Introduced in 1998 in the US, the Lexus RX 300 defined the crossover luxury SUV. After becoming one of the most popular models in the Lexus lineup, other manufacturers began to enter this popular segment. Despite rising competition, the RX has maintained its sales lead over its rivals. Lexus knows how crucial this midsize SUV is to the lineup, so the new 2016 RX is intended to improve every aspect of its predecessor.
As before, Lexus offers the RX 350 and RX 450h Hybrid in both front-drive and all-wheel drive variants. The base RX 350 FWD starts at $41,900 and ranges up to $52,235 for the RX 450h hybrid. All-wheel drive adds $1,400 for either model. Opting for the F Sport package (AWD only) bumps up the MSRP to $49,125 (RX 350) or $57,045 (RX 450h).
Notable standard or optional equipment include LED headlamps and fog lamps, 10-way driver and passenger seat, 8-inch or 12.3-inch infotainment screen, heated steering wheel, and 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. A full complement of active safety technology such as Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Blind Spot Monitor, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are available. The F Sport package add 20-inch diameter alloy wheels, adaptive suspension, F Sport virtual gauges, heated and cooled leather seats, paddle shifters, aluminum pedals, and F Sport-specific front and rear bumper fascias.
Although both RX 350 and RX 450h are equipped with an all-aluminum 3.5L V-6, the powerplants are different. The 2GR-FKS V-6 powering the RX 350 cranks out 295-bhp @ 6,300 RPM, a 25-bhp boost compared to the previous V-6. Torque output rises to 267 lb.-ft. @ 4,700 RPM. Dual overhead cams and VVT-iW variable valve-timing switches to the Atkinson cycle for reduced fuel consumption. An 8-speed automatic gearbox sends power to the front or all four wheels. On AWD RX 350 models, an electronically-controlled coupling engages the rear axle on-demand. Up to 50% of torque can be shifted to the rear wheels. The RX 350 is rated at 20/28 MPG (FWD) and 19/26 MPG (AWD).
The 2GR-FXS V-6 in the RX 450h is optimized for fuel efficiency so both power and torque ratings are lower: 259-bhp @ 6,000 RPM and 247 lb.-ft. @ 4,600 RPM. Total system power for the RX 450h is 308-bhp, boosted by the electric traction motor. The hybrid drivetrain uses a CVT to couple output from the electric motor and the gasoline engine to power the front wheels. A rear transaxle combines an electric motor and reduction gear to drive the rear wheels. The hybrid RX 450h achieves a city/hwy. fuel consumption of 31/30 MPG (FWD) and 30/28 (AWD).
The RX front suspension consists of MacPherson struts, coil springs, and a tubular stabilizer bar. At the rear is a double wishbone setup with coil springs, and dampers. Vented disc brakes are at all four wheels. The base 18-inch diameter alloy wheels are shod with 235/65R18 tires. Optional 20-inch diameter wheels are mounted with 235/55R20 tires.
Lexus has a deserved reputation for superb build quality, and the new RX continues this tradition. Most padded surfaces are French-stitched in contrasting colors. The perforated leather upholstery feels soft to the touch. Opting for the F Sport package adds upgraded front seats that are both supportive and enveloping. We found the Rioja Red interior color scheme especially attractive. The standard seats in the base RX are unremarkable, but do offer acceptable comfort and support. Technology enthusiasts will enjoy the multiple screens and virtual gauges included with the F Sport. Some of the safety technologies can be intrusive, such as the Lane Keeping Assist that automatically applies steering correction to maintain lane position.
During the press preview we drove the RX 350 in standard and F Sport models, as well as the RX 450h F Sport. Most seat time was spent in the RX 350 F Sport, which is aimed at driving enthusiasts. Even though the F Sport adaptive suspension is biased toward comfort, the damper settings maintain ride control. Around some of the wet winding roads near Raleigh-Durham, the F Sport suspension tuning reduced the typical understeer that plagues most SUVs, although significant body roll reminded us that the RX is no sport sedan. The electrically-assisted steering is tuned for low effort and quick turn-in response; selecting the Sport and Sport+ settings reduces power assist closer to our preference. Over the mostly smooth roads in North Carolina, the RX demonstrated its strength as the perfect SUV for long interstate trips. Road, wind, and tire noise are hushed. The V-6 is just audible enough at full throttle to remind the driver that it is effortlessly accelerating this 4,387 lbs. SUV. The 8-speed automatic shifts seamlessly, but the paddles can be used to shift manually as needed.
Current Lexus RX owners will be impressed with the all the interior upgrades and new safety technology added to the new RX. But Lexus has plans to expand the sales for its best-selling vehicle, so it expects the aggressive exterior styling and sharper handling to pull in men who might gravitate to competing SUVs from Audi and BMW. Most RX customers will probably skip the expensive F Sport package, but driving enthusiasts should consider it mandatory.