Growing up with bangers skewed my mindset about cars. Back then, you expected trouble. Engines wilted, clutches or brakes suddenly expired, radiators steamed and doors, occasionally, fell off. Nowadays the opposite is true. Yes there are recalls but, in the main, we don’t expect or tolerate extensive mechanical difficulties.
We’ve grown accustomed to minimum levels of proficiency. There are no really bad new cars any more. But with such mechanical advancement comes the difficulty of differentiating between average, good and excellent. More and more, the devil is in the detail.
Which was exactly the case with this week’s review model: the large new hybrid crossover from Lexus called the RX 450hL with its three rows and seven seats.
For context: it is 110mm longer than the parallel RX five-seater. And they have redesigned the side/rear flanks to accommodate the extra row while managing to maintain good head and luggage room. (They even fitted side-curtain shield airbags to protect the third-row passengers.) The extension blended well enough; it didn’t look bolted on.
There’s no doubt that, on several levels, this car meets major requirements for an increasing number of families: it’s a seven-seater and it is not a diesel.
But as it costs from €82,000, it is a posh rather than mainstream option that rivals the likes of the Audi Q7, BMW X5, etc for your money.
Despite that, Lexus expects this seven-seater to account for 40pc of its RX sales.
Considering the price, you would also expect an impressive list of safety and comfort equipment. You definitely get it; no doubt about that.
On a practical level, I found arranging the seating quite easy – the third row rose and folded flat electrically (no labour involved at all). The second row slid easily and tilted.
However, when I had a load of stuff to ferry on one occasion, I was disappointed the second row didn’t fold that flat. Important detail. Yet when that middle row was occupied, my passengers had great room. (We had loads of space up front, too).
As we had no occupants for the third row, I took it upon myself to slide and tilt the middle three and scramble in. I made an undignified show of myself (yes, more than usual) but proved I could do it.
We were most comfortably ensconced in the car for several longer trips – notably to the midlands to bid fond farewell to one of life’s true gentlemen and a bizarre semi off-road trip (it technically has AWD) to an old haunt from years back.
I drove it in Sport mode most of the time because I found the set up far too soft and flouncy even on ordinary roads. It trails many rivals in that department.
It would have returned better fuel consumption (8litres/100km) too if my journeys had been shorter – hybrids fare best in urban traffic as the battery works proportionately more often.
I didn’t hear much from my 3.5-litre V6 petrol, but it was notably thirstier over the longer distances.
Yet even with my criticisms thus far, I’d still say it was more or less as I expected: a big, roomy, comfortable, well thought-out, luxury crossover. The cabin easily matches rivals especially on materials. And as a second-row passenger remarked: the attention to detail is tangible.
But there were devils looking for attention in the detail, too. Most of my remaining cribs focussed on the central infotainment display screen, or more accurately, the wayward pad on the console panel that communicated my demands/tasks to it.
That irked and annoyed. The little pad was maddeningly too sensitive and feckity. I furtively flicked and clicked. It was an unnecessary distraction and did nothing for the driving experience. I’m saying that in the full knowledge that someone, somewhere designed and implemented it as a sensible aid and that I am an utter clot with such subtle manoeuvrings.
But in a modern car set-up, it wasn’t what I wanted. Rivals do better. Isn’t detail a devil all the same? I’d get used to it, I’m sure, but should I have to in an €82,000 car?
I liked the RXL for its comfort and quality of fit-and-finish. But I’d want a more precise and intuitive command system (voice control did help). This is, after all, the area where we interact so much with our vehicles. We’ll do so even more in future. Which means such items will be sniffed most energetically for the detail that will differentiate the good from the not-so-good.
But we also need to keep balance. There may be devils in the RXL’s detail, but there are also several saints in its overall accomplishment as a comfy family crossover.
Facts and figures
Lexus RX 450hL seven-seat hybrid crossover: 3.5-litre V6 petrol/electric motor (combined 313bhp), E-Four all-wheel drive, 6litres/100km, 138g/km, €280 tax.
Luxury (standard) spec includes: 20ins alloys, leather upholstery, electric/heated/ventilated front seats, 3-zone climate control, 2-way lumbar support (driver); parking sensors, electric tailgate, Lexus safety system, satnav, 12-speaker Pioneer audio, 12.3ins info display.
Premium adds adaptive variable suspension (AVS), semi-aniline leather, heated 2nd row, 15-speaker Mark Levinson system, adaptive high-beam. From €82,450 (Luxury); Premium: €92,550.