harshness levels are kept to a minimum thanks to a wonderfully tight, rigid body structure, plenty of sound insulation, and nicely refined powertrains.
All the soft-touch composite surfaces and leather help to keep things quiet, although to be clear the RX doesn’t quite deliver the same level of over-the-top luxury as its German peers, let alone the lonely Swede in this segment. Most everything above the waist is made from the types of high quality pliable plastics expected in this class, including the glove box lid, with some surface treatments higher on the dash stitched and leather-like with padding below, but the harder composites start just above the driver’s knees and surprisingly to the left side of the steering column, not to mention on the lower door panels and lower sides of the lower centre console (the console’s top edges finished in stitched leatherette).
The two F Sport trims received attractive metallic accents across the dash, lower console and upper door panels, although I must admit I was even more impressed by the long-wheelbase model’s gorgeous hardwood inlays. While high-gloss dark hardwood in Japanese tradition, every half inch or so Lexus had laminated in wafer thin pieces of lighter hardwood resulting in an ultimately rich double pinstripe look that was best seen on the console. There’s plenty of brushed metal trim throughout the cabin, with some bits looking and feeling like the real deal and other pieces less so, but quality is generally good including each button, knob, toggle and rocker switch.
At first glance all three RX models seemed to have similarly sporty seats, this probably due to their contrast stitched black perforated leather, but the F Sport models had a bit more side bolstering, particularly up by the shoulders, and while they all looked good and were generally comfortable, only the 350 L with its Executive package included four-way lumbar support. Its 10-way powered front seats were excellent, causing zero complaints, but if the two-way powered lumbar in the other two hadn’t luckily met up with the small of my back I would’ve been grumbling. Don’t get me wrong, as I would’ve liked extendable cushions and adjustable side bolsters too, while some sort of massage function would also be nice, but such pampering is obviously not the RX’ mission.
Roominess has always been an RX strongpoint, with front and second-row seating for any size or shape with space to spare, but the new long-wheelbase model doesn’t quite measure up to most rivals when it comes to the third row. This is surprising, as a three-row crossover has been long in the making for Lexus, but even my teenage-sized five-foot-eight frame had difficulty getting comfortable. Climbing in and out is easy enough thanks to a second row that slides far enough forward for a nice, wide opening, but even after sliding that second row as far forward as I’d be comfortable with if seated there, there still wasn’t enough room for my knees when seated in the very back, while my head was rubbing up against the ceiling.
The extended-wheelbase RX L does add 77 litres of maximum cargo space, however, moving the total from 1,657 litres up to 1,580 litres, but the final row must add some height to the RX L’s cargo floor because available room behind its second row shrinks by 43 litres from 694 to 651 litres. With all seats upright the three-row RX leaves a 212-litre sliver of usable space, but it’s good for a couple of small suitcases or a golf bag if you want to work on your “A” game after dropping the kids at school.
While most of this is positive, operating the RX’ current joystick-style infotainment controller will set you back to the early days of playing Nintendo “Golf” (that was 1984 if you care to remember), hence why it’s being replaced by Lexus’ newer touchpad control for 2020. The system is functional and thanks to side entry buttons added a number of years ago is easier to use, but it feels old and clunky in a world of touch sensitivity. It includes haptic feedback to lock in prompts, which helped somewhat, but few should lament its loss. The high-definition widescreen atop the dash that displays everything is superb, mind you, and it’s hard to fault the overall functionality of the system and features, other than its lack of Android Auto for 2019 (remember, the RX gets it for 2020).
Now that I’m talking digital interfaces, both 2019 and 2020 LX models use the same ho-hum gauge cluster in non-F Sport trims. It’s a basic analogue set consisting of two primary dials and two sub-dials, centered by a tall colour multi-information display that’s little more than a glorified trip computer. In a vehicle that’s edgy and modern in most other ways the gauges look a bit tired and dated, especially considering some RX rivals are shipping with standard digital instrument clusters or at least offer them optionally in upper trims. Of course Lexus does the same, but take note my long-wheel base Executive package enhanced RX 350 L was priced higher than the RX 350 F Sport, but didn’t get the fancier LFA-inspired digital gauge cluster, and even the upgraded version doesn’t offer the level of features provided by its competition, such as the ability to transform most of the cluster into one big map.
Thanks to the incredibly fast pace of the auto industry these days, especially when it comes to digital interfaces, it’s always easy to find fault with a vehicle that’s been on the market for a few years. Such is the case for these three RX models, and therefore the updates Lexus will provide for 2020 should appease most of those looking for progress. In summary, I don’t believe the RX is the best mid-size crossover on the market, but it covers so many bases so well, and does so with such impressive dependability, that it fully deserves its number one status.
Lexus’ ES has come a long way in 30 years. Yes, 2019 marks three decades of the quintessential Japanese luxury brand’s best-selling car, which started life as the comparatively humble ES 250 in 1989. …
Lexus’ ES has come a long way in 30 years. Yes, 2019 marks three decades of the quintessential Japanese luxury brand’s best-selling car, which started life as the comparatively humble ES 250 in 1989.
It was obviously based on the Camry family sedan, yet despite being rushed to market in order to make sure the full-size LS 400 wasn’t alone in the new premium brand’s lineup, it was a handsome, well-built and reasonably strong performing V6-powered mid-size luxury sedan. Lexus has made six ES generations since, releasing this most recent seventh-generation redesign late last year as a 2019 model, and while each new version made improvements on its predecessor, this latest iteration is by far the most dramatic looking, most refined inside, and best to drive yet.
In fact, Lexus has done such a good job of pulling the ES upmarket that it’s getting more difficult to justify having two mid-size sedans in its lineup. The two look similar and are near identical in size, the ES’ wheelbase just 20 mm (0.8 in) longer at 2,870 mm (113.0 in), and 4,960 mm (195.3 in) of overall length a bit more of a stretch thanks to an additional 110 mm (4.3 in). The ES is 25 mm (1.0 in) wider than the GS too, measuring 1,865 mm (73.4 in) from side to side, but at 1,445 mm (56.9 in) high it’s 10 mm (0.4 in) lower, the ES’ long, wide and low design giving it proportions arguably more appealing than the sportier, more upscale sedan.
To be fair to the GS, it not only delivers stronger performance, particularly through the corners and off the line, especially in 467 horsepower GS F form, but it generally feels more substantive thanks to a 66-kilo (145-lb) heftier curb weight in base trim and 185-kg (408-lb) difference in hybrid trims, a rear-drive architecture shared with the smaller IS series sedan and coupe, a stiffer, more robust suspension setup, and other improvements that justify its significantly higher price point; the GS ranging from $63,800 to more than $100,000, compared to just $45,000 to $61,500 with the ES (find pricing for all new and past models at CarCostCanada, including trims, packages and individual options, plus money-saving rebate info and dealer invoice pricing that could keep thousands in your wallet).
Under the base ES hood is a 302 horsepower version of Lexus/Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.5-litre V6, just 9 horsepower and 13 lb-ft of torque shy of the base GS engine yet 34 horsepower and 19 lb-ft of torque more than the previous ES 350, and the Japanese luxury brand now marries it to an eight-speed automatic instead of the comparably antiquated six-speed unit found in last year’s ES and the pricier GS currently on sale.
My as-tested ES 300h, which incidentally starts at $47,000, combines an upgraded 176 horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder featuring 163 lb-ft of torque with a 67 horsepower (50 kW) electric motor and 29.1-kWh nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery for a net output rating of 215 horsepower and an undisclosed torque rating (the previous ES 300h’ net torque rating was 206 lb-ft). Toyota’s fourth-generation hybrid system once again incorporates a silky smooth electronically controlled continuously variable transmission that suits this car’s luxury role well.
Fuel economy is incredibly good at a claimed 5.5 L/100km in the city, 5.2 on the highway and 5.3 combined, which despite its performance gains beats last year’s ES 300h hands-down, that model only capable of 5.8, 6.1 and 5.9 respectively. The new ES 300h handily outmaneuvers its Lincoln MKZ Hybrid archrival past the pumps too, the domestic luxury sedan only managing 5.7 city, 6.2 highway and 5.9 combined, while other notable efficiency comparisons include the conventionally powered ES 350 that gets a rating of 10.6 city, 7.2 highway and 9.1 combined, the same car with its F Sport styling upgrade that manages 10.9, 7.5 and 9.4 respectively, and the regular GS 350 AWD with its 12.3, 9.1 and 10.9 rating, while last year’s GS 450h hybrid eked out an impressive 8.0 city, 6.9 highway and 7.5 combined, but it’s no longer available so the point is moot unless you can find a new one lurking around your local Lexus dealer or are willing to live with a pre-owned example.
You might find the latter difficult being the GS is as rare as the proverbial bird’s teeth, with year-to-date sales a scant 82 units as of August 31, compared to 1,445 down the road for the ES. That latter total makes for the mid-size luxury segment’s second-best results behind the Mercedes-Benz E/CLS-Class, plus the category’s best growth at 55.54 percent over the same eight months of last year. Only two rivals saw any upside at all, Mercedes’ E/CLS-Class (which also includes a coupe and convertible) up by 1.24 percent, plus Audi’s A6 and A7 with 18.87 and 24.28 percent YTD growth respectively, the latter two cars only capable of garnering 441 and 430 unit sales apiece during those eight months, however.
In case you were wondering, the GS, its sales down 43.84 percent, wasn’t last, with Jaguar’s XF having lost 52.89 percent for 57 deliveries, Acura’s RLX down by 24.53 percent for 40 unit sales, and Infiniti’s Q70 dropping 2.56 percent for a 38 unit total. The segment’s biggest loser by percentage is the Lincoln Continental, dropping 56.88 percent so far this year, while closest to positive without going over is the G80 from Hyundai’s upstart Genesis brand that narrowly missed out with a loss of just 0.44 percent (thanks to GoodCarBadCar.net for the detailed sales results).
After witnessing the sales carnage in this mid-size luxury sedan class it’s easy to appreciate why Lexus might eventually choose to keep the ES over the GS, and while anyone that’s driven a GS F might lament such a decision. Personally, I’d back a CEO that makes good, sound business decisions over someone merely wanting a hyper-fast executive shuttle in their fleet. Certainly there’s a reasonable case for image cars, but Lexus is already losing money on its gorgeous LC coupe, which will go a lot further to bolster the brand’s image than an aging four-door sedan could ever do, let alone a car that sells in such small numbers there isn’t much image building being done anyway, so let’s see what happens to the Lexus lineup as we move into the next decade.
One thing is for sure, the ES will continue to fill its unique position within the marketplace, and it will have fewer rivals moving forward. The aforementioned Continental will soon be gone, as will Lincoln’s more directly competitive MKZ, which also comes in electrified hybrid form. Cadillac will also drop its front-drive XTS and CTS, while sales of its newer CT6 are so slow it hardly rates. The only challengers not yet mentioned include BMW’s 5 Series, Volvo’s newish S90, and Tesla’s aging Model S, while some might also shop the ES against Buick’s LaCrosse (also slated for cancellation), the Chrysler 300 (there’s no definitive word about this aging car’s future), and possibly Kia’s impressive Stinger, not to mention large luxury sedans like Toyota’s own Avalon, which is basically the same car as the ES under the sheetmetal, and lastly Nissan’s Maxima, which also gets very close to premium sans highfalutin badge.
Still, the ES has long outsold most of these would-be rivals, and this newest iteration should keep that ball rolling for the next few years. As noted earlier, the ES 350 and ES 300h hybrid are completely redesigned for its seventh generation. No matter whether trimmed out as a base ES 350, upgraded to its more athletic looking ES 350 F Sport trim, or delivered in classy as-tested ES 300h form, Lexus’ front-drive four-door now adds an entirely new level of visual drama to its outward design.
The car’s trademark spindle grille is larger and considerably more expressive, its origami-inspired LED headlight clusters more complex with sharper edges, its side profile longer and sleeker with a more pronounced front overhang and a swoopier sweep to its C pillars that now taper downward over a shorter, taller trunk lid, while its rear end styling is more aggressively penned due to a much bigger crescent-shaped spoiler that hovers above expansive triangular wrap-around LED taillights.
The overall design toys with the mind, initially flowing smoothly from the grille rearward, overtop the hood and down each sculpted side, but then it culminates into a clamour of dissonant creases, folds and cutlines at back. Still, it comes together quite well overall, and certainly won’t conjure any of the model’s previous criticisms about yawn-inducing styling.
Similar can be said of the interior, but instead of sharp edges the cabin combines myriad horizontal planes and softer angles with higher-grade materials than the outgoing ES, not to mention a few design details pulled from the LFA supercar, particularly the black knurled metal pods hanging off each side of the primary instrument hood, the left one for turning off the traction control, and the knob to the right for scrolling between Normal, Eco and Sport modes.
Between those unorthodox pods is a standard digital gauge cluster that once again was inspired by the LFA supercar and plenty of lesser Lexus road cars since, this one providing real-time energy monitoring via a nice flowing graphic just to the left of the speedometer, while the infotainment display at dash central measures a minimum of 8.0 inches up to the sizeable 12.3-inch unit tested, yet both look even larger due to all the extra black glass bordering each side, the left portion hiding a classic LED-backlit analogue clock underneath. The high-definition display gets attractive graphics plus deep, rich colours and contrast, plus responds quickly to inputs.
When opting for the as-tested ES 300h hybrid the infotainment interface now comes standard with Apple CarPlay for those who’d rather not integrate their smartphone via Lexus’ proprietary Enform system. This said Enform is arguably more comprehensive and easier to use than Android Auto, which is not included anyway, while standard Enform 2.0 apps include info on fuel prices, traffic incidents, weather, sports, and stocks, plus it’s also bundled with Scout GPS Link, Slacker, Yelp, and more.
The 2019 ES 300h also gets an updated Remote Touch Interface trackpad controller on the lower console, which allows gesture controls like tap, pinch and swipe, and works much better than previous versions, with more accurate responses, especially to tap inputs, while other standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, Bi-LED headlamps, LED taillights, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a nicely shaped leather-wrapped steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, 10-speaker audio with satellite radio, a deodorizing, dust and pollen filtered dual-zone automatic climate control system, truly comfortable 10-way powered front seats with both three-way heat and ventilation, NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, all the usual active and passive safety equipment including 10 airbags, plus much more.
Safety in mind, the new ES 300h comes standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that features an autonomous emergency braking pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, plus lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, new Lane Tracing Assist (LTA) automated lane guidance, automatic high beams, and full-speed range adaptive cruise control, all of which worked well, without being overly sensitive.
The just-noted 12.3-inch infotainment display comes as part of an optional $3,800 Premium package that also adds blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse tilting side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a toasty heatable steering wheel that along with the heated front seats comes on automatically upon startup (I love this last feature), front seat and side mirror memory, accurate navigation with incredibly detailed mapping, and Enform Destination Assist that provides 24/7 live assistance for finding destinations or points of interest.
Alternatively you can choose the even more comprehensive $10,600 Luxury package that combines everything from the Premium package with unique 18-inch alloy wheels, ultra-bright Tri-LED headlamps, much appreciated Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, full leather upholstery, and a powered rear window sunshade.
Lastly, the as-tested $14,500 Ultra Luxury package builds on the Luxury package with an attractive set of 18-inch noise reduction alloy wheels, calming ambient interior lighting, a really useful 10-inch head-up display, a 360-degree surround parking monitor that made getting into awkward parking spaces easier, a sensational sounding 17-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, softer and more comfortable semi-aniline leather upholstery, rear door sunshades, and a touch-free gesture control powered trunk lid.
Needless to say this $61,500 model is the most lavishly equipped Lexus ES 300h to date, but it also provides the best ES driving experience by a long shot. Of course, those who love a comforting ride will appreciate the ES for its suspension compliance, the fully independent setup combining front struts and a multi-link rear setup, albeit revised for 2019 with newly developed Dynamic Control Shocks that include an auxiliary valve to complement the main damper valve in order to respond better to subtler movement. The front suspension was reworked for both comfort and stability, while additional adjustments made to the rear trailing arm and stabilizer bar mounting points helped minimize body lean, all resulting in an ES that’s quite adept through fast-paced curves.
The ES 300h is actually quite fun to drive now, something I would not have admitted to previously, Lexus even including steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to swap a set of simulated gears that mimic the real thing quite well when in Sport mode, plus this enthusiast setting also adds torque at low speeds and provides a tachometer within the digital gauge cluster to monitor all the action. Those purchasing their ES 300h for economical or environmental reasons might prefer Eco mode that improves fuel economy, while EV mode lets you cruise silently at low speed for short durations.
Enhancing efficiency yet more is new Auto Glide Control that allows the ES to coast more freely when lifting off the throttle, instead of slowing down automatically from automatic regenerative braking.
No matter the speed this wind-cheating ES is now the quietest yet, thanks to twice as much structural adhesive, improving noise, vibration and harshness levels, front fender liners and underbody covers, and sound deadening material coating 93 percent of the ES 300h’s floor pan, a major increase over the previous car’s 68 percent area coverage.
The aforementioned battery is smaller but more potent, by the way, and is now located under the rear seat and not in the trunk, which makes the cargo area identical in size to the non-hybrid ES 350 at 473 litres (16.7 cu ft). It also allows for a centre pass-through capable of swallowing up skis or other long items, and therefore allows rear passengers to enjoy the more comfortable window seats. And yes, the ES is roomy and comfortable no matter where you’re seated.
Interior finishings are a lot nicer than previous generation ES models, with higher quality soft-touch composite surfacing being used, and more of it. This said, the lower door panels are still hard plastic, as are the sides of the centre console. Lexus smartly includes the wireless device charger under the armrest in the centre console bin, so you can keep your phone away from otherwise distracted eyes.
All of the switchgear is improved over previous generations too, with some noteworthy details being those aforementioned pods that stick out each side of the instrument cluster, the little round metal buttons on the centre stack for controlling the radio, media, and seek/track functions, the temperature control switches, and, while not exactly switchgear, the speaker grilles and surrounds for the Mark Levinson audio system. The hardwood trim feels genuine because it’s actually real, and comes in Striated Black, Linear Dark Mocha or Linear Espresso, while the metallic accents are nicely finished and tastefully applied.
Over the past 20 or so years of covering all things automotive I’ve spent many weeks with Lexus’ ES in both conventionally powered and hybrid forms, so therefore now that I’ve spent yet another seven days with this all-new 2019 ES 300h I can confidently promise that ES enthusiasts will like it best of all. It incorporates all previous ES attributes yet makes them better, resulting in one of the most impressive entry-level luxury sedans ever created.