BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Lexus RX300 is the sort of car that can divide opinion like no other. As a 4x4 that wouldn't be seen dead up to its axles in mud, it's the sort of vehicle that makes greens seethe. If you can live with a big 4x4 that'll likely never leave the blacktop except to negotiate the odd gravel path or grassy car park, the Lexus RX300 is one of the best available. Once one of the most expensive 4x4s around, the furious pace of development now means that it's at the affordable end of the luxury 4x4 sector. Used examples are, like most Lexus models, a dependably reliable proposition.
Models Covered: 3.0 6cy 4x4 [standard, SE, SE-L]
It has to be said that Lexus dropped a rare clanger when they introduced the original MK1 RX300 back in October 2000. It arrived a month before BMW's X5 and was promptly rendered rather obsolete. Certainly, the fact that it had been on sale in Japan for three years must go down as an enormous opportunity wasted by the importers. Many still have an image of the Lexus RX300 being a little behind the curve, but the thoroughly revised model launched at the 2003 Detroit Motor Show rectified many of its predecessor's shortcomings. Better safety features, more space, a more powerful engine and far sleeker styling means that the RX300 is one of the strongest offerings at the sensible end of the luxury 4x4 market. Nevertheless, sales have been unspectacular, hindered by the lack of a diesel version. What did arrive in the middle of 2005 was the RX400h, a petrol/electric hybrid version of the RX300 with a V6 engine and twin electric motors.
What You Get
The styling is a good deal sportier than before, Lexus perhaps figuring that if customers weren't overly concerned with off roading, then nor did they need the internal dimensions of a pantechnicon. That said, the shape cleverly disguises the fact that this model is bigger and roomier than most of its rivals. It's also a full 155mm longer than its predecessor and 25mm wider with a 100mm stretch in the wheelbase for additional passenger room. Three main trim levels are available, with the entry-level RX300 opening proceedings. The SE version adds 18-inch alloys, leather trim, heated front seats, an electrically adjustable steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, a power operated tailgate and memory for the driver's seat and mirrors amongst other features. The flagship SE-L version includes the Lexus Navigator sat-nav system with colour imaging rear view camera, an 11-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, air suspension and Active Front-Lighting System (AFS). This swivels the headlights for better visibility when cornering, taking into account the car's speed and the steering angle, and is linked to an automatic levelling system for optimum results. Water repellent glass and rain sensing wipers help visibility still further and, if the worst should come to pass, the RX300 is seriously tooled up with airbags. As well as the usual set of twin front and side airbags, the RX300 adds curtain shield bags at the sides and, for the first time in this sector, knee airbags for the driver. This bag helps to reduce injury caused by contact with the unyielding steering column, but tests have shown an additional benefit. Knee bags also reduce head and chest injuries. How? In a usual front-end collision, the legs come into contact with the lower dashboard and steering column. Rarely contacting square on, this causes the pelvis to cant forward and begins a twist in the driver's body that can prevent the airbag in the steering wheel doing its job to optimum effect. Knee bags nip this in the bud, making for a safer car.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
There's one rule above all else you should observe when buying a used RX300. Make sure it is what it purports to be. There is also a lucrative trade in stolen Japanese import 4x4s that are shipped in from the Arab states. It pays to do a full check on the VIN number to get a clear picture of the vehicle's provenance. Buy from a Lexus main agent and this should be taken care for you. Just remember to check the vehicle logbook. Mechanically sound, the RX300 only really comes a cropper if it has been treated to enthusiastic off roading that can damage the underbody, wheelarch liners, suspension and exhaust.
(Based on a 2003 RX300) A new exhaust, excluding the catalytic converter will be just over £850. Brake pads are roughly £60 each and a headlamp is around £175.
On the Road
Yukihiro Okane, the chief stylist of the RX300 encapsulates the appeal of the RX300, noting that "we determined at the outset that the RX must have advanced styling, an unsurpassed level of safety equipment and a host of innovative features. Parallel to this, we chose to improve driving dynamics in several areas and the passengers will be rewarded with an even higher level of sophistication." The body's excellent basic rigidity has made the suspension designers' task a whole lot easier. Almost everything about the suspension is different - springs, shock absorbers, bushes, rear axle have all been redesigned. One thing that's not wholly new, however, is the motive force. The 201bhp six-cylinder engine has been massaged up to 204bhp with the help of more efficient intake and exhaust systems and as a result of this, improved aerodynamics and higher performance tyres, the top speed of the RX300 has risen from a fairly unimpressive 112mph to a more potent 124mph. When optimising high-speed aerodynamics it helps to have suitable test facilities and Lexus pulled no punches on finding the best. The Maibara wind tunnel, used in the development of the Bullet Train and capable of generating wind speeds of up to 250mph, was selected as the venue of choice and resulted in Lexus being able to reduce the wind noise of the RX300 to all-time low levels.
The Lexus RX300 is an easy car to omit from a shortlist of big, comfortable 4x4s. Although others may possess a bit more in the way of badge equity, it's a safe bet that none are as well built and only the very expensive can match the ride quality of the syrupy smooth RX. If you like the appeal of a luxury 4x4 but don't want to hand over silly money for a vehicle that features all sorts of off-road compromises, the RX300 makes a very sensible bet.