The Lexus RX series has been ruling the luxury mid-size crossover roost for nearly two decades and there’s no reason to think the new RX will sully that record run.
Lexus and its mainstream counterpart Toyota wised up and started restyling its vehicles and giving them some personality the last couple years. The outcome is an RX with dramatic chiseled looks, wrap-around lights and a grille that couldn’t get any more in-your-face aggressive. The taillights protrude so much you can use them as armrests if you’re standing outside the vehicle in a parking lot. Plus the C-pillar is blacked out to create a sportier profile.
A base RX 350 with front drive and an 8-speed automatic features a powerful 3.5-liter V6 that creates 295 horsepower, up from the previous model’s 270 horses. The tested swantky dark metallic blue (Nightfall Mica) was an RX 450 h F Sport that combines a slightly detuned 3.5-liter V6 with an electric hybrid system to create 308 hp. Both models drink regular 87 octane unleaded, so no special need when you cruise into a service station.
Speaking of which, you’ll do less of that with the hybrid, naturally. This is rated at 30 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. I got 28.1 mpg in about 60% freeway driving. For the record, the gas-powered V6 models get 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway in the AWD mode like the F Sport I was driving. All F Sports are AWD.
The RX remains a comfortable crossover for families with a well-tuned suspension that easily absorbs whatever thumping crumbling Wisconsin roads deliver. No jostle to the riders and a true delight on the freeway. We had four adults in the test vehicle for a ride to Oshkosh and all praised its seats, ride and roominess.
Lexus creates well-formed seats to hold five adults and the front are sporty buckets that give plenty of side and hip support. There’s a power lumbar for the driver and three seat memory buttons on the door. Rear seats will split and fold, plus they will slide forward if your rear-seat passengers are short and/or you need more cargo room.
Handling is good too with fairly heavy steering feel in Normal mode. Using the driver-select system knob on the console to go to Sport mode firms the wheel and suspension more, while the Sport+ mode that comes on the F Sport model delivers the stiffest steering and suspension. Both are more than many may enjoy while on city streets instead of a racetrack.
Levels below F Sport don’t offer the Sport+ setting, and trust me, you won’t miss it.
In any mode the crossover corners well with little body roll and good steering feedback.
AWD is standard on F Sport, but not all models, and braking from four discs is extremely responsive.
The one letdown was acceleration, but then again this is a hybrid. There’s enough overall power at 308 horsepower and a torque rating of 247 lb.-ft. But there’s precious little oomph off the line unless you’re in one of the sport modes and even then there’s a major lag as you first acceleration. The Lexus feels heavy as you pound the gas pedal and in reality is chunky at 4,608 lbs., about 500 lbs. heavier than the similarly sized Hyundai Santa Fe driven last week.
Still, the Lexus will get up to highway speeds sufficiently. You just need to allow a bit more time for the CVT, continuously variable transmission, and hybrid electric system to get there. It’ll even tow up to 3,500 lbs., so something on the order of a small boat or trailer.
But overall looks and the luxury interior will likely influence your purchase more than the power if you’re shopping for a hybrid.
The RX 450h delivers with a whisper quiet ride and interior along with fine leather seats and door trim. The test vehicle had gray leather seats and a black dash. Trim is ribbed aluminum on the doors and part of the console with gray leather inserts into the doors and pewter-look trim around gauges and air ducts. There’s a black trim on the center stack’s face and part of the console by the shift lever.
That shift lever has been relocated too, now on the console whereas in past years it was part of the center stack protruding from the dash. The console mount is much better and allows Lexus to create a better looking and more easily read dash.
All the buttons are large and easy to see and the projected main dash gauges are attractive too. What everyone was clamoring about though was the giant 12.3-inch navigation/radio screen (an 8-incher is standard) atop the dash. One passenger expected to see YouTube videos on it, but it’s just for the radio and nav system with a split to give you a lot of one and a bit of the other. It’s easy on the eyes.
Sadly Lexus sticks with its clunky console-mounted knob to tune the radio and select items on screen for navigation. It still tends to lock onto items you don’t want and distracts you while driving. Set it and forget it before you put the vehicle in motion. However, one audio item of note is the Cache Radio system Lexus offers. It allows you to record 10 minutes of live radio programming and play it back, a nice feature if you’re listening is interrupted by a call or other intrusion.
As mentioned above, the seats are comfortable and made more pleasant by three-level heating and cooling. That cooling breeze from a hot leather seat on a sunny summer day is quiet a relief. We all know how awesome heated seats are in winter and this is pretty much the exact reverse of that.
I like the color heads-up display, but could live with black and white. This was easy to see, yet adds $600 to the price. Other add-ons that are worth considering include the blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, part of an $800 option package, and panoramic sunroof for $500.
Lexus includes its safety system with adaptive front lights that help bend around corners at night. It’s fine, but not sure I’d part with $1,050 for it.
The thick leather F Sport steering wheel adds $50, which is peanuts, but isn’t the sporty flat-bottomed wheel I’ve seen in other F Sport models. Here you’re paying for a logo, but I prefer the flat-bottom wheel as it gives the driver a little more legroom when exiting. That said, the RX’s wheel does power up and back once you switch off the push-button ignition.
Other standard features include the surround-view camera that can help a driver in a tight parking space and the power hatch. Supposedly a Lexus feature allows you to open the hatch with the wave of a hand over the tailgate’s Lexus logo, but that didn’t work on this model, so not sure if this was an early production model that didn’t include the feature.
What is standard with the RX’s cool looks is a low roofline that can cause some entry and exit head bumps for short drivers. Those of us who are on the short side often keep the driver’s seat fairly far forward and at that angle you can tap your noggin on the door sill, so be watchful of that. Taller drivers may be fine as they will have the seat positioned further back where the door frame is higher.
My test car had a $1,400 all-weather discount on it, which is good because the base price was $57,045. Add in a $940 delivery fee and all the options this one had and, boom, you’re at $60,015. Still the competition from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and the like are often at that price, or higher, for a mid-size crossover.
Certainly you can save money by avoiding the hybrid and/or starting with the RX 350 with front-drive. It lists at $42,850 and the AWD model at $44,250. The F Sport version of the RX 350 lists at $50,075.
A front-drive RX 450h starts at $53,185, and the AWD model at $54,585 before you move to the tested F Sport. All are attractive and highly functional, so it’s likely we’ll continue to see these around the high-end suburbs in quantity well into the future.
FAST STATS: 2016 Lexus RX 450h
Hits: Noteworthy sporty looks, comfortable ride, good handling, brakes and AWD. Quiet luxurious roomy interior with heated/cooled seats, giant radio/nav screen, surround-view camera, monster sunroof, heads-up display, power seats, power tilt/telescope wheel and power hatch.
Misses: Low roofline can cause front seat head bumps entering and exiting, clunky console-knob adjusting radio, lackluster hybrid acceleration and F Sport steering wheel is round, not flat at the bottom.
Made in: Cambridge, Ont.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 w/hybrid, 308 hp (combined)
Weight: 4,608 lbs.
Length: 192.5 in.
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
MPG: 30/28 (EPA)
MPG: 28.1 (tested)
Cargo: 18 cu.ft., 55.9 cu.ft. (rear seats down)
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
Base Price: $57,045
Invoice: $54,572 (includes delivery)
Blind-spot monitor w/rear cross-traffic alert, panoramic view monitor, $800
Color heads-up display, $600
Lexus safety system w/adaptive front lighting, $1,050
Panoramic moonroof, $500
Nav system w/12.3-inch multimedia display, Lexus Enform Destinations, $430
F Sport steering wheel, $50
All-weather credit, $1,400
Test vehicle: $60,015
Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage