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Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - BOOKS -

Grow­ing up with bangers skewed my mind­set about cars. Back then, you ex­pected trou­ble. En­gines wilted, clutches or brakes sud­denly ex­pired, ra­di­a­tors steamed and doors, oc­ca­sion­ally, fell off. Nowa­days the op­po­site is true. Yes there are re­calls but, in the main, we don’t ex­pect or tol­er­ate ex­ten­sive mechanical dif­fi­cul­ties.

We’ve grown ac­cus­tomed to min­i­mum lev­els of pro­fi­ciency. There are no re­ally bad new cars any more. But with such mechanical ad­vance­ment comes the dif­fi­culty of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing be­tween av­er­age, good and ex­cel­lent. More and more, the devil is in the de­tail.

Which was ex­actly the case with this week’s re­view model: the large new hy­brid cross­over from Lexus called the RX 450hL with its three rows and seven seats.

For con­text: it is 110mm longer than the par­al­lel RX five-seater. And they have re­designed the side/rear flanks to ac­com­mo­date the ex­tra row while man­ag­ing to main­tain good head and lug­gage room. (They even fit­ted side-cur­tain shield airbags to pro­tect the third-row pas­sen­gers.) The ex­ten­sion blended well enough; it didn’t look bolted on.

There’s no doubt that, on sev­eral lev­els, this car meets ma­jor re­quire­ments for an in­creas­ing num­ber of fam­i­lies: it’s a seven-seater and it is not a diesel.

But as it costs from €82,000, it is a posh rather than main­stream op­tion that ri­vals the likes of the Audi Q7, BMW X5, etc for your money.

De­spite that, Lexus ex­pects this seven-seater to ac­count for 40pc of its RX sales.

Con­sid­er­ing the price, you would also ex­pect an im­pres­sive list of safety and com­fort equip­ment. You def­i­nitely get it; no doubt about that.

On a prac­ti­cal level, I found ar­rang­ing the seat­ing quite easy — the third row rose and folded flat elec­tri­cally (no labour in­volved at all). The sec­ond row slid eas­ily and tilted.

How­ever, when I had a load of stuff to ferry on one oc­ca­sion, I was dis­ap­pointed the sec­ond

■ Lexus RX 450hL seven-seat hy­brid cross­over: 3.5-litre V6 petrol/elec­tric mo­tor (com­bined 313bhp), E-Four all-wheel drive, 6litres/100km, 138g/km, €280 tax.

■ Lux­ury (stan­dard) spec in­cludes: 20ins al­loys, leather up­hol­stery, elec­tric/heated/ ven­ti­lated front seats, 3-zone cli­mate con­trol, 2-way lum­bar sup­port (driver); park­ing sen­sors, elec­tric tail­gate, Lexus safety sys­tem, sat­nav, 12-speaker Pioneer au­dio, 12.3ins info dis­play.

■ Pre­mium adds adap­tive vari­able sus­pen­sion (AVS), semi-ani­line leather, heated 2nd row, 15-speaker Mark Levin­son sys­tem, adap­tive high-beam. From €82,450 (Lux­ury); Pre­mium: €92,550.

row didn’t fold that flat. Im­por­tant de­tail. Yet when that mid­dle row was oc­cu­pied, my pas­sen­gers had great room. (We had loads of space up front, too).

As we had no oc­cu­pants for the third row, I took it upon my­self to slide and tilt the mid­dle three and scram­ble in. I made an undig­ni­fied show of my­self (yes, more than usual) but proved I could do it.

We were most com­fort­ably en­sconced in the car for sev­eral longer trips — no­tably to the mid­lands to bid fond farewell to one of life’s true gen­tle­men and a bizarre semi off-road trip (it tech­ni­cally has AWD) to an old haunt from years back.

I drove it in Sport mode most of the time be­cause I found the set up far too soft and flouncy even on or­di­nary roads. It trails many ri­vals in that depart­ment.

It would have re­turned bet­ter fuel con­sump­tion (8litres/100km) too if my jour­neys had been shorter — hy­brids fare best in ur­ban traf­fic as the bat­tery works pro­por­tion­ately more often.

I didn’t hear much from my 3.5-litre V6 petrol, but it was no­tably thirstier over the longer dis­tances.

Yet even with my crit­i­cisms thus far, I’d still say it was more or less as I ex­pected: a big, roomy, com­fort­able, well thought-out, lux­ury cross­over. The cabin eas­ily matches ri­vals es­pe­cially on ma­te­ri­als. And as a sec­ond-row pas­sen­ger re­marked: the at­ten­tion to de­tail is tan­gi­ble.

But there were devils look­ing for at­ten­tion in the de­tail, too. Most of my re­main­ing cribs fo­cussed on the cen­tral in­fo­tain­ment dis­play screen, or more ac­cu­rately, the wayward pad on the con­sole panel that com­mu­ni­cated my de­mands/tasks to it.

That irked and an­noyed. The lit­tle pad was mad­den­ingly too sen­si­tive and feck­ity. I furtively flicked and clicked. It was an un­nec­es­sary dis­trac­tion and did noth­ing for the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I’m say­ing that in the full knowl­edge that some­one, some­where de­signed and im­ple­mented it as a sen­si­ble aid and that I am an ut­ter clot with such sub­tle ma­noeu­vrings.

But in a mod­ern car set-up, it wasn’t what I wanted. Ri­vals do bet­ter. Isn’t de­tail a devil all the same? I’d get used to it, I’m sure, but should I have to in an €82,000 car?

I liked the RXL for its com­fort and qual­ity of fit-and-fin­ish. But I’d want a more pre­cise and in­tu­itive com­mand sys­tem (voice con­trol did help). This is, af­ter all, the area where we in­ter­act so much with our ve­hi­cles. We’ll do so even more in fu­ture. Which means such items will be sniffed most en­er­get­i­cally for the de­tail that will dif­fer­en­ti­ate the good from the not-so-good.

But we also need to keep bal­ance. There may be devils in the RXL’s de­tail, but there are also sev­eral saints in its over­all ac­com­plish­ment as a comfy fam­ily cross­over.

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