Can't see the point of a Lexus? Give it time ...

SPECIFICATIONS
Price: £29,000 to £37,700 (£37,700 as tested);
Engine: 3.0 litre, V6, 204bhp;
CO2: 288 g/km;
Performance: 125mph, 0-60 in 9 secs, 23.1mpg;
Worth considering: Toyota Landcruiser, Volvo XC90, VW Touareg, BMW X5.

When Toyota launched the first Lexus in 1989, its self-consciously rigorous research and development programmes, meticulous attention to detail and bank-vault engineering were intended to lure Mercedes owners rom their E- and S-Classes, and prove to the world that the Japanese could build something a little more desirable than a Corolla.

They succeeded. Today Lexus is a byword for quality and refinement. In the United States, where they tend to be less snobby about non-European brands, Lexus is top of the aspirational tree for older professionals, replacing Volvo as the American dentist's must-have wheels. But it is not always easy to see why Lexus owners are so loyal.

When I first drove the all-new RX300, I was underwhelmed. It had more gadgets than Delia's kitchen, but the V6 lacked sparkle and the steering seemed dull. You tended to forget you were driving it. I wondered if I might be missing something, so I asked to keep it for a few more days, and that was when the RX300's qualities began to emerge.

As with the best Mercedes, the RX300's depths become apparent only over time. I could live without the various Dan Dare styling touches outside and in, but in the long term, few cars will instil such a sense of assurance and calm.

The RX300 is a car with real authority (on-road at least, and who cares if it can cross a ploughed field or not?). It might not "involve" the way a sports saloon will, but "involve'"can be overrated.

Most people, most of the time, just want a car in which they can sit high up in air-conditioned, lumbar-supported luxury, swaddled in high-grade leather, listening to a fabulous stereo while occasionally prodding the throttle. I know I do, and I know a car that can.

Tom Barnard, 32, e-learning project manager and his neighbour, Matthew Spencer, 36, project manager, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Usual cars (respectively) VW Bora and Honda Accord Type R.

Tom: "It will be owned by people with three cars on the drive and nothing in the fridge. The space is great and it is a real pleasure to drive, but it is underpowered. If I had this much money into the back pocket of (very big) trousers, I would not buy one."

Matthew: "I like the look and it feels special. I enjoyed driving it. The quality is fantastic and it cossets you. I can't think of a feature it doesn't have, but it doesn't have the power you would expect."

Chris Skelton, 56, caterer and his friend Carol, 57, part-time administrator, from Bristol

Usual cars Nissan S-Cargo, Lexus LS400 and Renault 5

Chris: "I looked for the steepest hill I could find and tried to drive up it. It kept changing down; it really struggled. My Lexus has a V8, which is much stronger. Otherwise it is everything you expect from a Lexus in terms of quality: rock solid. You buy a Lexus with your head not your heart."

Carol: "It didn't feel powerful. I liked the satellite navigation. It is too big and too high, but some women like that because it gives confidence. It is the car equivalent of the Honda Goldwing motorcycle."

Mike Evans, 51, self-employed management consultant from Gloucester

Drives BMW 330 and VW Lupo

"What practical use are they to most people? It is impressively smooth and comfortable around town but with just a 3.0 litre it is sluggish when you need performance. There is a long delay when you kickdown, even in sports mode when you try to boot it and the engine becomes raucous. It handled quite well for something this big but I wouldn't need the four-wheel drive. The quality is what you would expect for a car of this size but it is expensive compared to my BMW. I associate Lexus with high quality, faultless but uninspiring cars, and that describes this one well."

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