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Car Review: Lexus RX SUV will tempt naysayers

The fourth-generation full-sized Lexus sport utility vehicle arrives – and it’s big news.

Plenty of people have bought into the Lexus brand for its engineering, quality and reliability, since the first LS limousine of 1989. But, if you are one of the few who never considered the marque because of some je ne sais quoi, it’s time to think again, because we’re in the midst of a Lexus renaissance.

Take this RX sport utility vehicle. Just look at the chiselled body, with bold slabs and smart creases all around. Granted, although we like the aesthetic, it might not be to everybody’s tastes, but you can no longer say that Lexus cars are bland.

The best thing, though, is that all its cars now share a distinctive Lexus identity, with the signature “spindle grille” front and centre, and sharp head- and tail lamps. The lack of a common design language has long been a problem for Lexus, because of its badge engineering with Toyota cars. But no more. The RX is now decoupled from its Toyota Harrier equivalent and is on its own separate development track. In fact, the model has moved up a rung, with the earlier launch of the NX series to take up the entry-level position in the Lexus SUV line-up.

And the results are clear. The car, while just being slightly bigger, is now much better built and more luxuriously appointed. The quality is indistinguishable from that of its German rivals, perhaps even a level upped. Everything feels well weighted and solidly built. The attention to detail is unparalleled.

The interior door grab handle, for instance, is lined with a delightful felt-like material, presumably for better tactility, as well as to prevent fingernails from marking the leather over time. The centre console is another sight to behold, featuring an artisan-like laser-cut wood that exposes beautiful strips of aluminium ornamentation underneath.

We drove the RX Turbo variant in Luxury trim, which deploys a two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder lump: the first force-fed motor in the RX. While the dull engine note won’t set your pulse racing, it is thankfully so soft that you don’t really hear it, and does the job as smoothly as a larger V6. The ride is perfect for Singapore roads – this car being engineered for similarly well-paved American highways – yet the handling holds its own on slightly twistier tarmac.

The car also includes everything but the kitchen sink that competitors will nickel and dime you over, like a panoramic glass roof, powered rear seats that fold with a button, colour head-up display and a leather-clad dashboard. The Bluetooth-enabled sound system is also one of the best we’ve tested, instantly reconnecting to Spotify whenever you step back into the car, as long as the app is still running in the background on the phone.

The “poverty” Executive spec is quite a bit cheaper but is driven only by the front wheels instead of all four. There’s also a driver-focused F Sport model with paddle shifts and dynamic suspension. Hybrid and V6 drivetrains will be added to the range later this year, with the former being the one we’d like check out, hybrids being what Lexus does best. But as it stands, you won’t be disappointed with the RX Turbo.

THE NUMBERS

ENGINE: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbo
POWER: 237bhp from 4,800 to 5,600rpm
TORQUE: 350Nm from 1,650 to 4,000rpm 0-100
KMH: 9.5sec
TOP SPEED: 200kmh