Breathe easy

The RX350 is a big luxurious SUV which impresses with its wide performance envelope.
The RX350 is a big luxurious SUV which impresses with its wide performance envelope.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Lexus' RX350 proves that turbocharging is not the only route to motoring happiness

In an age when almost every other car is turbocharged, it is refreshing to drive a beefy V6 that breathes naturally - especially when it is a big luxurious SUV from Lexus.

The RX350 may seem "old school" when compared with its turbo and hybrid twins, but it is wonderful at the wheel.

Its ample 3.5-litre dual-cycle engine offers such linear power delivery that it could easily pass off as a light-pressure turbo.

Its gentler torque curve is backed by beefy reserves which allow the big Lexus to perform well across its entire rev range.

The car is surprisingly driveable in the city and should please even those who are used to the snappy delivery of a turbo.

Its 7.9-second century sprint is by no means shoddy, but the RX350 impresses more with its wide performance envelope. Things start to happen from 2,000rpm and keep happening right past 5,000rpm.

  • SPECS / LEXUS RX350

  • Price: $335,000 with COE

    Engine: 3,456cc 24-valve V6

    Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual override

    Power: 296bhp at 6,300rpm

    Torque: 370Nm at 4,600rpm

    0-100kmh: 7.9 seconds

    Top speed: 200kmh

    Fuel consumption: 9.6 litres/ 100km

    Agent: Borneo Motors

This "stretchability" is something missing in turbo cars, which tend to offer instant gratification rather than the more satisfying slow burn drivers sometimes crave.

Certainly, you would have to have a sizeable engine to pull that off. It also helps if you have Toyota's mastery of valve timing, piston strokes and compression ratios.

Matching the RX350's creamy V6 is an eight-speed automatic gearbox that is not only more refined, but also more enjoyable than the six-speed and continuously variable transmissions found in the RX200t and RX450h respectively.

This eight-speeder is also the smoothest autobox in the Lexus range and commensurate with the overall refinement of the RX. It may be positioned as an all-wheel-drive SUV, but the RX350 feels like a tall limousine. Its suspension is soft and cushy, with very little of the bounciness often associated with SUVs.

In fact, its chassis is concise and coherent, allowing for good tractability and steering response on the straight and around corners.

There is, of course, no escaping the fact that this is a big and tall vehicle. So you will detect body roll and sometimes feel that the lanes are just wide enough for the car.

The RX350 comes with blindspot warning (bright blinking lights on the wing mirrors which you can make out from the corner of your eye) and a camera system which comes to your aid in tight parking spaces.

The car is also equipped with a head-up display, but the system strangely does not project navigation directions.

To key an address into the navigation system is also a bit of a chore because of the infotainment system's oversensitive cursor.

But once it is set, you get a widescreen display and very clear audio instructions.

The cabin is well-appointed, flawlessly put together (even if parts of the wood veneer appear a tad kitsch) and so comfortable.

Even the inner section of the door handle is felt-lined. Another thoughtful feature is an electronic parking brake system with auto hold (at the lights) and auto engage (when you turn the ignition off).

Together with its lovely V6, these features help retain the RX350's position in an increasingly crowded (and increasingly turbocharged) premium SUV segment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Breathe easy'. Print Edition | Subscribe