Designed by Makoto Oshima, the RX was designed to be a crossover between a luxury sedan and an SUV. The Lexus RX began as a compact crossover, but the succeeding generations grew and entered the mid-size class. When Lexus launched the Lexus LX in 1995, it saw the potential market for a smaller five-seat version. This foresight resulted in the Lexus RX.
As one of the earliest luxury crossovers in the market, the Lexus RX enjoyed strong sales from its introduction, becoming the best-selling luxury SUV in the US since its release. Initially produced and sold as the Toyota Harrier in late 1997, it was exported and rebadged the year after as the first Lexus RX.
The Lexus RX led the way to other manufacturers getting into the mid-size crossover market. Soon after its release, the US, German and other Japanese competitors hurried to come up with entry models to the mid-size luxury crossover niche, which has now become one of the most successful auto categories.
First Generation (XU10), 1998-2003
In 1997, the concept SLV (Sport Luxury Vehicle) was unveiled at the Chicago Motor Show. It featured high ground clearance in a luxury sedan-like package with four doors, a lift-up rear door, and five seats. The first-generation Lexus RX was only sold in Japan and soon after in the US and other select countries.
Most SUVs sold during this period was a body-on-frame design, while the Lexus RX adopted a unibody chassis that was more related to a car design rather than to an SUV. This first release was classed as a compact crossover, based on the ES 300 sedan.
When released in Japan as the Toyota Harrier, it had options for two inline-4 engines and a V6.
- 2.2L 5S-FE I4 (102 kW/ 191 N⋅m)
- 2.4L 2AZ-FE I4 (120 kW/ 231 N⋅m)
- 3.0L 1MZ-FE V6 (130 kW/ 195 N⋅m)
The Japanese Harrier four-cylinder front-wheel drive (SXU100) and all-wheel drive (SXU15) were both fitted with a 4-speed automatic. In 1998, exports started with the Harrier rebadged as the Lexus RX 300. It was powered by the V6 in either front-wheel drive (MCU10) or all-wheel drive (MCU15) and was also equipped with a 4-speed automatic. The first-generation RX was not sold in Australia and other countries directly, but numerous units found their way to a few right-hand drive countries as grey market imports.
Second Generation (XU30), 2003-2008
In 2003, the second-generation Lexus RX had its debut at the North American International Auto Show. It was an all-new model based on the XU30 platform (Toyota K platform) and was now bigger and classed as a mid-size crossover. Sporting a new body contour, it had a more sloping rear window and door and featured the latest safety, infotainment and convenience packages now found in other Lexus models.
Standard features included eight airbags, ABS, cruise control, EBD, front fog lights, leather upholstery, traction control system, and vehicle stability control, with satellite navigation and the premium Mark Levinson audio system offered as options.
Australian dealerships received the first Lexus RX as the RX 330 FWD (MCU33) powered by the 3.3L 3MZ-FE V6 (172 kW/ 328 N⋅m) and coupled to a 5-speed sequential automatic. The RX 330 was sold in two trims, RX 330 Sports and RX 330 Sports Luxury. In 2006, the RX 350 and RX 400h joined the line-up. The RX 350 was available in Sports and Sports Luxury trims and was powered by the 3.5L 2GR-FE V6 (203 kW/ 342 N⋅m) with a 5-speed sequential automatic. The all-wheel-drive RX 400h Hybrid came with the 3.3L 3MZ-FEV6 similar to the RX 330, with a 123-kW front electric motor and a 50-kW rear electric motor that produced a combined 200 kW from all three sources. The 400h was equipped with a CVT that combines all the power from the petrol engine and electric motors.
In the US and other countries, the RX 330 and RX 350 were available in all-wheel-drive versions and powered by their same respective powerplants. An RX 300 was available in Europe and Asia and was powered by the 3.0L 1MZ-FE V6 which was only sold as an all-wheel-drive version.
The Lexus RX received a mid-cycle refresh in 2007-2008 which featured a revised grille, chrome door handles, and new exterior colour choices together with an option for Bird's eye maple wood with grey interior.
Third Generation (AL10), 2008-2015
Lexus unveiled the third-generation in November 2008. It now featured the L-finesse design concept and was sold as the 2009 model. The new RX now comes with a rear spoiler that hides the rear wiper and antenna resulting in a cleaner appearance. The overall body style didn't change much, although it is now approximately 50mm longer than the previous. Together with the change to a double-wishbone rear suspension, this resulted in increased cargo space. Up at the front, the new RX now wore the familiar spindle grille, chrome surrounds, and new headlamps found in recent Lexus models.
The third-generation RX was now also equipped with the Lexus SmartAccess, a keyless entry-and-start system. The interior was also completely redesigned with the instrument cluster now lighted by an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) rather than the previous TFT-LCD display.
The Australian model line-up consisted of the RX 350 Prestige, RX 350 Sports, RX 350 Sports Luxury, RX 450h Prestige, RX 450h Sports and the RX 450h Sports Luxury. The RX 350 models were powered by the 3.5L 2GR-FE V6 (204 kW/ 346 N⋅m) coupled to a 6-speed automatic. The RX 450h models came with a 3.5L 2GR-FXE V6 (183 kW/ 317 N⋅m) with two electric motors and a combined total power output of 220 kW with power being transmitted by a CVT.
The RX 450h has a combined fuel consumption of 6.3 L/100km and a CO2 emissions rating of 148 g/km, which is considerably less than a Toyota Corolla's 175 g/km. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h was timed at 7.8 seconds.
In 2012, another model was added, the RX 270. Initially only sold in base trim, the RX 270 X (FWD) was added the year after. Power came from a 2.7L 1AR-FE I4 (138 kW/ 252 N⋅m) and equipped with a 6-speed automatic. The RX 270 was now the entry-level RX but came with all the standard features found in its higher-displacement siblings.
During this year, the F Sport version was also offered for the RX 350 and RX 450h. The F Sport was not just a cosmetic upgrade with a honeycomb grille but more significantly had extra bracing across the firewall at the lower end of the front struts and at the rear bulkhead which significantly improved handling and steering response.
A mid-cycle refresh was also done in 2012 which incorporated a new grille, headlamps and tail lamps together with the now-familiar LED daytime running lights. The RX 350 and RX 270 AWD models were also available in select countries worldwide.
Fourth Generation (AL20), 2015-Present
Introduced in 2015 at the New York International Auto Show, the fourth-generation Lexus RX now featured a floating roof design and a new and much more pronounced spindle grille. Designed on a new platform, the new RX grew in size and came equipped with the latest Lexus technology and refinements as one of the brand's most popular crossovers.
A newcomer to the RX line is the RX 200t offered in F Sport, Luxury and Sports Luxury trims. It is powered by 2.0L turbocharge 8AR-FTS I4 (175 kW/ 350 N⋅m) coupled to a 6-speed automatic. The RX 350 models are packaged as an F Sport, Luxury and Sports luxury and come equipped with a 3.5L 2GR-FKS V6 (221 kW/ 370 N⋅m) and now coupled to an 8-speed automatic. The hybrid model RX 450h now comes with the 3.5L2GR-FXS V6 (230 kW/ 335 N⋅m) with a CVT.
The RX models received an update for the 2019 model series and now come with the new Lexus Safety System +2. Further upgrades are also continually being added, such as the updated touchpad and touchscreen infotainment system. In 2020, the RX is marketed in 5-seat and 7-seat configurations. These are initially developed as the RX L, featuring redesigned headlamps together with the front and rear bumpers.
Lexus RX - One of the Best Luxury Crossovers Around
The Lexus RX has been around for four generations, three generations in Australia. It has grown in size from a compact crossover to mid-size and about the same dimensions as many SUVs, featuring standard features and technology most of which are not even optioned in rival models.
Today, you need not choose between a luxurious but space-challenged sedan and a reliable yet not very well-appointed SUV. The crossovers have combined the best of both worlds, as they say, albeit not very capable in the off-road role. The RX series has given the buyer a choice between the larger LX series and the newer and smaller NX and UX series.
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