For years the biggest selling Lexus in the US was
the RX300 - the mid-size four-wheel drive that we tested (in grey market import
form) at New Car Test - Toyota Harrier/Lexus RX300.
In fact, Lexus sales in the US increased by 60 per cent a year after its
introduction. The RX300 was a car that would also have suited the Australian new
car market - but the local arm of Lexus couldn't get it. So when the new model
RX330 was on the drawing board they put in a word early - and now we have
available a car that is likely to prove very important to Lexus and also a
heavyweight in the field of softroaders.
The RX330 is in the BMW X5 and Honda MDX mould -
suitable for families and a size up over the Honda CRV and Rav4 class. However,
it's not a 'serious' off-roader in the way of its larger brother
Landcruiser-based RX470 - instead it's built largely around the mechanicals of
the Toyota Kluger but clothed in a more stylish body and boasting a far higher
equipment level. Pricing starts at $69,990, with the as-tested Sports Luxury
model coming in at $78,500. We loved the Kluger
(see New Car Test -Toyota Kluger CVX)
but the RX330 is over half as expensive again...
The RX330 is powered by an all-alloy, 172kW,
3.3-litre V6. A technically advanced engine with variable valve timing, the
engine boasts Ultra Low Emission status in the US and has a handy 328Nm of
torque at 3600 rpm. It works with a 5-speed Tiptronic style auto and an
active-control centre diff that distributes the torque to all four wheels.
Contact with the ground is through Michelin Energy 225/65 LX4 tyres on alloy
Think '172kW' and you might also think
scintillating performance but - at least in the car we had - performance was
average. We struggled to beat 100 km/h in anything better than the high
nine-second bracket - a long way short of the acceleration we achieved in the
competitor Honda MDX and also much slower than the claimed time of 8.4 seconds.
However, the driveline is sweet and smooth, with sufficient power and response
for most driving situations. At 12-15 litres/100 km, fuel consumption is
competent in this class.
Once Lexus prided themselves on the handling of
their vehicles but the RX330 represents the same philosophical direction that
we've seen in many recent Lexus models. On the road it's fine up to a certain
point and then, whammo!, you've stepped past what the engineers regarded as
sufficient grip. In the case of the RX330, nothing then startling happens: the
stability control system simply beeps a lot and the car is electronically
settled. However, it needs to be noted that the stability control comes in
awfully early - if you're the sort of driver who at times pedals even
semi-sportingly, you're sure to meet the electronics around a bend.
Start to really throw the RX330 around and
the system almost completely shuts the car down, with electronic throttle retard
and braking both occurring in major doses.
However, the corollary of all that is that the
RX330 is a very hard car to have an accident in; especially in wet conditions it
shows excellent stability and predictability in behaviour. Just don't look at
its attractively sporty shape, read it 'sports luxury' tag, think of 172kW and
all-wheel drive - and expect it to drive like any kind of sporting car. It
The ride is excellent, well-controlled and capable
of absorbing rough surfaces with only minimal unpleasantness to the occupants.
Together with the high equipment level, excellent NVH (noise vibration
harshness) suppression, good steering and 'command' driving position, the RX330
is a comfortable car in which to cover both long and short distances.
One of the highlights of the Lexus is the vast
array of equipment - and how well it all works. Unlike some luxury four-wheel
drives - where the climate control can blow hot and cold and the cruise control
is jerky - the equipment operates in a seamlessly excellent way. Boasting a
large centre-of-dash LCD touchscreen which is used interactively for
personalising settings and also for displaying data from the DVD-based navigation and
trip computer, the car is also equipped with a colour reversing camera (the view
appears on the LCD), leather, sunroof, a Mark Levinson in-dash multi-CD sound
system (good - but the treble could be better), power front seats (driver's has
memories) and a powered tail-gate. A what? Well, by pressing a button on the
dash or the remote, the rear door can be lifted automatically. When your arms
are full of groceries, it works very well.
Downers? Well, if you're in the habit of manually
adjusting air con fan speed and other climate control details, you'll have to
use the touch screen - only the temp and on/off status of the complete climate
control system can be quickly accessed by normal pushbutton controls.
Numerous airbags are fitted - try intelligent
multi-stage driver and passenger SRS airbags, TAP (Thorax-Abdomen-Pelvis) front
seat side airbags, full-length side curtain shield airbags and an 18-litre
driver's knee airbag! A first aid kit and warning triangle are also
The interior of the cabin has been designed with a
close eye to practicality: the door pockets open for easy access, the centre
console slides forward and backwards to allow (albeit tight) walk-through access
to the rear, there are lots of cupholders and the rear fold-down seat splits in
a 40/20/40 ratio and can be slid forward for more load space. When folded, the
rear seat locks into a flat position. Back seat passengers have adequate
(although not generous) space - move the front seats forward a little and it's
The RX330 in a superbly built, highly-equipped
car. What you see in the showroom is largely what you get on the road - quiet,
smooth and comfortable. Whether it's worth so much more than the Kluger depends
rather on how much buying weight you put in the extra equipment; however, the
RX330 does come together as an integrated luxury car, rather than a tarted-up
lower-spec model. We were a touch disappointed with the driving dynamics but for
most buyers it'll be just fine: we're sure that the RX330 will be a local sales
Why you would:
- Excellent build quality
- Highly equipped
- Very comfortable
- Within grip levels, safe and secure
Why you wouldn't:
- Performance slower than expected
- Nothing sporting about the handling
- Climate control can be fiddly to
The Lexus RX330 was made available for this
test by Lexus Australia