Lexus RX 200t F Sport: If Looks Could Kill

2016 Lexus RX 200t F Sport front quarter With a 2-inch longer wheelbase than its predecessor, the new Lexus RX 200t is a large SUV that offers better head and legroom to appeal to a larger market. The tough, no-nonsense exterior proposition will surely appeal to go-getters and the domineering types who wish to win big in their careers and on the road, while also appealing to the gentler folk with a mean streak once they get behind the wheel.

Lexus RX, together with its more affordable sibling the Toyota Harrier have dominated the SUV market for a long time now, ever since Toyota unleashed the first Lexus RX way back in 1998. Parallel importers made tons of money bringing the luxury SUV into our market and the early Millennium saw a lot of RX/Harriers plying our highways in a multitude of specs and powertrains.

Back then, the Harrier was essentially a JDM version of the RX. However, the latest generation Harrier (XU60) now sits on a similar platform as that of Toyota’s C-segment offerings, namely Altis, RAV4 and Alphard while the latest RX (AL20) rides on the larger K platform that underpins the conglomerate’s larger offerings including the new Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES among others. This differentiation is good for the company, especially in markets where both models are sold. In Malaysia, the Harrier is not an official product by UMW Toyota Motor for now unlike the RX which enjoys full manufacturer backing, but who knows what the future may bring? There’s talk about a possibility of Toyota bringing in the latest generation perennial favorite the Alphard/Vellfire, but that would beg a whole set of questions which we do not have the answer to at the moment.

Lexus RX 200t F Sport: Exterior

2016 Lexus RX 200t F Sport front2016 Lexus RX 200t F Sport rear quarter

The aesthetics of the new RX takes the cake among Lexus’ stable of mass offerings, with a beautifully sculpted silhouette that literally takes your breath away upon first encounter. It exudes a certain kind of grace and muscularity all rolled into a tight package that neither shouts too loud nor squeaks too softly in the corner. Many may mistake the new RX for the smaller NX, but fans will know the difference all too well.

Although both RX and NX share similar design underpinnings, it seems as if the designers built the RX to perfection and then downsized a little to confine it within the segment limitations of the NX. Only when you appreciate the dimensions of the RX would you then realize the NX seems a little too narrow and tallish. When appreciated from the front, the RX carries the company’s signature look very smartly, with dimensions being just right. Naturally, the spindle grill takes center stage here, accentuated by the deep rake of the headlights that draw your eyes to the grill even more. The sharp edges of the fog lamp housings also do their part to point you in the right direction.

The menacing headlights on our F Sport test model feature LED technology, with three separate modules per side for maximum allowable illumination. Said LEDs render night breaking performance at around 4800 Kelvin color temperature which is whiter than traditional original equipment Xenons (4200K) while still making them highly legible during rain or fog. Today’s luxury mobiles not only have to look good in the day, they need to shine at night too. The supplied fog lamps are also of the LED variety which complements the main lights nicely.

Being such a large SUV, you’d expect the RX 200t to look a little pudgy from the side, but thanks to the efforts put in by Chief Designer Gen Ikeda and his team, they’ve managed to pull off a design that hides nothing of its size yet able to look svelte and desirable. The deep wheel arches house sporty 20-inch wheels to great effect, wrapped in Bridgestone Dueler tires in 235/55 R20 configuration.

It is round the back that the NX manages to snatch a victory over its bigger sibling with the former’s more accentuated and angular tail light combo that looks more congruent with the frontal design cues when compared to the more pedestrian design on the RX. Having said that, the RX has an ace up its sleeve in the form of running LED turn signals fore and aft, a first for Lexus, and what a fantastic addition to an already stellar design overall. When you activate the turn signals, the amber LEDs light up and outwards in succession, like markers on an airport runway. Granted, Lexus isn’t the first manufacturer to adorn their vehicles with this flashy feature, but it’s always better late than never, especially since not many manufacturers have adopted the system yet. One other point worthy of mention is the use of scratch-resistant and self-restoring paint on the RX which means your RX will remain shiny and new for quite a long time.

Lexus RX 200t F Sport: Interior

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It’s always very hard to write anything meaningful about any Lexus’ interior, since they’re always very well appointed with bells and whistles to satisfy even the harshest critic. When it comes to interiors, let’s just say that Lexus is right up there among the best makers the world has to offer. And while the fit and finish are par excellence, there is a certain grace about the entirety of its interior design that subtly showcases the tenets of fine craftsmanship that is unmistakably Japanese.

Luxuriously appointed in red-colored Nappa leather to help justify its higher asking price, the F Sport variant on test was a brilliant showcase of what could be achieved if cost was not an issue. The front seats do not hug you as snugly as the ones in the IS 200t, but they offered plenty of support for spirited driving without making you feel like you were driving a sports car. The rear seats are equally supportive, and are angled slightly upwards so you won’t be sliding forwards as much as you would in regular SUVs which usually feature flat squabs. Legroom is aplenty front and back, and should fit most Asian sized individuals with ease.

As is typical of the current state of affairs, the dashboard of the new Lexus RX 200t stays true to form, with an all too familiar layout with all the controls at your fingertips. If I were to nitpick, I would have preferred the drive mode dial to be placed a little more towards the front so that I don’t have to stretch my arm backwards to alter drive characteristics on the fly. An initial skepticism that I found in the car was the placement of the large, floor-mounted accelerator pedal, which in my initial assessment was angled a bit too far to the right. That was until I realized that in the position that the throttle and brake pedals were placed, it was far easier to do a heel and toe maneuver, but in the end I was left wondering if that was indeed Lexus’ intentions for the car, to be a cornering king.

Mechanicals

2016 Lexus RX 200t F Sport interior engine bay
As is now in the fashion these days among manufacturers, Lexus saw fit to bequeath a variant of the marque’s latest 2-liter turbocharged mill into the 200t variant, which happens to be the base engine available. Two other engine options are on offer, a 295hp 3.5l V6 petrol unit and a 258hp 3.5l V6 hybrid mill that runs purely in the Atkinson cycle for maximum efficiency. The 8AR-FTS mill in the RX 200t (including the F Sport variant) is identical to the one found in the NX 200t, a powerplant that delivers 235hp between 4,800-5,600rpm while churning out 350 Newtons of twist between 1,650-4,000rpm, harnessed to a 6-Speed slushbox with Super ECT and AI Shift, which is exactly what can be found in the NX.

The beauty of this turbocharged engine with Dual VVT-iW in the RX 200t is that during initial takeoff it will run in the more powerful, conventional Otto cycle, but once you’ve attained cruising speed it switches over to the fuel-sipping Atkinson cycle to give you more miles to the gallon. Power goes to all four wheels for maximum traction and stability when required, splitting torque automatically up to 50:50, otherwise it runs in 2WD for better economy

The F Sport variant on test features Lexus’ AVS (Adaptive Variable Suspension) that continuously adjusts damping rates to offer unprecedented ownership of the road under all driving conditions. Simply turn the drive mode dial to S+ to experience less body roll and a higher cornering limit. A Roll Skyhook Control (RSC) system actively stabilizes the car in a corner, further extending the RX’ sporty intentions, so lesser variants without AVS can still enjoy some measure of sportiness when attacking corners in a hurry.

Ride and Handling

Not surprisingly, the Lexus RX 200t handles similarly to its younger sibling (NX) since they’re both essentially similarly sprung. Having said that, the NX is a more stable performer, cornering flatter than the RX due largely to the much higher kerb weight of the latter. At 1,860kg the NX is no featherweight by a long shot, unless you pit it against the 2,070kg of the larger RX. At over 2 metric tons, the RX is quite a difficult beast to tame around the bends, exhibiting a slightly higher instance of body roll against the lighter NX. The latter performed better in corners even without an active stabilization system to check body roll.

The main hallmark of a Lexus is its ability to remain poised and elegant when chauffeured but give it a good stab and Mr. Hyde immediately manifests itself. The same characteristic can be found in the RX 200t as well, and especially if you twist the dial to the wrong side of sensible. Driving sensibly in Normal or Eco modes, the car behaves itself, absorbing most tarmac imperfections with ease. However, once you turn the knob to the right into S and S+ territory, it quickens its pace to match your racing heartbeat while tightening up the steering response at the same time, plus it sharpens up the throttle response and gear change behavior for the times when you need to vent.

The supplied 235/55 R20 Bridgestone Dueler tires are quiet enough to let me appreciate the excellent Dolby Digital system in the car, thanks in part also to the stellar soundproofing and solidity of the car’s suspension setup. And even though a 235mm tread with a diameter of 20” seems like a lot of rubber, in reality they are a little on the skinny side, especially for a 20-incher. However, if they had gone with wider tires there would be more road noise and rolling resistance so a trade-off had to be made.

The base engine in the RX 200t can best be described as adequate for the job. Hauling 2 tons of kerb weight is one thing, hauling 2 tons of mass and 5 occupants is another thing altogether. Thankfully, the turbocharger elevates the performance of the car to acceptable levels, with adequate torque to pull it along nicely. In spite of its credentials, there is only so much that it can do with whatever it has on tap. I reckon the 3.5l V6 to be that bit more fun to drive, albeit not as eco and wallet friendly. In terms of overall ability though, the RX 200t resides in the upper rung of SUV territory, joined by the likes of the X5, Q7 and Touareg to name a few worthy opponents.

In-Car Entertainment

The RX 200t F Sport comes with a 12-speaker Lexus Premium Audio system with Dolby Digital signal processing and subwoofer like in the lesser variants. Only the RX 350 F Sport and RX 450h come with a 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. Suffice to say that Lexus’ own premium system is way up there amongst the best manufacturer equipped audio systems in a mass-produced automobile, even better than many premium Continental makes.

The deep rake of the front windscreen provided a conducive acoustical environment that gives the sound an overall depth and layering that is lacking in the NX 200t that we tested previously. Otherwise, tonality is quite similar with the system in the NX, with good punchy bass, a sweet mid-range and subtle highs. Still, the 2013 Lexus ES remains in memory as the sweetest sounding cabin thus far.

Conclusion

With a 2-inch longer wheelbase than its predecessor, the new 2015 Lexus RX 200t is a large SUV that offers better head and legroom to appeal to a larger market. The tough, no-nonsense exterior proposition will surely appeal to go-getters and the domineering types who wish to win big in their careers and on the road, while also appealing to the gentler folk with a mean streak once they get behind the wheel.

While the NX with its friendlier price tag will appeal to a larger market, its more compact dimensions may not appeal to those with families. The RX on the other hand offers a good mix of power and performance coupled with uncompromising luxury within, a rich man’s Harrier if you will. Take your pick from among 6 variants between RM388,800 to 520,200 and in no less than 8 striking colors to choose from too (Platinum Silver, Red, Amber, Sonic Titanium, Graphite Black, Sonic Quartz, Deep Blue and White Nova). Overall I’d give the Lexus RX 200t an 8.5 out of 10 rating for its good looks, superb interior and good handling, let down by a slightly underwhelming heart. With that said, the RX wasn’t meant to be a sports car, even though it is a Sports Utility Vehicle that is more utility than sporty. If it’s fine engineering and craftsmanship that you’re after, then you deserve to give it a spin.

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Text and image: Greg Yang

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