Lexus RX First Look: A Luxury Crossover Reset

Lexus made history in 1998 when it released the first generation of the RX, ushering in the era of the luxury crossover. Car-based RX was able to convince a large number of luxury clients that it, rather than body-on-frame beasts, was the future of transportation.

Lexus’s LX600 and GX models still exist, as do the Cadillac Escalade, but the RX pushed them to the further reaches of the market, where they’ve remained ever since. Most tiny and medium luxury SUVs nowadays are built on RX’s foundations. There may not be a generational shift in buyer preferences, but the all-new 2023 Lexus RX is the model’s largest overhaul since Y2K.

Since the luxury SUV market was restructured over two decades ago, the RX has devolved into… the status quo. A 2022 Lexus RX350 is essentially the same car as its predecessor in terms of layout, driving dynamics, and refinement—but it has a V-6 engine that is present in many Toyota and Lexus models and a platform that is found in many Toyota and Lexus models.

Lexus RX
Lexus RX

Sporty driving characteristics, turbo- or supercharged engines, and the like are offered by rivals in order to compete. Lexus’ most innovative feature was also its most frustrating: an irritating touchpad for controlling the primary dashboard screen (imagine it as the touchpad on your laptop). Almost everything else is from 1998, but with today’s features and Lexus’s aggressive grille and body creases, it’s a modernized version of the original.

Toss off that rulebook for the first time, Lexus is introducing a 2.4-liter turbocharged I-4 in the RX350 model for 2023. Despite the fact that Lexus had pioneered hybrid technology decades earlier with its first-ever RX RX Hybrid, that, too, lacked a plug-in model and provided just average performance and fuel economy.

New hybrid models for the ’23 RX include a new RX450h+ plug-in hybrid (details soon) in addition to the RX350h and the RX500h F Sport, which is a sporty hybrid. Lexus has reconfigured the RX’s core components, extending the wheels further apart, opening up interior space, improving the SUV’s stance, and reducing the front and rear overhangs for a more aggressive look while maintaining the RX’s overall dimensions.

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Sizing Up The New RX

The RX, according to Lexus, is now based on the GA-K platform, yet it remains a transverse-engine, front-wheel-drive vehicle. The hybrid models come standard with all-wheel drive as an option. The wheelbase has increased by 2.4 inches to 112.2 inches, which is the same length as the original RX. The RX’s height is reduced by 0.4 inches to 67.3 inches, while the RX’s width rises by 1.0 inches to 75.6 inches.

The RX’s new, more angular profile is a vast improvement over the previous model’s nose-heavy, bulbous appearance. Though it won’t be confused for an SUV like the BMW X3 or Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, the Lexus’ bonnet now takes on a more formal horizontal plane, dropping the original RX’s minivan-like shnoz.

This year’s Lexus reimagines the company’s trademark hourglass grille. However, the overall impression of the grille and the surrounding bumper, as well as the nose cone above the Lexus insignia, still whispers “hourglass,” rather than shouting. Even the edges of the grille’s mesh pattern blend into the bodywork. Slimmer, squarer headlights, smoother sidewalls, and a sleeker greenhouse distinguish the new RX from the previous model’s design.

Lexus RX interior
Lexus RX interior

The diagonal quarter window behind the rear doors virtually matches the swoopy curve of the angled C-pillar on the original. Lexus doesn’t pay any attention to it. Even though it isn’t a direct homage to the original RX, it does offer visual interest in a similar manner to that model.

For the 2018 model year, Lexus is ditching the RX’s touchpad infotainment system in favor of a simpler touchscreen setup similar to the NX’s from a year ago. The 14-inch Lexus Interface Multimedia system is a show stopper, just as it was on that model. When viewed combined, the two enormous displays form a billboard that protrudes from the dashboard in front of the driver. Reworked sections of the dash, including a lower section closer to the front passenger, give the vehicle an airier feel.

The exterior door handles are fixed and have touch-sensitive releases as well, thus it appears that the RX will have electronic button releases for the doors. These releases are initiated by tapping lightly on a button on the door pulls. Of course, mechanical backups are available for both. Despite the RX’s overall length remaining the same, the increased wheelbase allows for more rear passenger and load area.

Stuff That Makes Things Work

Never before in the RX hybrid’s history have so many powertrain changes taking place at once. Previously, the RX350’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine had been replaced by a turbocharged 2.4-liter I-4, which is also available in the smaller NX. A new eight-speed automatic transmission is paired with a 275-horsepower, 317-pound-foot torque engine. That’s 20 less horsepower than the old V-6, but torque is up 49 lb-ft and peaks lower in the rev range—at 1,700 rpm instead of the V-6’s soaring 4,700 rpm—and it’s all thanks to the new turbocharged engine. Lexus claims that moving to the GA-K platform reduces the curb weight by roughly 200 pounds, thus performance should improve as a result of the increased torque.

Taking the place of the previous generation’s RX450h in the lineup comes the hybrid RX350h. This vehicle shifts from a V-6-based hybrid configuration to a four-cylinder-based one, utilizing Toyota’s 2.5-liter I-4 engine and a pair of electric motors much like the NX350h, resulting in 246 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque. The continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) sends power to all four wheels, increasing the RX’s projected combined fuel economy from 24 mpg to 33 mpg. Lexus claims a zero-to-60-mph time of 7.4 seconds, which is precisely in the middle of the RX350’s 7.2-to-7.5-second range.

The RX450h+ plug-in hybrid is still a mystery, but considering the 350h’s resemblance to the smaller NX, we wouldn’t be surprised if it followed the 450h+ configuration of that SUV: In addition to a 2.5-liter I-4 engine, a starter/generator, and an electric motor for the front axle, there is a second EV motor for the back axle. 302 horsepower is generated by this system and an 18.1-kWh battery can be recharged in the NX and RAV4 Prime. Lexus might also use the RX350’s turbocharged 2.4-liter engine in place of the current 2.5-liter one. Why?

Just take a look at the RX500h F Sport, for example. A turbocharged 2.4-liter engine from the RX350 is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, an electric motor, and an inverter, as well as a second electric motor driving the rear axle, for a robust 367 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. This is a brand-new RX hybrid.

Lexus RX engine
Lexus RX Engine

Toyota normally uses a planetary-type continuously variable automatic transmission to regulate the power from a gas engine and electric motors rather than a motor integrated with a standard automatic transmission in this hybrid arrangement. It’s also sporty. In other words, it aspires to give electrified performance rather than just superior fuel efficiency. In light of the poor gas mileage and performance of previous RX hybrids, Lexus’ decision to split the RX350h into an economic model and the RX500h into a performance model is a smart one. Our curiosity is piqued by the 500h’s torque figure, and we’re left wondering if the plug-in RX will be based on this model, or if the RX350 will use a larger battery that can give more range for electric vehicles.

Standard, Premium, Premium+ (a first for the RX), Luxury, F Sport Handling, and (again, a first for the RX) F Sport Performance trim levels will be available for the all-new Lexus RX. Last but not least, the RX500h Hybrid’s new F Sport Performance model comes equipped with 21-inch wheels and six-piston front brake calipers.

The 2019 RX will have various technological advancements, including a move to Lexus’ Safety System 3.0, although specifics, including pricing, are still forthcoming (the outgoing model is at 2.0). There is also a new Advanced Park system that can autonomously parallel park or back into a parking space as well as a collision warning system with pedestrian and motorbike recognition as well as adaptive cruise control with curve speed adjustment, lane departure warning, and lane-keep assist. The phone-as-key digital key arrangement will allow customers to unlock and start their RX with only their phones, according to Lexus.

The new RX will go on sale later this year, and we’ll learn more about its pricing and trim levels, as well as the plug-in hybrid option, at that time. Like the RX L, the three-row variant of the RX that we believe will be replaced by a new, true three-row Lexus shortly. For the time being, the RX isn’t changing anything outside of Lexus’s own SUV portfolio, but it does give the RX, a vital player in the luxury SUV market, a much-needed dose of newness.

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