2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance Review: A Good Car Hamstrung by Annoying Tech

I couldn’t believe it. Never in my years have I had a car do what the 2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance did to me, and I’ve owned dozens of inconvenient shitpiles. It told me to sit up. 

OK, you can turn that particular feature off. But it took a good while of menu hunting, frustration, and mostly dealing with it for a few days before I could crack the code. Even with that disabled, this became something of a theme in the RX 500h. That theme is becoming a classic modern luxury trope: pretty nice but held back by annoying technology. Even more strange were the aberrations within simple systems like door handles, which made my time with the RX 500h frustrating. 

There is good within the RX 500h, though. It’s sumptuously comfortable, supremely well-built, quiet, actually quick, and a (mostly) wonderful place to spend time. But it doesn’t nail everything, especially for the $72,105 as-tested price. 

2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance Specs
Base Price (as tested)$65,150 ($72,105)
Powertrain:2.4-liter turbocharged inline-four | twin-motor hybrid with permanent rear motor | six-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive 
Horsepower:366 total system output @ 6,000 rpm
Torque:406 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Seating Capacity:5
Curb Weight:4,751 pounds
Cargo Volume:29.6 cubic feet behind second row | 46.2 cubic feet behind first row
EPA Fuel Economy:27 mpg city | 28 highway | 27 combined
Quick Take:Simultaneously great and frustrating, with plenty of room to improve.
Score:7/10

The Basics

The RX 500h F Sport Performance is the second Lexus to get the mouthful “F Sport Performance” moniker after the 5.0-liter V8-powered IS 500. Built off the latest generation of RX, this midsize SUV doesn’t get the V8 but instead gets a fairly powerful two-motor hybrid system to differentiate itself from lesser RX models. Most importantly, though, it gets the sans-trackpad newest generation of Lexus infotainment, a heavily updated interior that is genuinely gorgeous, and an exterior that’s frankly the opposite of gorgeous. 

Forehead. That’s all I can see above the modified spindle grill of the new RX. It simultaneously has a massive forehead and a wide underbite that isn’t cohesive with the rest of the car. From the A-pillar back, swallowing the porcupine quills of the front gets a little easier, with a reasonably nice rear, floating D-pillar, and heavily surfaced rear door surfaces that are overstyled but decent-looking. 

Inside, the situation gets a lot better. You know how some cars tend to elicit that joke about not having to look at the outside while you’re driving it? The RX, to me, is 100% one of those cars. Interior surfaces are wrought beautifully, with three-dimensionality and material work that always inspires a random touch or two during short drives. There’s a clear theme of concavity versus convexity, making it feel like the interior was carved out for me. It’s spacious, with plenty of room to stretch on long trips, and the seating position is almost infinitely adjustable for any body type. The comfort and support of the seats are a real highlight, too.

But the RX giveth and the RX taketh, in a big way. Lexus’ new 14-inch infotainment is a colossal improvement over the previous trackpad-bound system and works decently well. The HVAC knobs are welcomed, but the system falls into the trap of over-reliance on touchscreens. The vast majority of functions are done via the screen and it isn’t always clear how to find what you need. For example, a drive mode change takes two touches and knowledge of the menus. The cooled and heated seats, heated steering wheel, fan speed, and recirculation are all on a permanent section of the screen, wasting screen space. There is a volume knob, though, thankfully.

But there are bigger crimes here. I’ll start with the minor one—the interior door handles are now electronic and push to open, instead of the long-accepted pull to open. There’s still a physical door release that lets you pull, but it’s awkward and takes two pulls. Pulling the handle twice is honestly what I accidentally did until I figured out that the same door handle works as a button. The wheel did not need to be reinvented here, though I’ll grant that getting used to the push-button doors was easy and they made sense after the initial epiphany.

The bigger, much more irritating crime exists on the steering wheel. Even with that swanky interior, excellent 12-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, and comfy seats, the RX 500h fails to understand a core tenet of luxury: ease of use.

Getting to grips with the RX 500h on Brooklyn roads as my first test with it was trial by fire. And almost immediately, beyond the instantly annoying driver monitor that I eventually disabled, something that normally exists peacefully in the background forced its way into my consciousness: steering wheel buttons.

As part of the new infotainment setup, Lexus has replaced the fixed steering wheel buttons most folks have come to accept with buttons that are blank and use both haptic touch and a traditional, physical click. Instead of having one assigned function for every button, Lexus decided that the steering wheel buttons should be configurable, which would be fine if the functions were permanently assigned until you made a change in a menu. 

The problem is that you can change the button assignments on the fly to two predetermined settings. This means that there is an extra step every time you want to raise the volume, skip track, or set cruise control because the RX does the most annoying possible thing: you first have to rest your finger on the button to summon the button assignments in the head-up display before you do a full click to get your desired function. 

This is borderline unacceptable. No, really. You cannot just click once to skip track, or maybe it was another menu setting like the driver monitor that I just couldn’t find. It is distracting and only works 75% of the time, meaning you have to shift your eyes toward the HUD to make sure the button is ready to be pushed. This is the opposite of convenience or luxury.

Driving the Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance

It’s a real shame because, despite that, the RX 500h is an excellent road trip vehicle. It’s quiet, supremely comfortable, and sumptuous above all else. Every surface is softly padded, built to an excellent standard, and never quite loses the charm of being a nice place to spend time. Over the 800-mile round trip from New York City to Watkins Glen for my racing escapades, it was mostly easy to drive, fuel-efficient, and easy to relax in. Ride quality was good, if a little bit uncontrolled over large bumps. 

And making good on the F Sport Performance part of its name, the RX 500h hauled total ass, with instant response making overtaking on upstate New York country lanes an almost instant affair. It was a little strange hearing the groan of a turbocharged four-cylinder come from a $70,000-plus SUV, with the engine being isolated and quiet but still exhibiting a small bit of classic inline-four thrash when stressed with hard acceleration. It utilized its powertrain cleverly, using the powerful electric motors on both axles to provide instant shove while the internal combustion engine woke up. There were strange behaviors in traffic, with very low-speed crawling revealing a misfire-like engine vibration that felt like the hybrid system lugging the engine aggressively at low rpm. 

Despite some spikes of unrefinement and irritating steering wheel buttons, the core experience of the RX is good. It has plenty of cargo space, while the RX 500h gets power reclining rear seats and a panoramic sunroof that made me wish I was being driven instead of driving. Carrying around a three-person race team, all of our driver gear, as well as some extra race car stuff was easy and everyone was comfortable. The advanced driver’s assistance systems worked well, with adaptive cruise being responsive and transparent about how it deals with hard stops and unexpected lane changes, while the lane keep assist was smooth but still required light nannying to keep things kosher. 

But still, the RX 500h struggles with its onboard technology. Wheels were reinvented that did not need to be, with the steering wheel buttons being an egregiously annoying one. It should be a luxury SUV above all else, and in the pursuit of being high-tech, it lost sight of the core of mental comfort, which comes through convenience and ease of use. 

The Highs and Lows

A high-quality interior makes almost everything worthwhile in the RX 500h. The seats are wonderfully supportive but supple, while the material choice and sculpting of the interior had me reaching for surfaces at random just to feel how good they are. It combines interesting design with high quality, resulting in a beautiful interior that mostly works well as a physical space. It’s just nice.

The ultimate functionality of the electronics, however, leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve harped about it a lot now, but the tech is seriously annoying. Like anything, you can get used to it. But the issue with the RX is that the tech always reminds you of the extra step or two you need to take, never providing a shortcut with a deeper understanding of the system. It’s clunky, annoying, and thrown into even clearer focus when you realize how good the rest of the interior is. 

Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance Features, Options, and Competition

The midsize two-row premium hybrid SUV market is extremely competitive. The Mercedes GLE, BMW X5, Audi Q7, and Volvo XC90 form its real competition, while the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX60, Genesis GV80, and Lincoln Nautilus are a little left field. All of these SUVs land near $50,000 starting and top out in the $80,000 range.

Being the top-trim RX, the 500h comes standard with a small crowd of features. The larger six-piston brakes, rear-wheel steering, and hybrid all-wheel-drive system are standard, as is the nicely trimmed interior, full suite of ADAS, wireless Apple CarPlay, heated and ventilated front seats, configurable ambient lighting, and head-up display. Strangely, the smaller 9.8-inch infotainment screen is standard. My tester was optioned with almost $10,000 worth of extras, with the 14-inch infotainment and Mark Levinson stereo for $2,265 being the biggest one and perhaps the most necessary. 

Fuel Economy

The RX 500h gets average fuel economy for the segment but ranks near plug-in competitors for highway economy while still being a conventional hybrid.

EPA

Observed fuel economy over 800 miles was 29 mpg over a majority of highway driving, with about 100 miles worth of city traffic.

Value and Verdict

The 2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance should’ve been a strong swing. It’s comfortable and well-built and has a gorgeous interior and a spunky drivetrain. But it falls on its own sword of trying too hard to be forward-thinking, rather than giving in to the classic Lexus philosophy of doing what works and doing it well.

It gets the practical things right: great fuel economy, an extremely usable interior and trunk, good stereo, excellent comfort. And it would be a slam dunk if it wasn’t so frustrating to interact with. I shouldn’t have to hop into a car and have to learn how to open the door correctly, or spend time menu hunting to shut a feature off that arguably shouldn’t exist in the first place, or be forced to use idiotic steering wheel buttons.

Even discounting all of that, though, the RX 500h might not be the correct RX to buy. For the same money, and for what the Lexus RX should truly exist for, buyers would be wise to take a look at the plug-in hybrid RX 450h+. But if what you want is the midsize Lexus SUV that prioritizes Performance above all else, the RX 500h is the ticket.

Got Lexus RX 500h questions? Hit me up at chris.rosales@thedrive.com

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