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Lexus is redefining the luxury SUV market

Richard Webb praises Lexus’ groundbreaking philosophy with the brand’s first seven-seater in South Africa.

You are an executive board member about to launch a blue-sky luxury automotive brand into a super-competitive global market. What’s uppermost on your mind? Technology? Design? Manufacturing? Profitability? All of the above, sure, but just shy of 30 years ago Lexus executives put ‘guest experience’ at the heart of its new business. If this sounds brave to the point of folly, think again. It is what sets Lexus apart.

Faithful to the traditions of Japanese hospitality represented by omotenashi, which means hospitality, each client is treated as an individual and welcomed with the courtesy afforded to a visitor in your home – where the guest’s needs and preferences are recognised and anticipated with seamless, personal service that goes beyond their expectations. These principles are clearly central to the Lexus brand, influencing every touch point.

Not same-same

And that brings me neatly to the all-new Lexus RX 350L. This seven-seat SUV is no me-too product – Lexus invented this entire crossover SUV segment in 1997 – and the RX has since found 2,7 million customers over four generations in the past 21 years. The RX 350L shows the brand has become a pioneer of the future rather than a prisoner of the past, as it now has more space, flexibility and convenience for seven guests thanks to the addition of a one-touch power-folding two-seat third row.

Lexus has managed to engineer additional crash protection like curtain-shield air bags, an additional child-seat anchorage point, as well as one-touch folding, dedicated vents, and controls for the three-zone climate control to include the third row. The RX L has received five stars in the Euro NCAP safety ratings, but all this additional safety and convenience adds only 125kg. Handling and manoeuvrability remains taut and sporty when driven with spirit, thanks in part to the refined V6, which deploys its 216kW and 358Nm through a turbine-smooth eight-speed sequential automatic transmission.

Even more wizardry happens in the boot. At 495 litres with the third row of seats up, space extends to 966 litres if you fold down the second row of seats, which are positioned slightly higher for the third row, creating more foot room for rear passengers.


Given Lexus’s propensity to offer fair value and high levels of equipment across the range, all RX models are very highly specified. They are bristling with driver-assist programmes like Electronic Multi-vision, Navigation, vehicle stability and traction control, anti-skid brakes, brake and hill-start assist. Other standard features include LED headlamps, daytime running lights, front fog lamps, 12 speakers, 20-inch alloy wheels, smart entry and start, roof rails and rear privacy glass.

So many of the car’s touch points feel pleasing. It’s all soft-touch, quality materials – from the door grab handles to the quality and suppleness of the leather, and the sublimely smooth headliner. It’s a tactile experience often missed in other cars.

Outside, Lexus has done well to apply its evolutionary L-Finesse Lexus design language too, and it shows in the sleek and sporty origami sheet-metal of the RX 350L. The 110mm extension to the RX’s body has been accomplished without detracting from the vehicle’s coolly elegant design and a coupé-like profile, or its highly manoeuvrable character. The front end is characterised by a distinctive interpretation of Lexus’s signature spindle grille, which is referenced in the rear end design for a balanced, coherent look.

The philosophy of omotenashi may be hard to define – but for Lexus, anticipating the mobility needs of its customers is at the heart of the concept. If some of the new seven-seat Lexus RX features leaves you wondering ‘How did they think of that?’, consider yourself ‘omotenashi-ed’.


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