Most of Lexus’ SUV line-up has been either significantly refreshed or completely overhauled during the last few months. From the snow-covered peak of Le Massif de Charlevoix in Québec – where the automaker had us put its all-wheel drive systems through a true challenge – to the undulating surrounding roads that trace the banks of the St. Lawrence River, we put much of that updated lineup to the test.
LEXUS RX 350 AND RX 450H
THE LEXUS RX – STILL BUILT IN CAMBRIDGE, ONTARIO – is all new for the 2016 model year. It’s available in two updated powertrain configurations: the RX 350’s 3.5L V6 gets a small power bump over the previous generation and is mated with a new eight-speed automatic; and the engine in the RX 450h is what Lexus calls an evolution of the 3.5L V6 engine, featuring hybrid technology and reconfigured intake ports and combustion chambers, mated with a CVT. The 350’s power figures land at 295 hp and a healthy 268 lb-ft of torque, while the 450 hybrid’s gas and electric output combine for 308 hp, and notably lower 247 lb-ft of low-end oomph, but makes up for this with a combined 8.0 L/100 km fuel efficiency average, compared to the regular RX’s 10.7 average. Both models feature a very smooth ride and relaxed drive feel, and both are upgraded significantly by adding on an F Sport package to improve the quality of the interior materials and add sport seats and adaptive air suspension. In the RX 350, the engine is nicely powerful and the transmission is very well-behaved; in the 450h, I found it difficult to get past the soggy throttle and the CVT’s distinctive whine.
LEXUS LX 570
THE MOST UPSCALE SUV THAT LEXUS HAS on offer recently underwent a significant refresh with updated styling inside and out, a new eight-speed transmission, standard LED lamps and signals, more standard safety features, upgraded infotainment with a larger 12.3-inch screen and remote touch interface, a panoramic view monitor, four-zone climate control, and the list goes on. The seven- or eight-seater also now features a two-piece rear hatch with power in the upper half and an interesting power-retractable 50/50 split third-row seat design that adds 41 cubic feet of cargo space. I don’t always enjoy massive SUVs, but I was thoroughly impressed by this one. The expected characteristics are there, such as excellent power and stunning off-road capability that carries over from its platform-mate, the Toyota Land Cruiser. But this iteration also adds surprisingly sharp steering feel and well-mannered handling, and the new transmission is a great fit for the 383-hp 5.7L V8 powerplant. These changes have made this vehicle a serious contender in the realm of big-spend three-row trucks.
ENHANCED ALL-WHEEL DRIVE
KUDOS ALSO GO OUT TO LEXUS for setting up a properly challenging off-road course to test the enhanced all-wheel drive systems using dynamic torque control. The snow at the top of Le Massif was about six inches deep and had partially melted in some unseasonably warm weather, leaving it grainy, slushy and very slippery. For the drivers, the task was relatively easy and a good reminder of how to tackle winter head-on: just take the bends, slaloms and moguls at half to three-quarter throttle and let the cars take care of the rest. The hardest part was forcing the brain to keep the right foot down to maintain momentum and trusting the systems to do their jobs. I was pleased to find that both the Lexus NX and RX handled the challenging conditions admirably, never once leaving me in a moment of doubt. My performance preference of the two was the new NX 200t, released in 2015, for its sharper steering that contributed to staying straight and under control through slides with minimal input. The rear end on the RX 350 wanted to swing out a fair bit more but not so much as to be disconcerting. Caught in a nasty blizzard, I’d feel comfortable being carried through by either one.