Lexus goes bold with next RX crossover

LexusSport

Lexus RX

Lexus is steering toward more polarizing designs and the redesigned 2016 RX, unveiled on Wednesday at the New York auto show, is its latest statement on that front.

For much of its 25-year history, Toyota’s luxury brand has earned a reputation for fairly staid styling that appealed to some and offended few.

But in a bid to spur growth and up its game against BMW and Mercedes-Benz, Lexus is now steering toward more polarizing designs and the RX, unveiled today at the New York auto show, is its latest statement on that front.

“We’ve given the designers all this creativity,” Mark Templin, Lexus International executive vice president, said Tuesday at the NADA/J.D. Power Automotive Forum here. “We are willing to accept that the designs may be polarizing.” Templin said the order to inject more emotion into Lexus’ styling came from Toyota President Akio Toyoda.

“He wants the customer to say, ‘I have to have that,’” Templin said. The move carries some risk for the brand, whose U.S. customer base isn’t used to an edgy look. The RX is Lexus’ top-selling nameplate in the U.S. and accounted for just more than a third of the brand’s 2014 deliveries. “This is a hugely important car for Lexus.

It really defined the brand after its launch in the late ’90s,” said Karl Brauer, senior editor at Kelley Blue Book. The new RX represents “the most aggressive change in its look that it has ever had,” Brauer added.

The vehicle’s exterior is significantly more sculpted than the more rounded previous models. A sharp crease accents its side panels and doors, and a new, aggressive spindle-shaped grille defines its face. The rear is highlighted by L-shaped LED lights that wrap around to the side of the vehicle.

The improved interior is accented by a 12.3-inch color infotainment screen in the center stack. Rear-seat legroom has been increased. Rear seats fold in a 60-40 split. Lexus is rolling out two versions of the top-selling crossover. The RX 350 comes with a 3.5 liter, direct-injection V-6 engine rated at 300 hp.

The RX 450h pairs an Atkinson cycle, 3.5-liter V-6 with an electric motor to deliver about the same horsepower. Both engines are paired with eight-speed automatic gearboxes.

The new RX has a stiffer body than its predecessor and sits on a fully independent rear suspension for a sporty ride. An F Sport version will feature an adaptive variable suspension — it is also available as an option on other trims — as well as 20-inch wheels, paddle shifters and an active stabilization system.

All versions will come with the Lexus Safety System Plus package of collision avoidance, automatic braking, lane keeping assistance and other safety technologies.

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