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Lexus RX 300

Broadcast dates : 3rd October  2004
7th October 2004

For the past few months Car Torque has enjoyed an extended test with one of the most interesting vehicles on the South African market - the Lexus RX300.

Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, has had a presence in South Africa since the early 1990s, but until now it has not enjoyed much market share.

The Lexus RX300’s introduction here in mid-2003 was a ploy to gain greater presence for the brand.

Although sales for the RX300 were initially quite slow, all of a sudden the RX300 is becoming a regular sight – nowhere near as common as its rivals from BVMW or Mercedes, but nevertheless people are no longer asking what the car is.

Our test model has covered some 15 000 km in Car Torque’s hands, having spent the early part of its life as a member of Toyota SA’s regular road test fleet.

This meant that the first 6 000 km were rather hard ones as a number of journalists put the vehicle through its paces.

Nevertheless the car has stood up well and feels today like a brand new vehicle in all dynamic departments.

The RX300 was designed in Japan to take on the likes of the BMW X5 and the Mercedes-Benz M-Class in the so-called soft-roader market.

These are vehicles were four-wheel-drive specification is a secondary facet, and none of them have any serious off-road ability, unlike Volkswagen’s new contender in this market, the Touareg.

There is no low-ratio transfer case and the suspension is profiled very much towards high-their speed tarmac running. Suspension travel is not particularly great and wheel-control is firm, minimizing vertical wheel movement.

Similarly, the tyres are low profile 235/55s on 18-inch rims, with very much on-road audial qualities of low noise over tarmac, and no chunky tread patterns or flexy sidewalls.

The interior trim is also luxury orientated rather than designed to stand up to the rigors of mud, dust and bush.

Care has to be taken when loading heavy objects onto the seats as these are covered in a beautiful but rather delicate perforated leather in pale grey.

Fit and finish of the cabin is beautiful showing what Toyota can do when it applies its excellent build to materials of luxury grade.

By the standards of the past 12 months the feature list is fairly modest.

This consists of Climate control, Cruise control, a top quality six CD front loader and radio, Auto-on facility for the powerful high density discharge headlamps, a trip computer and front, side and curtain airbags and a knee-bag for the driver.

As of now there is no navigation option, but the trip computer is easy to use and informative.

Interestingly the overall fuel consumption read-out re-sets every time you operate the remote fuel flap for a fill-up.

The Lexus is profiled for road-work. It has very fluid, accurate steering, which at just three turns lock to lock is nice and direct, making for easy maneuverability.

The three-litre silky-smooth V6 is reasonably powerful, with quick throttle response, rated at 150 kW and 283 Nm of torque.

The RX300 is available only with a five-speed auto gearbox. It has no additional programmes to alter shift points or throttle response.

But it does have a mud and snow setting for pulling off in second gear in slippery conditions, and a manual shift option.

The gearbox is smooth but you need to learn how to drive it. It is very sharp on response and you need a very light, controlled throttle foot to make smooth progress.

Overall fuel consumption has been 13,5 litres/100 km.

This runs to 10,5 litres/100 on open-road long distance hauls to a worst-case scenario of 15,5 litres / 100 k in heavy traffic. Pretty good for a large 4X4 five seater.

One of its best features is the elevated driving position. Sooo relaxing in traffic

As this is not an off-roader we haven’t tried it on trails. But it copes well in the bush on smooth roads although care has to be taken not to damage that beautiful perlescent white paint on thorn trees.

On rough dirt roads however its high ground clearance, with everything tucked nicely away, makes it good for travelling to remote cottages or game parks.

It has a full compliment of traction control and dynamic vehicle controls which brake individual wheels to sort out any understeer or oversteer.

And its brakes are powerful, although the brakes developed a rumble after the car was lent to a rally driver for a high-speed weekend trip.

This was cured and after 23 000 km the pads have plenty of life left in them, as do the tyres, which probably enjoy 50 per cent tread life still.

Servicing intervals are at 15 000 km. As the car is covered by a five-year/90 000 km service plan, there have been no extra servicing costs so far.

Priced at R462 700 the Lexus has held its price since its introduction in May 2003.

In summing up it is a modern luxury family estate car rather than a 4X4, with impeccable urban manners and just a degree of dirt road ability.

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