Restyled RX 350 still fills luxury SUV prescription, but …
Luxury and utility are ubiquitous with the Lexus RX 350, otherwise known as the unofficial soccer mom car of suburbia.
This SUV that started out more as a tall wagon when introduced in the U.S. market in 1998 has been the best-selling luxury vehicle here for the past 10 years. Here’s why.
It is Toyota reliable, offers AWD for safety in sloppy weather, has a taller stance for better outward visibility, isn’t too tall to make access a problem, is quiet inside with a leathery interior, holds five comfortably, plus kid cargo under the power hatch, and has good power and ride. Oh, and for a luxury crossover it was reasonably priced.
One can now argue that last point, as the base front-drive RX 350 now tips the financial scales at $48,550 and the AWD model at $50,150. But those other points remain the same. Lexus, the luxury arm of Toyota, has not futzed with success much these past 25 years, other than the RX like an overwhelming majority of vehicles continues to grow larger. For 2023 the wheelbase stretches another 2.4 inches while for styling its tail overhang seems to have shrunk.
If anything, the styling might have stagnated a bit although the chrome roofline trim’s wave down toward the tail continues to add a bit of flair. The hood’s nose though now bulges more (Ram pickup inspiration?) as if its giant grille isn’t noticeable enough. Still, for practical purposes, the RX is just what the doctor ordered.
Handling is moderately easy and simple to control, the multi-link rear suspension provides a well-controlled ride and the new powerplant, a 2.4-liter I4 gives the crossover plenty of acceleration with 275 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. The only downside to this new engine, which replaces the old reliable V6 that had powered the RX for ages, is its growly nature. Accelerate hard and the RX’s air of luxury dissipates in a grumble that sounds more mid-priced than $50+k. The V6 sounded smoother.
Of course the point is to cut vehicle weight with a 4-cylinder vs. the V6 and with an 8-speed automatic to help gas mileage. To that point, the EPA rates the RX 350 at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Sadly in 30-degree weather I managed just 20.0 mpg in about 60% city driving.
But I did have the AWD available for when things got a little slick. Soccer moms and dads appreciate that too.
Watch Mark’s review: 2023 Lexus RX 350 review by Mark Savage – YouTube
Naturally Lexus loads the RX with all the relevant safety equipment one expects today, known here as Lexus Safety System+ 3.0. That includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, intersection support (arrows flash on the screen to show vehicles approaching from either side), motorcycle detection, smart cruise control with curve speed management, and lane departure alert and steering assist.
Other techy items include a digital key, intuitive parking assist, rear cross-traffic alert with auto braking, a head-up display, advanced parking which is an automatic parallel parking system, and Traffic Jam Assist, sort of an autonomous driving mode to help a driver in slow stop-and-go situations where the car can creep along and stay in the lane by itself. Nice for commuters or folks who regularly drive on congested highways.
In theory it frees a little time for a parent to scold a child or work an app or two on a cell phone.
Inside, the driver and occupants will feel sufficiently coddled as the gorgeous dark metallic blue test SUV scored dark gray and brown leather and suede seats with black upper door and dash surfaces. There’s even some suede trim in the door panels. Trim is a satin chrome and the info screen and air vent trim is a gloss black, while the console top is flat black. Overall there’s a hushed tone to the interior.
The test SUV also included handsome Mark Levinson stereo speakers in the doors. That stereo happens to add $1,160 to the price tag, but then you do get 21 speakers and excellent sound quality.
Wisely too Lexus has abandoned that touchy and inconvenient touchpad on the console that was used for tuning the radio and other info screen functions. Now there’s a ginormous 14-inch touchscreen mid-dash to find nearly all driver-selected functions, plus the radio tuning. It works much better than that pad.
The screen seems overly large, yet for us oldsters, it may be just the ticket.
Seats are typical finely contoured Lexus models with power up front and heated/cooled front and rear seats too, plus a heated wheel, a must here among the frozen tundra. There’s also a wireless phone charger and oodles of USB plugs front and rear.
Those rear seats also will power down to boost cargo space, already a generous 29.6 cubic feet behind row two. The second row seats also can be powered to a slightly reclined angle. Head and legroom are spacious in row two, another reason this is a primo family hauler.
I like that the RX steering wheel is powered too, so it’s simple to tilt or telescope for driver comfort and there are three seat memory buttons on the dash’s left. The driver’s seat and steering wheel also power back and up for easier entry and access once the ignition is off.
A panoramic sunroof is standard and manual sun shades grace the rear side windows, all completing the inner bling for RX 350.
One glitch on this tested pre-production RX 350, an annoying false driver attention warning beep. This happened a LOT, often when I was turning the steering wheel and my arm would cross in front of the driver’s instrument pod, I suppose breaking the electronic beam that was watching my eyes. One hopes that will be less touchy on production models.
I also am not a fan of the heated and cooled seat controls being located on the digital touchscreen. I feel they belong on the console for easy access whereas the RX used that spot for the auto stop/start button, a hill descent feature, a parking brake, and another off-roading button. Those will rarely be used. In the screen’s defense, the heated/cooled seats and heated wheel controls have an automatic feature so one could set them and forget them, although I found that leading to an over-warm derriere and palm on occasion.
One other design concern as more vehicles move to push-button door releases, copying Tesla. That push button confuses a fair amount of passengers who are looking for a lever. Even after they push the button they’re not sure if the door is to open by itself (it does on the Genesis G90), or if they should push it, pull up on the button area or what. This style change is a solution in search of a problem.
All of which returns us to pricing. I mentioned the basics earlier, but the tested RX 350 Luxury AWD model starts at an even more robust $58,150, including delivery. Adding just the stereo brings it to $59,310 and there are certainly more options that could push it to $65k.
There are a variety of trims for the RX 350 including hybrid models for most, including the Luxury edition. All those hybrids get better gas mileage as regenerative braking and the hybrid system provides modest electric power for early acceleration. I’d opt for a hybrid even though their power is slightly less at 246 horses. Its mpg ratings are 37/34, so quite the bump over gas-only.
A top-line RX 450h F Sport also is available starting at $62,750 and touts 366 horses and a 406 torque rating. Ironically the more powerful 450h gets better fuel economy at 27/28 compared with the tested gas-only Luxury edition, again thanks to hybrid help.
No doubt the RX 350 is still a sound choice for a family luxury SUV that even Goldilocks would consider Just Right!
FAST STATS: 2023 Lexus RX 350 Limited
Hits: Quiet and attractive luxury interior, AWD, controlled ride, fine safety equipment. Huge touchscreen replaces awkward console touchpad, comfy seats are heated/cooled front and rear, heated wheel, panoramic sunroof, power tilt/telescope wheel, wireless charger, power down rear seats, good cargo space.
Misses: Annoying false driver attention warning beeps, growly engine on heavy acceleration, heated seats/wheel controlled on screen, too many functions on screen, less used functions are buttons on console, push-button door release confuses riders. Modest MPG.
Made in: Cambridge, Ontario
Engine: 2.4-liter turbo I4, 275 hp/317 torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 4,155+ lbs.
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 192.5 in.
Cargo: 29.6 – 46.2 cu.ft.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 20.0 (tested)
Base Price: $58,150 (includes delivery)
Mark Levinson PurePlay Surround Sound w/21 speakers, $1,160
Test vehicle: $59,310
Sources: Lexus, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage