Lexus NZ is about to launch a couple of vehicles it needs to spark 2018 sales, after coming off a 2017 year that was down slightly on 2016 results.
The cars in question are RX-badged seven-seater SUVs – the petrol-only 350L Limited ($108,400) and the hybrid petrol-electric 450hL Limited ($126,400), both with 3.5-litre V6 engines, eight-speed transmissions, and on-demand all-wheel-drive (AWD).
“This is the first time we have had a full-sized, seven-seat family SUV in this price range,” said Paul Carroll, Lexus NZ senior general manager.
“The benefits of seven-seats for family life are substantial. The RX L is the epitome of a luxury vehicle for families that require more than five seats.”
Lexus is one of the few carmakers – luxury and mainstream – in the past few years that hasn’t had one seven-seat SUV or another.
The absence of such a vehicle has handicapped it somewhat. Last year was the biggest sales year in New Zealand since records began in 1975, but Lexus’ sales of 715 vehicles were down 0.9 per cent on the 719 it registered in a similarly buoyant 2016.
Of the 2017 total, five-seat RX variants accounted for roughly 40 per cent; compact NX models for 30 per cent; and sedans and the 200-series hatchback about 30 per cent.
The appearance of the two new seven-seaters is expected to add around 10 per cent to Lexus’ RX segment sales. Expect company executives to push the 7-Up option to help grow the brand further.
The RX 350L and RX 450L are based on a stretched version of the five-seat RX platform. The seven-seat body is longer by 110mm and the roofline itself runs higher for longer, resulting in a steeper tailgate window.
Lexus says the revisions ensure good headroom and more luggage space behind the power-folding third-row seat, which has a 50:50 split for greater versatility.
The third row gets three-zone climate control and sits slightly lower than the second row seat to provide more legroom. Folded flat, it extends the luggage area.
Another major change between the RX variants is the glass roof: a smaller power-tilt-and-slide moon roof in the seven-seaters replaces the panoramic moon roof in the five-seaters.
The five-seat RX will continue to be available in six variants with a choice of hybrid and 3.5 litre V6 powertrains in standard, F Sport and Limited specifications.
Revisions to the 2018 five-seat RX see the alloy wheels on all models now having the black centre caps with a chrome Lexus logo previously only fitted to the F Sport model.
The Lexus Safety System+ is standard, upgraded across the entire RX range to include pedestrian detection as part of the pre-collision system.
Structural changes to the rear of the five-seat platform have in turn forced changes to the seven-seater’s exhaust system.
The petrol-only RX 350 RXL Limited and the petrol-electric hybrid 450HL Limited get a single rather than dual exhaust, the result of which is a marginal drop in engine output, from 221kW/370Nm to 216kW/358Nm.
The petrol-electric hybrid 450HL Limited mates the 3.5-litre V6 with two high-torque electric motors to produce a combined 230kW. The AWD system for the hybrid models uses one of the electric motors at the rear, instead of the transfer gears and drive shaft used on the RX 350. Once wheel slip is detected the rear electric motor is activated to provide AWD traction.