Lexus fixes the niggles of the old RX in a comprehensive new luxury SUV package.
The Lexus RX has been our go-to luxury midsize crossover for a long time when it comes to driving from A to B in comfort without spending an absolute fortune. The outgoing generation of RX that the 2023 model replaces has its issues, such as an infuriating infotainment interface, lack of driver engagement, sloppy handling dynamics, and a thirsty V6 engine if you don't go hybrid. But for us, and a specific comfort-oriented buyer, the list of pros outweighed the cons. You would quickly hit the law of diminishing returns by spending more money on a crossover for a comfier ride, a better cabin, and more standard features.
For 2023, Lexus looked at where it can improve the model, then gave the RX a complete work-over. Built on a new platform (TNGA-K) that it shares with the Lexus ES and NX, it includes fresh styling, a new infotainment system, and replaces the base V6 with a 2.4-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine. The lineup starts with the RX 350 and its associated trims, then moves up to the hybrid 350h, followed by the RX 500h F Sport Performance model packing 366 horsepower. To see how the new model fares, we hopped behind the wheel at the US press launch.
The last generation RX's exterior styling was on the bland side if you managed to ignore the grille. Its shape was old-Toyota-like at best, giving away its close relationship to the Toyota Highlander. The new Lexus RX is a big step forward with a more sedan-like silhouette and the seamless grille appearing integrated into the bodywork rather than stuck on as an afterthought. There are more confident lines and shape to the RX now, and the light clusters are sharp and congruent with the overall aesthetic. The wheelbase is longer, which helps with comfort and stability, but the overall length is the same as the outgoing model. There's a negligible amount of extra width added, but it looks more planted due to the higher-looking belt line, lower center of gravity, and the visual trick of headlight lenses that wrap around the sides of the body.
Lexus has also stepped up its paint game with the new Copper Crest paint, which was hard to photograph in the harsh midday California summer light but looked fantastic to the eye. A CarBuzz favorite in Nori Green Pearl is also available, as well as other standout colors like Matador Red Mica, Grecian Water (blue), and Ultra White among the ten-strong palette.
The most significant drivetrain change for the RX is dropping the thirsty naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 in favor of a 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-four with an eight-speed automatic. The new engine's 275 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque is a few ponies shy of the V6 but with more torque on hand, and it's noticeable in how smoothly the new RX pulls off the line. It's more fuel efficient at 25 mpg combined, but the caveat is that the turbo-four runs on premium fuel.
In the hybrid lineup, the RX 350h reduces horsepower to 246 but increases fuel economy to an estimated 36 mpg courtesy of a CVT. At the top of the line is the RX 500h F Sport with a large bump to 366 hp and a combined 406 lb-ft but a dip down to 27 mpg, blending hybrid efficiency and performance in one, forgoing the CVT for a six-speed automatic.
We don't have pricing yet, but we're confident given the RX isn't going to be bought en-masse for its corner-carving performance. The 350 is going to rightly make for the bulk of the new model's sales. Matched with the eight-speed auto, it's a confident and smooth drivetrain that packs enough torque and refinement to never strain.
We spent the day driving all three flavors of the RX, and they all had one thing in common. The RX is a comfortable cruiser with the kind of quiet and smooth ride that can easily cause you to find yourself cruising along feeling like you're doing 60 mph when you're doing 80. The suspension is firmly damped but perfectly tuned with the spring rate to deal with bad roads and bumps. That's improved more by adding adaptive suspension, but it only comes on the F Sport Handling and F Sport Performance, which feels like a missed opportunity. Also on F Sport models is Lexus's Dynamic Rear Steering for improved stability at high speed and maneuverability at low speed.
While the F Sport is the performance version, we felt it was unnecessary to have a sporty version. It rides nicely, accelerates well, and corners well, but, to us anyway, it misses the point of the RX. We would stick with the 350h and enjoy the balance of premium comfort and fuel economy. Maybe it's time Lexus thought about having a luxury badge as well as a performance badge here, as it does on certain other model lines.
The previous generation RX was a high watermark for interior comfort, and nothing has changed. The seats are comfortable, and the whole cabin features premium materials. Despite the numbers reading similarly to the outgoing models, there's more practical room for everyone, including those in the rear. There's no third row for this generation, so if you need to transport more than five people, it's time to look elsewhere, or perhaps at a larger Lexus LX.
What makes us particularly happy is the new touchscreen, voice-controlled infotainment system, and lack of the annoying trackpad interface that blighted Lexus for years. It's accessed through a 14-inch screen, comes standard with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and has integrated Apple Music and Amazon Music. In addition to touch, the infotainment can be controlled by voice commands, including the cloud-based navigation system with Google points of interest (POI). A Wi-Fi Connect hotspot is available via AT&T service, as is SiriusXM.
We found the infotainment system a little laggy, but it's brand new and will be improved by over-the-air updates. The voice recognition is excellent and doesn't struggle like other systems with accents. Despite the lag, this is still vastly better than the old system.
In essence, the new Lexus RX is closing in on perfection as a package. It's easy to drive and as smooth as other premium vehicles but at much higher prices. The new infotainment system fixes the most significant usability issue with the RX. The slight bump in fuel economy (3 mpg combined) is a welcome improvement, as is the extra torque, rear legroom, ride quality, and new styling. The only genuine fault we can pick is in the lagginess we experienced with the infotainment system, but we're aware we were driving pre-production vehicles.
As a first-drive impression, the Lexus RX has leveled up for its new generation. It's now a vehicle we look forward to test-driving over a full week to ensure it is the complete upgrade over the last generation we think it is. If so, existing Lexus customers will love it, and BMW X5 and Audi Q7 customers that shrug at the idea of spirited driving should test drive it. Even if they do, unless they want the sharpest experience on a back road, the F Sport version is quick and holds a corner. We would take the savings on gas, though, and cross-shop the 350h once the pricing is announced.
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