The Lexus RX 350 proves the worth of a big engine in a downsized era
“There’s no replacement for displacement” the old saying goes, but it’s a simpler phrase for a simpler time. Indeed when it comes down to it, putting a large, naturally-aspirated engine makes for a purer, simpler driving experience than slapping on a turbocharger.
But there is a replacement for displacement, and in the modern world that replacement is almost mandatory, given turbocharging, direct injection, computer control, flow modelling, exhaust gas recirculation, and a host of other technologies means it’s almost the only way to go to get more power and meet emissions requirements.
One of the big stories of recent times is Lexus and its move toward turbos. Yet the brand has always had smooth, turbine-like, non-turbo engines in its DNA right from its inception, as shown in the famous ‘wineglass’ advertisement with the first-gen LS.
So much so that the new turbocharged 2.0-litre engine from Lexus, as first debuted in the mid-sized NX SUV, the NX 200t, and now in the IS Turbo and GS Turbo, feels much smoother and ‘un-turbo-ish’ than European offerings. It’s still a turbo, however, and however smooth it may be, simply can’t recreate the joy of natural aspiration.
No surprise then, that Lexus is still a bastion of naturally-aspirated engines as its stonking RC F and GS F, both equipped with the fire-breathing 5.0-litre V8 show. But if you hanker for something less monstrous but with all the classic Lexus values, well then you’re still in luck, because here’s the RX 350 with a lovely, huge 3.5-litre V6 engine.
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The new RX, which launched this year, is a radical switch of ball game for Lexus, not just because it’s like someone took the a Caravaggio and replaced it with Picasso, but now the RX Turbo makes up the bulk of the model’s sales.
That’s because the 2.0-turbo engine replaces the smaller Lexus engines – such as the 2.7-litre inline 4 of the previous RX 270 or the 2.5-litre V6 of the IS 250 – which leave the 350s to remain as the top regular-petrol offerings. So there’s that of course, the factor of getting a bigger, more powerful engine simply because you can. And if you can, you’ll certainly enjoy it.
The V6 doesn’t disappoint in the RX. Despite not having huge power or torque numbers, it’s all about how it feels from behind the wheel: Never too much and never too little. Power is metered out from the engine in a totally predictable manner, and followed by a lovely, purring soundtrack that has an extra zing turbos can’t match, even in this relaxed state of tune.
There are three drive modes selectable by the control wheel – Eco, Normal, Sport – which indicates that this model, the Luxury, doesn’t have adaptive dampers but it rides and handles well enough that it doesn’t need them. The sole drawback? Being a big SUV with a big engine, it’ll struggle to better 10L/100km in local traffic, since there’s also no start-stop on this model, which is a curious omission. It’s better than before, though, as it’s more powerful but cleaner than the old one, which turned out 270bhp, 10.7L/100km and 250g/km, and these improvements are largely down to less weight, a better gearbox and more tightly-controlled parameters (injection etc).
Refinement, it almost goes without saying, is excellent. The new RX isn’t the most pointy SUV around, since it leaves that sort of thing to the Germans or the RX 200t F Sport, but it’s not lardy either and far less boat-like than its lazy-to-turn predecessor.
On the inside, Lexus proves it’s still the king of interior quality, a Lexus still being the sort of car that makes your blood pressure drop once you get inside it. There isn’t a single stitch, gap or seam out of place, and especially noteworthy is the laser-etched aluminium-wood trim (made by Yamaha with a patented process) on the centre console.
It’s better than the Ferrari 488 Spider’s interior, and even neater than that of the Big Three Germans and truly not that far from a Rolls-Royce’s. In terms of connectivity and advanced infotainment the Lexus Remote Touch system isn’t as precise or with graphics as sharp or lag-free, but it’s the simplest to use. The Luxury version also gets all the goodies – sunroof, remote folding rear seats, automated tailgate and lots more – to make your life easier.
The V6 heart of the RX 350 proves there’s still no replacement for displacement, at least in emotional terms. Simple and analogue paired with elegance and lots of luxury is the name of the game with the most charmingly old-school of the new school Lexii.
Lexus RX 350 Luxury
Engine 3,456cc, 24V, V6
Power 296hp at 6000rpm
Torque 370Nm at 4600rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 200km/h
0-100km/h 7.9 seconds
Fuel efficiency 9.6L/100km
Price $335,000 with COE