2023 Lexus RX First Drive Review: Quality, Comfort Continue To Reign Supreme
I’m just disappointed the champagne exterior paint didn’t make a comeback. A ’90s girl can dream.
To consider the 2023 Lexus RX is to choose a luxury mid-size crossover that’s built on the three pillars of a bulletproof reputation: quietness, comfort, and practicality. Since its launch in 1998, this is what the RX has always been. This is what it always will be, so it’s no wonder that it is consistently Lexus’s most popular model.
Nobody expects an RX to be a radical departure from the model it succeeds, but you can expect a handful of very nice improvements in this all-new, fifth generation. As a result, the new RX now looks much better (I think, at least) and will go on to delight buyers with an improved cabin and far better engine options.
I'm just disappointed the champagne exterior paint (or JRG if you're Matt Farah) didn't make a comeback. A '90s girl can dream.
2023 Lexus RX Review Specs
- All pricing: TBA
- 350: 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-four | 8-speed automatic | front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
- 350h: 2.5-liter inline-four hybrid | CVT | all-wheel drive
- 450h+: 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid | transmission TBA | all-wheel drive
- 500h F Sport Performance: 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-four | 6-speed automatic | Direct4 all-wheel drive
- 350: 275 hp @ 6,000 rpm | 317 lb-ft @ 1,700 to 3,600 rpm
- 350h: 246 hp @ 6,000 rpm | 233 lb-ft @ 4,300 to 4,500 rpm
- 450h+: TBA
- 500h F Sport: 366 hp @ 6,000 rpm | 406 lb-ft @ 2,000 to 3,000 rpm
- Curb weight: 4,155 to 4,750 pounds
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 29.6 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy
- 350 FWD: 22 mpg city | 29 highway | 25 combined
- 350 AWD: 21 mpg city | 28 highway | 24 combined
- 350h: 37 mpg city | 34 highway | 36 combined
- 450h+: TBA
- 500h F Sport: 27 mpg city | 28 highway | 27 combined
- Quick take: The Lexus RX formula is an important one not to screw up, and I’m happy to report that it hasn’t been. There are just a few annoyances to contend with.
- Score: 8/10
Now built on the TNGA-K platform, which also underpins basically every mid-size Toyota product and therefore the entire world, the RX’s big aesthetic change concerns its spindle grille, which it still wears but is slightly less of a gaping maw than before. The top of the hourglass shape is now body-colored and the silver frame is gone, which lessens its visual impact significantly. The rear is characterized by a single wraparound taillight.
Dimensionally, the new RX is the same length as the outgoing model but is slightly wider, lower, and has a longer wheelbase. Rear passengers are treated to increased legroom and the A-pillars have been pushed back slightly for better forward visibility. There has been a three-row RX in the past; this fifth generation will launch with two rows and it's unclear if a three-row version will happen.
Gone is the 3.5-liter V6 and in its place are three different engine options across six trim levels available at launch: the 350 with a turbocharged inline-four, which can be either front-wheel or all-wheel drive; the 350h hybrid with a naturally aspirated inline-four engine with all-wheel drive; and, for the first time ever, the top-of-the-line 500h F Sport Performance, with a turbocharged inline-four hybrid, rear-wheel steering as standard, and Direct4 all-wheel drive. (This means it uses an electric motor to power the rear wheels.)
A plug-in hybrid version—the RX 450h+—will join the lineup later on. Lexus does not have any of those specs on hand yet, so you’ll get them at a later date.
Inside, the instrument cluster is now fully digital, while the infotainment—running Lexus’ new UI that first debuted on the NX last year—can be accessed via a standard 9.8-inch screen or an optional 14-inch one. All of the cabin's high-touch points—the wheel, the door handles, the center console—give off that Lexus-y aura of plushness and quality. It's nice, just as it always has been.
In the half-day that I spent with the new RX, I tried out all four powertrains, albeit briefly.
The yet-to-be-launched 450h+ plug-in model is certainly very quiet but also felt heavy and slow, like it was trying to move a lot of weight with not very much power. However, seeing as Lexus hasn’t officially launched this model, I have no idea whether the 450h+ shares a powertrain with the Toyota RAV4 Prime (one of the finest vehicles on sale today, if you ask me). If it does, though, I’m disappointed by how much slower this one felt.
In non-hybrid 350 form, the RX has adequate power to get up to higher speed and isn’t noticeably slow. It does its basic job well with an agreeable engine and transmission combination. This, I suspect, is more than enough for the average RX customer. As it stands, Lexus estimates that 73 percent of all RX customers will go for this model.
The hybrid 350h felt very much the same, just with a CVT. Hate on ‘em all you want, but you cannot deny the fuel savings here. It’s clear this hybrid application is for efficiency, not power.
If you want power, look to the 500h. I’m not sure who asked for a sporty RX, but we have one now. Its performance is actually pretty delightful. Flooring it gets you impressively good hustle and louder, piped-in engine noise that doesn’t sound half-bad. Put it in Sport mode and the transmission keeps the engine at higher rpms and sharpens up the throttle response a bit. Ride stiffness and steering feel don’t change much, though.
But people don’t buy a Lexus RX for its performance, they do it for the all-encompassing package that arguably pioneered today’s luxury SUV segment. On this front, the model still delivers. Obviously. How could it not? That’d be like if a bird suddenly forgot how to lay eggs.
Riding in an RX is to be treated to a serene and comfortable affair, damped to return a cushioned flow over rougher roads with incredibly nice and supportive seats. The car’s lowered hood meant forward visibility was great while rearward visibility wasn’t bad, either. Steering-feel was just right—not too light and not too heavy—and the brakes felt strong and progressive. Pedal bite was extremely predictable, and we experienced something akin to regenerative braking on a downhill highway stretch as evidenced by some slight brake dip in the nose after letting off the throttle.
All RX models also come standard with Lexus Lane Tracing Assist (which uses a host of sensors and cameras to help keep the car in lane), though, in practice, the car had a tendency to veer out of its lane when approaching merge lanes. Furthermore, it liked to ping-pong within the lane even without obstacles present, which made me wonder why it behaved like this when the system I tried in the Toyota Tundra worked perfectly well.
Loading and unloading cargo was a breeze thanks to the trunk’s high floor and lack of a hatch lip. From the rear seat, my five-three frame had plenty of legroom behind a six-three driver. If rear headroom is still a problem, the rear seats tilt back a few degrees for maximized comfort.
Overall, the cabin is very standard RX fare, with everything being easily within reach and where you expect it to be. However, I will call out two things that stood out as concerning and inconvenient.
The first is the digital door latch. An electronic way of locking and unlocking the doors, all RX models now have them. You can no longer hear the ka-chunk of locks clicking into place when you lock the car, and there’s no handle that will open a door, it’s a button. Lexus says that there’s a manual override when you pull on the door button instead of pushing it, but this whole thing felt like a solution seeking a problem that absolutely no one had.
Secondly, the car’s drive modes cannot be accessed via something simple and straightforward, such as a console dial or steering wheel button. Instead, you have to access it via the infotainment touchscreen. This distracts from driving and if you don’t already know where in the menus it’s located, finding it can take some time. Thankfully, however, basic functions such as temperature adjustments and volume controls are still knob-controlled. I won’t waste your time here bellyaching about how everything else is screen-based. I can’t stand it, either, but the trend is here to stay. The RX is not a car for breaking molds, after all.
Unfortunately, just because you’re a pioneer, it doesn’t mean you’ll remain one. Lexus may have forged the luxury mid-size SUV path in 1998, but today, it finds itself in a sea of others that have caught up and do essentially the same thing. Among competitors, the RX can count the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, and Genesis GV80. Nearly all of these can be had as hybrids or with all-wheel drive or both, and they all have top-notch NVH-proofing qualities. No RX pricing is available just yet, but I imagine it’ll run exactly in line with this pack and start somewhere in the $50,000s.
But what the RX offers that these others cannot is its Lexus reputation, one that speaks for itself and is perhaps the loudest aspect of this car. The only buyer hesitation I’d anticipate still has to do with that spindle grille. It’s better than before but I know it’s still pretty polarizing; by contrast, the GV80’s fresh design is one of the most striking things on the road today. In a good way.
By far, the RX’s greatest strength is its anonymity. Everything about it—its engines, transmissions, road manners, ride comfort—blends seamlessly into the background of a smooth and issue-free ride. You buy an RX because you know exactly what you’re getting before you even set foot in the dealership. Critics may dismiss that as boring, but doing so misses the point entirely; the RX does the thankless but nearly impossible-to-nail job of performing its duties so predictably well that you only notice if it gets something wrong. It is the most Lexus Lexus out there, possessing a consistency and reliability that it’s maintained across five generations and for nearly a quarter of a century.
Cars like the LFA, IS F, and IS500 F Sport Performance grab headlines and attention, but it’s the RX’s quiet strengths that bankroll this whole operation. There’s a power in that, just of a different sort.
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