Is Lexus's wooden steering wheel naff or nifty?

Published: 02 August 2019

► Lexus RX L long-term test
► We live with new 2019 RX450h
► Long wheelbase with seven seats 

Month 6 of our Lexus RX L long-term test: the grippy question of that wooden steering wheel

One of the most striking features of the Lexus RX L when you climb (yes, this is a tall car) into the cabin is the split wood/leather steering wheel. It’s quite unusual and very Lexusy.

I’m not convinced I’d choose one over an all-hide rim, but it’s impeccably made; not something that can be said of  every wheel we grip. It’s tactile and smooth and different all at once. It’s also heated, which warms the chills of the lacquered wood very quickly and I was surprised to find myself doing this even on a morning in early summer.

In other news, we’ve just achieved a best economy figure of nearly 37mpg. That’s reassuring after some twenty-something drinking binges in recent weeks.

By Tim Pollard

More Lexus reviews by CAR magazine

Logbook: Lexus RX450h L Premier

Price £61,995 (£63,635 as tested)
Performance 3456cc V6 hybrid, 259bhp, 8.0sec 0-62mph, 112mph
Efficiency 47.1mpg (official), 36.5mpg (tested), 138g/km CO2
Energy cost 14.9 per mile
Miles this month 611
Total miles 5424


Month 5 living with a Lexus RX L: readers meet the seven-seater

CAR magazine readers meet the Lexus RX L: Richard Luff, Lucy Cardew and Ian Hamilton

Our Lexus RX L is the company's first seven-seater in Europe, and word is slowly spreading. It's telling that none of our reader panel had heard of it, though. We gathered together three likely prospects to judge the large SUV on its own merits – a couple of potential in-market seven-seat SUV buyers plus an owner of a Lexus GS450h, who's already converted to the Lexus lexicon. Would our panel see eye to eye? Or would it be polite, premium fisticuffs at dawn? Only one way to find out...

Meet the readers

Lexus RX L Richard Luff

The BMW X3 owner
Richard Luff owns a premium crossover already, but is looking to upsize to a full seven-seater for the school run and growing family duties.

Lexus RX L Lucy Cardew

The big 4x4 fan
Lucy Cardew is Richard's wife and keen on the Land Rover Discovery and Volvo XC90 as their preferred choice of seven-seat SUV. The RX L wasn't on her radar until today.

Lexus RX L Ian Hamilton

The Lexus fan
Ian Hamilton is a long-time Lexus owner, tech specialist and CAR magazine reader – giving him a unique perspective on our RX daily driver.

Up close with the RX L

Richard, who works for one of the UK's biggest payment card companies, has never really considered a Lexus before and was intrigued to see what it would offer over his BMW X3. With the elder of his two daughters just entering the teenage years, extra space and practicality are rising to the top of the priority list – and the RX has a mixed response here.

'The girls would really like the heated seats, sunblinds and two USB charging ports in the middle row,' he muses. 'This stuff keeps the peace on longer journeys.' Space in the third row leaves him disappointed, though, and this is a man who's currently test-driving the Volvo XC90 and Discovery.

'I'm just not sure the Lexus is big enough back there for doing school runs and lifts for family and friends,' says Richard. 'We need a really big boot and, while this is quite large, it's not as spacious as the luggage compartment in the Volvo or Land Rover. I felt the XC90 would take anything we threw at it – bags, kids, dog, bikes, tents – for a long summer holiday across France. I can't say the same about the RX L.' The Volvo has most boot space with all three rows in use; the Land Rover is biggest when rows two and three are flat.

Better news on the way the Lexus drives. 'When I heard it was five metres long, I feared it might feel like a boat to drive, but it isn't daunting at all. The steering is really good: I like how light it is at parking speeds, but then it weights up nicely, and the ride is comfortable. I find it a very relaxing car to drive.'

He notices that the fuel gauge is nestling at half full, and is surprised the trip computer range reads only 166 miles. 'I'm used to diesels going over 500 miles on a tank, so that's not great,' he reflects. Our range has never shown more than 370 miles when brimmed with petrol.

The longer Richard spends in the RX, the more he recognises its ace cards: its quality and engineering integrity. 'It's beautifully built throughout. You just know you could buy a Lexus and it'll go on for years and years without breaking down.'

Lexus RX L rear pan

Ian has owned his Lexus GS450h since 2007 and is a big brand advocate. 'Only two things have ever gone wrong: the auxiliary 12-volt battery failed after five years – it was out of warranty, but they replaced it for free anyway. And then the parking brake caliper stuck on, but that was my fault for leaving the handbrake on for extended periods while I was away; it was very cheap to fix.
'Lexus dealers are amazing. Usually when you buy a car you're given the special treatment at the point of sale, but when it comes to aftercare you're just part of the money-making system. Not at Lexus: they seem to know you and give really good service at all times.'

It's not just the sensible stuff, though – tech fan Ian likes the gadgets onboard, too. 'These air-conditioned seats are a godsend in the hot summer months,' he says. 'And they are super-comfortable. I often do long drives from the Midlands to the Lake District and the seats in my GS mean you step out feeling like you've just popped to the shops. These RX seats feel just as supportive.

'It feels very like my GS in here. I like the cabin and it all seems familiar.' He points to a very Japanese chromed styling flourish, kinking up the centre console from gearlever to air vents. 'This is modelled on Japanese water-
garden features. I like that artistry.'

Ian's something of an apostle for the Lexus brand and recently persuaded his nephew, a head teacher, to buy the next crossover down the range. 'Interestingly, the NX doesn't seem a huge amount smaller inside,' he notes. 'Although you can't have that pop-up row of seats in the back, I think on balance, I prefer my nephew's NX.'

Lexus RX L interior reader

Lucy has never driven a hybrid before and finds our RX L easy to drive, with impressive refinement and a seamless transition from electric to petrol power. 'The brakes are a bit grabby at low speed, though – and they make a weird noise when we set off. But once up to speed, it drives very nicely. It's comfortable and quiet and there's decent acceleration too.'

Things take a turn for the worse when we stop to play with the infotainment (what CAR already considers to be the RX's bête noire). Husband Richard has just taken 49 seconds to find BBC Radio 6 Music and a full 94 seconds to enter an address to the navigation using the awkward joystick. 'It's overly complicated and way too fiddly when driving,' she complains. It's no better when we try the voice recognition and her instruction to 'take me home' speed-dials Tim Holmes, former Ford PR chief.

Lucy also comments that the head-up display is hard to see in bright sunlight and is astonished to find a CD player in 2019.

She doesn't find the rearmost seats nearly big enough, either, although she likes the third-row heating controls and electric seatback operation. Test-driving the seventh seat, she observes: 'My head brushes the roof and my legs have nowhere to go. It's cramped.'

'I love the flat floor in the second row, though. More cars should have this. It makes it so much easier to fit three passengers in the middle row. While there are some things I really like on the Lexus RX, it doesn't do enough to make it onto my seven-seater shopping list, I'm afraid.'

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Lexus RX450h L Premier

Price £61,995  
As tested £63,635 
Engine 3456cc 24v V6, 259bhp @ 6000rpm, 247lb ft @ 4600rpm, plus 165bhp/247lb ft (front) and 68bhp/103lb ft (rear) electric motors
Transmission CVT, all-wheel drive  
Performance 8.0sec 0-62mph, 112mph, 138g/km CO2
Miles this month 1135
Total 4813
Our mpg 25.4
Official mpg 47.1
Energy cost 22.9p


Month 4 living with a Lexus RX L: a ha'porth of tar required

Lexus RX L centre console

There's an elephant in the room when we discuss the Lexus RX at our desks. It's hard to talk about the big SUV without conversation quickly turning to that dreaded infotainment system. It's horrible.

We each drive upwards of 100 cars a year in our line of work and are exposed to different technologies and interfaces every day. We live and breathe these comparisons – and only criticise where it feels justified. And not one of us gets on with Lexus Remote Touch.

I reckon there's a cultural divide at play here. Have you travelled to Japan in recent years? Experienced the fizzing, flashing energy of Tokyo and its neon-bathed Akihabara electronics district? It lends a little perspective to the Japanese digital mindset – there's a different appreciation of HMI in Asia, it seems. I can believe the typical Japanese consumer interacts with digital touchpoints in a different way to western norms.

How else to describe the clunky joystick and buttons to operate the RX's pointer? It buzzes and judders with haptic feedback (which you can vary) but it's a tricky thing to operate with your left hand when on the move. Then there's the labyrinthine menu structure and arcane, cluttered graphics. I've yet to find a member of the CAR team who doesn't view the Lexus's infotainment, mapping and UX as a generation or two out of date.

What about voice control? Well, we've tried that and the audio recognition is just as bad. It's much, much worse than the class best – and by that we probably mean Mercedes' MBUX system. There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto available, either. It's a real shame, because I struggle to think of many other aspects of the RX L that we don't like. We'll cover more of the positives (and there are plenty) next month.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Lexus RX450h L Premier

Price £61,995  
As tested £63,635 
Engine 3456cc 24v V6, 259bhp @ 6000rpm, 247lb ft @ 4600rpm, plus 165bhp/247lb ft (front) and 68bhp/103lb ft (rear) electric motors
Transmission CVT, all-wheel drive  
Performance 8.0sec 0-62mph, 112mph, 138g/km CO2
Miles this month 1014
Total 3678
Our mpg 29.9 
Official mpg 47.1 
Energy cost 19.5p


Quick update: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are coming!

Lexus has revealed the latest version of Lexus RX, and although the changes are only minor, it fixes one major gripe with our current car. Our RX might have a cracking sound system and gorgeous swathe of screen, but actually getting the infotainment to work for us is pretty excruciating. Lexus’s menus aren’t all that intuitive, and when combined with the dated UI and one of the trickiest controls we’ve ever used, it’s all a bit too frustrating. You could argue it’s dangerous too; the more time you spend messing with it, the less of your concentration goes on the road.

The fact Lexus is now introducing Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support to the RX is good news, then – and so is the fact it’s turning that large screen into a touchscreen. Anything but that weird slidey, clickey contraption on our long-termer. Sure, the introduction of third-party support is a neat sidestep rather than a outright solution to the RX’s dodge infotainment – but we’d still rather have it in our car than the current system.

By Curtis Moldrich


Month three living with a Lexus RX450h L: relegated to the back

The whole raison d'être of our Lexus RX L is the 11cm stretch that's squeezed in an extra row of seats. But what are chairs six and seven like to use? With just the two kids, I don't use the third row often, but it's been pressed into action for a couple of school runs and drives back from the pub.

These are not supersized, front-row cinematic thrones – think instead pop-up occasional cheap seats out back. They're nowhere near as spacious as those in the Land Rover Discovery, but they're beautifully engineered, rising at the touch of a button in the boot; pre-teens will be just fine. And when stowed, this loadbay is HUGE, at 966 litres.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Lexus RX450h L Premier

Price £61,995  
As tested £63,635 
Engine 3456cc 24v V6, 259bhp @ 6000rpm, 247lb ft @ 4600rpm, plus 165bhp/247lb ft (front) and 68bhp/103lb ft (rear) electric motors
Transmission CVT, all-wheel drive  
Performance 8.0sec 0-62mph, 112mph, 138g/km CO2
Miles this month 1092
Total 2664
Our mpg 29.0 
Official mpg 47.1 
Energy cost 20.4p


Month 2 of our Lexus RX450h L long-term test: a laidback kinda SUV

Lexus RX L rear cornering

One month in and the Lexus and I are getting along just fine. After flirting on the launch in Switzerland, I was glad that the RX L lived up to my expectations on our second date in the UK. Everything was just how I remembered it.

Driving the seven-seater is a lesson in calm, Lexussy transport: this is a car in which to cruise and glide, eggshells on the accelerator, schmoozing one’s way about daily duty with a hushed, hybrid serenity. Piloted thus, the RX is truly relaxing, with a comfy plump to its ride and a relaxed gait.

This is getting the relationship off to a good start. Lexuses are at their best as waftmobiles and I find this one supremely relaxing every time I sink into the soft, ventilated armchairs and seek solace in the double-glazed cocoon. 

Get busy with the throttle and the age-old CVT thrash becomes apparent, but with a 3.5-litre V6 under the bonnet, at least it sounds richer than a four-cylinder Prius whine. The RX L is a remarkably quick car for a 2.2-tonne SUV as a result, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on fuel economy (25.4mpg so far) as this upsizing seems to go against the miniaturising trend. 

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Lexus RX450h L Premier

Price £61,995  
As tested £63,635
Engine 3456cc 24v V6, 259bhp @ 6000rpm, 247lb ft @ 4600rpm, plus 165bhp/247lb ft (front) and 68bhp/103lb ft (rear) electric motors
Transmission CVT, all-wheel drive  
Performance 8.0sec 0-62mph, 112mph, 138g/km CO2
Miles this month 1220
Total 1572  
Our mpg 25.4
Official mpg 47.1  
Fuel this month £283.31
Extra costs None


Diary update: How the Lexus RX L performs in winter

The UK has enjoyed a suprisingly mild winter, with only occasional cold snaps and little sign of 2018's Beast From The East returning (to the clement East Midlands, at least). But we've had enough sub-zero days and nights for us to have tested the Lexus RX L's cold-weather skills in earnest.

The warm-up routine starts when you approach the car. At nighttime, the door handles' puddle lamps detect the key and switch on remotely as you're about 5m from the car, bathing the ground around in soft, diffuse light. A nice, welcoming touch. Keyless entry lets you slide in to the comfy leather seats, whose three-stage heating works a dream. Toasty bums all round - for those in the front at least (there are no rear-seat furnaces here, much to my children's chagrin).

Crisp times: how does the Lexus RX L perform in winter?

Tellingly, there are no namby-pamby armrest heaters, like on my last daily driver, Audi's equally long-wheelbase A8. Do I miss sizzling elbows? No I do not. The Lexus's steering wheel is heated too, though only the leather pads at 3 and 9 o'clock - leading to a rather strange, bipartite hot/cold matrix as you swivel the wheel when manoeuvring. It's a bit odd and still surprises me after four months together, the contrast between lava leather and chilled wood.

There's no heated windscreen here, sadly, but the fans warm up quickly and demisting takes just a few minutes. It's funny how quickly we're getting used to app-controlled in-car heaters on electrified cars, but there are no such tricks here.

The Lexus's wipers work with well-programmed, properly engineered sweeping efficiency, clearing rain, splatter and ice with ease. Note also how the rear blade is a proper size, unlike the miniaturised wiper adorning a Lexus CT's rump. Have you seen the hatchback's wiper? Check it out next time you see one and marvel at its diminutive reach.

Lexus RX L demisting: no heated windscreens here, but the fans clear icy windscreens quickly enough

Although we've had very little snow that's settled, we've had enough icy mornings to test the RX's traction out. Even on those big 20-inch Bridgestone tyres, the Lexus seven-seater has put nary a foot wrong.

The hybrid's power delivery and character encourage smooth driving at the best of times and not once have we seen the traction control flicker. It's surefooted, safe and cocooning transport at this slip-slidey, grimy time of year. Lexus 1, winter 0.

By Tim Pollard


Month 1 of our Lexus RX450h L long-term test: the introduction

The new Lexus RX L ticks lots of in-vogue boxes: from its crossover silhouette to its seven-seat multi-practical package; from the design-chic Lexus premium badge to its bang-on-trend electrified hybrid powertrain. It’s a wonder you don’t see more Lexus petrol-electric cars on the road (brand sales were 13 times smaller than BMW’s or Mercedes’ last year), as it seems to answer a lot of questions that modern car buyers ask of a vehicle.

I’ve been one of those drivers who got away. I’ve never lived with a Lexus for an extended period in 21 years of road testing. Now’s the time to put that right. Having attended the global launch of the newly stretched RX450h L in Switzerland last summer, I was rather taken by the peculiarly styled SUV. I know its limitations (what on first acquaintance seems like a hopeless infotainment system not designed for Western European fingers or sensibilities), but was still won over by a deeper, more fundamental quality.

I like this. While other manufacturers chase sporting dynamism over all else, following faddish trends or pursuing pointless Nordschleife lap times, I’ve long admired Lexus’s devotion to a simpler objective: to build distinctive cars of the utmost quality, powered by unerringly modish petrol-electric hybrid powertrains with pampering interiors and a focus on outright quality – of cabin materials, mechanical and electronic reliability and dealer service. 

Lexus RX L and keeper Tim Pollard

Isn’t that a laudable objective? It’s barely changed in the brand’s three decades on this planet and I must confess to worrying a little whenever new managers come along and profess a desire to add sporting intent to the Lexus lexicon. Cars like the fizzy LC coupe and LFA supercar are all well and good, but this sensible RX is surely where the brand’s centre of gravity lies. 

The RX L’s additional 110mm length is enough to make this the brand’s first seven-seater in Europe. We’ll be testing that third row of seats with family duties and school runs, while the enlarged boot stretches to a cavernous 966 litres in five-seater mode (or 495 with seven seats in place). It’s a huge space. As a dad of two with a new dog, I like this.

Ours comes in Premier spec, which means it’s absolutely loaded. Only two options are fitted (metallic paint and electric sunroof), taking the price to £63,635. The bronzed Sonic Titanium paintwork is so far doing a fantastic job of looking bright and resisting the winter smear. Whatever your take on the chiselled, pointy styling, it’s certainly distinctive.

The best hybrid cars: our guide to the finest plug-ins and PHEVs you can buy

Lexus RX 400h: the original petrol-electric hybrid SUV

First impressions are that this will be a comfy, reliable, pampering and roomy six months. Isn’t that what family transport should be? But there are a lot of questions to be answered – which is exactly what the CAR long-term test procedure is designed for. Can a petrol-electric hybrid SUV prove economical in the real world (Lexus quotes 47.1mpg combined economy and 138g/km of CO2)? Is there enough dynamism to go with the luxury and practicality? Can I possibly learn to live with – let alone like – the joystick-operated infotainment? In short, should you consider a Lexus ahead of similar products from the Germans or Brits?

I suspect 2019 is going to be rather relaxing, laid-back and Lexusy. I find this strangely calming. My blood pressure is receding even as I write about it.

By Tim Pollard

Logbook: Lexus RX450hL Premier

Price £61,995
As tested £63,635
Engine 3456cc 24v V6 petrol, 259bhp @ 6000rpm, 247lb ft @ 4600rpm, plus 165bhp/247lb ft (front) and 68bhp/103lb ft (rear) electric motors  
Transmission CVT, all-wheel drive  
Performance 8.0sec 0-62mph, 112mph, 138g/km CO2  
Miles this month 120  
Total 352  
Our mpg tbc  
Official mpg 47.1  
Fuel this month n/a
Extra costs None

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