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In testing times, I find my comfort

Campbell Spray takes the trusty family car for its NCT and, in between, experiences some pure Lexus luxury

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HOT OFF THE PRESS: The very competent Lexus RX450h after delivering piles of newspapers to the ASH animal charity in deepest Wicklow.

HOT OFF THE PRESS: The very competent Lexus RX450h after delivering piles of newspapers to the ASH animal charity in deepest Wicklow.

HOT OFF THE PRESS: The very competent Lexus RX450h after delivering piles of newspapers to the ASH animal charity in deepest Wicklow.

It has been a case of splitting my mind in two during the past couple of weeks. On one side, there have been cars to test and motoring issues to be faced; on the other, it is dealing with the hard realities of car ownership that ordinary people are facing every day of the week.

My wife's car insurance had to be renewed, the vehicle valeted, serviced and the NCT undertaken. It is good to have to do this, it brings me down to earth.

The professional valet was needed, as, despite some hard work, we couldn't get years of ingrained dirt out of the car which is very much a portable kennel between our home and Phoenix Park where the dogs are walked every day - rain or shine. And, basically, there has been very little of the latter.

I could help with valeting, servicing and NCT appointments; however, the significant other had to sort out the insurance. It was a predictable affair. It is the same every year. They had sent a quote for renewal, it was up, arguments were undertaken on long phone-calls and eventually somebody said they "would talk to their supervisor" and the quote came down.

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The Lexus RX450h's cabin decked out in rich cream leather

The Lexus RX450h's cabin decked out in rich cream leather

The Lexus RX450h's cabin decked out in rich cream leather

The car came back from the valeting looking like new and was a joy to be in. It improved my mood no end and should stay cleaner now there are good covers in the back that keep the dogs from trying to jump into the front before the straps attached to their harnesses are plugged in.

The two lads at Imaal Auto Services in Cabra did a good job in preparing the car for the NCT. There was a bit of work done and a small replacement CV cover needed. But last Friday, I was ready with a shiny, sweet-smelling eight-year-old Hyundai i10 to go off to the testing centre at Northpoint, off the Naul Road at exit 4 of the M50.

So that was the domestic work done. In between, there was some nice driving to do and for that there is little better than taking out a Lexus RX450.

This large hybrid SUV is so solid and well-built that it can afford an almost under-stated luxury. It envelops you with confidence.

So much so that we wanted to take it on a rather testing trip into the very middle of Wicklow, where Helena and Remi Le Mahieu do such great work with ​the ASH animal rescue charity from their rambling premises at Kiltegan.

We had been out there before Christmas when we were looking for a friend for our Jack Russell, but, unfortunately, they didn't have a dog who would also get on with our three cats.

We were so impressed with the work they did at ASH - and discovered that they were in need of used newspapers. As I buy at least two a day, and we have just been binning them, we decided that this was something concrete we could do. So we loaded the Lexus up with nearly three months of papers and headed off to ASH.

The RX is perhaps one of the most significant models in Lexus's 30-year history. The original RX, launched in 1998, seemed quite special then: an SUV that was luxurious, comfortable and easy to drive, in particular in urban environments where conventional SUVs proved unwieldy.

Lexus believes it inspired the market segment, in which today almost every premium manufacturer is represented. It is now Lexus's worldwide best-selling model, with three million sales, and became the company's and world's first luxury fully hybrid vehicle in 2005.

The current fourth-generation RX pushed the boundaries of the luxury SUV concept even further on its launch in 2015, as it went for more "emotional design and more engaging driving dynamics".

For this year, it has been updated and Lexus chief engineer Takeaki Kato said: "In developing the new model, I was determined to keep and further refine the 'one-of-a-kind' value that only the RX could create, which has been cultivated since the first generation."

The first person I knew who had a Lexus over here was the brilliant writer Hugh Leonard. It always impressed me about the marque that if such a curmudgeonly man like Hugh could rave about his car that it must have been very special indeed.

I remember getting in the first one I ever tested and just relaxing in the plush seats, putting on the music and drifting off to sleep outside our house.

The new RX450 isn't perfect. The CVT automatic box is poorer than many of the car's competitors, it's quite a step up to get in the vehicle, and the flat floor is a bit offputting.

However, on the road its manners are excellent, even on the very rutted and twisting roads through Wicklow. The journey put us even more in awe of Helena and Remi who are daily off to various vets, some very far away with their rescues.

The 3.3-litre V6 petrol powertrain develops 313hp while still being fairly economical, and, amazingly, has motor tax of €280pa.

The safety package is first class and is a great comfort, especially in the dreadful weather we have been having.

Prices for the RX start at €78,580 for the Executive model and rise to €90,950 for the Premium, where you can still put on another €7,000 of factory options.

The best-seller is the Luxury model with rich cream leather interior and black grain inlays. The luxury pack at €3,675 would add good extra safety equipment, alongside a panoramic roof and heated steering wheel.

Lexus, perhaps more than any other marque in its sector, is a car that could become a family heirloom. The brand is always at the very top of the reliability index. In uncertain times, if you have a windfall, it could be the one to get.

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So I was late submitting this article last Friday as I visited the NCT centre at Northpoint. The receptionist was wearing gloves and behind a glass screen - as was the tester - when he returned the car keys. Luckily the car inspection lifts were back working.

In the waiting room, everybody was keeping their "social distance".

We keep antibacterial wipes in the car so I could wipe down the keys, steering-wheel and door handle. It was a good and fast service at Northpoint.

We - or rather the little Hyundai - passed first time for the third test in a row. On a day of doom-laden airwaves, it was a bit of joy.

I hope we are all around for the next one.

Keep safe.

Sunday Independent