At the 2003 North American International Auto Show this week, Lexus will launch the 2nd generation of its highly successful SUV, the RX300. The first generation appeared nearly five years ago and was extremely well received with its typical Lexus refinement, coupled with the superior after-sales experience that has kept the brand at the top of JD Powers surveys. Today, Lexus is still tops in the US luxury segment, not only in owner surveys but also in unit sales.
|Familiar styling but larger body and less rounded rear end|
Larger than the RX300 model it replaces, the styling of the RX330 still retains some of the cues of its car-based predecessor. It is an evolutionary change which is more
elegant and sleek. The rear half shows greater change than the front, with a less rounded profile. In fact, it now has a more stationwagon profile.
The RX330 is an integral part of the unique three-SUV strategy that has allowed Lexus to lead this category of the market. It is positioned as the entry-level luxury level SUV, above which there is the GX470, a US version of the latest Land Cruiser Prado. At the highest level is the big LX470 (also known as the Toyota Cygnus in Japan) which is a premium model.
“The original RX300 became the template for a new kind of luxury vehicle, one that many competitors are now following,” said Denny Clements, Lexus group vice president and general manager. “The RX330 has been designed to surpass its successful predecessor in every way and set a new benchmark in the segment.”
The new Lexus RX 330 is roomier than the previous model, yet still retains the efficient packaging that customers appreciated in the original. The wheelbase has been increased by nearly 100 mm, and overall length by 155 mm, while the width has grown by 28 mm. The RX300 was already a tall vehicle and its successor is about 10 mm taller. The larger dimensions result in a bit more front legroom and cargo capacity with the rear seatbacks lowered has increased by 13%. The rear seatbacks feature a versatile 40/20/40 split design and the seat has both sliding and reclining adjustments.
A new feature which many customers are expected to include with their purchase is the power rear liftgate which can be controlled from the standard in-key remote entry system. An automatic-retracting tonneau should also be a welcome feature.
The RX330 is said to contain a host of high technology, safety and comfort features. The extra-cost air suspension is a feature more commonly seen in the high-end SUV segment. Also available with the air suspension option is the Adaptive Front lighting System which helps illuminate a turn or curve as the driver steers into it (Mercedes-Benz was the first to offer this in the new E-Class estate launched last month).
Available in Japanese domestic models for some years now, there is also the option of a camera mounted on the rear door (in the numberplate recess) to provide the driver with a better view of the back. And as with the LS430 flagship sedan, the RX300 has a unique adaptive laser cruise control system.
A bigger 3.3-litre V6 engine is now used, this producing 169 kW/230 bhp at 5600 – 10% more than the RX 300, and a maximum of 328 Nm of torque at 3600 rpm (+9%). A new electronic drive-by-wire throttle helps the new engine achieve the Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) standard. As before, there is continuously Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) mechanism which helps optimize torque for quick and powerful response at all engine speeds.
Teamed to a new 5-speed electronic automatic transmission (multi-mode sequential type on units with air suspension), the larger V6 actually gives the RX330 all-wheel drive model commendable fuel mileage ratings which are slightly better than the previous model’s, claims Lexus. It is also claimed to have the best-in-class 0-60 mph times of 7.8 seconds (7.7 seconds for the front-wheel drive only version), also better than the RX300.
A smoother and quieter ride is promised with the stiffer body structure, a redesigned active engine mount, new sound-absorption materials and refined aerodynamic details. Noise from the powertrain, the road and wind – already at benchmark low levels in the previous model – have all been reduced to nearly the same levels as the latest ES300 sedan. The stiffer platform, standard 17-inch wheels (18 inch also available) and tighter steering control are said to help to optimize handling response in the RX330.
The all-wheel drive system is simpler and lighter than before and driveshaft elements are situated in a straighter line, which helps reduce friction, driveline noise and vibration. Like its predecessor, the RX330 uses a centre differential to split engine power evenly between the front and rear wheels. If lateral wheelslip occurs, the VSC system re-apportions power front-to-rear and side-to-side, eliminating the need for the viscous coupling used on the RX300.
The air suspension system has automatic levelling with four selectable height settings allow the driver to tailor the RX330 to specific driving conditions or needs. In “Normal” mode, the system automatically lowers the vehicle by 7.5 mm at speeds over 100 km/h for better handling and ride comfort while “Low” mode drops ride height by 15 mm to enhance handling response. “High” mode raises ground clearance by 30 mm for driving over rough surfaces at speeds of 50 km/h or slower. An “Access” mode lowers the RX 330 by the same distance to provide easier entry, exit and loading.
The RX330 models has the Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system which helps control loss of lateral traction while cornering, a safety system already familiar to Malaysian owners of the Corolla Altis 1.8 and Camry. VSC intervenes to maintain stability during cornering by acting on both the engine output as well as the individual brakes.
VSC and the Brake Assist feature work with the standard four-wheel ABS. Brake Assist is designed to determine if the driver is attempting emergency braking, and if the driver has not stepped hard enough on the brake pedal to engage the ABS, the system applies maximum braking power until pedal pressure is released. A tyre pressure monitor alerts the driver via a light on the instrument panel in the event of tyre under-inflation.
A high-strength cabin design and comprehensive new supplemental restraint system are designed to help provide a new level of crash energy management for the occupants in the RX330. The supplemental restraint systems include multi-stage front airbags for the driver and passenger, a new knee airbag for the driver and a new kind of large side airbag in the front seats that covers the torso, abdomen and pelvis. The technology behind the front airbags takes into account many factors, including crash severity, passenger weight and driver seat position on the seat track. Side curtain airbags are designed to help offer additional crash energy management for the front and rear seat occupants.
For driving safety, customers can also add rain-sensing windshield wipers and High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights with washers help enhance visibility in poor-weather and night driving.
The RX 330 can be ordered with the optional Lexus Link system. At the press of a button, or automatically in certain emergency situations, Lexus Link combines GPS satellite and cellular phone technology to connect the customer with experienced and trained Lexus Link advisors at anytime, day or night, 365 days a year (when cellular and GPS services are available). Lexus Link services include automatic notification of airbag deployment, dispatch of emergency services, accident assistance, roadside assistance with location, theft notification and stolen vehicle tracking, plus remote door lock and unlock.
An integrated Homelink transmitter can control a variety of compatible home security devices and systems. The high-performance CD audio system upholds the Lexus tradition of making premium-quality sound standard. Customers can upgrade to the optional Mark Levinson 11-speaker system and an in-dash 6-disc CD changer. A factory-installed rear DVD entertainment system also is available. A navigation system is also available at extra cost.
Lexus is confident that its all-new RX330 is poised to take its place as the benchmark in the entry-level luxury SUV class which has seen a number of new rivals in the past year.
The new RX330 will have an annual sales target of 75,000 units and will be built in Canada, the first Lexus built outside Japan. The new model (in Toyota Harrier form) will also be built at Toyota’s high-tech factory on Kyushu island in Japan. US sales will commence during the first quarter of 2003 and the indicated starting price is around US$35,000 (RM132,000).