Your familiarity with the Lexus RX depends a lot on where you live. It’s much more popular in the US than it is in Europe and the UK, so it makes sense that my first ride with the luxury SUV would be in California.
Lexus says this generation RX is 95 percent new compared to its predecessor. It will arrive in the US by the end of the year, before landing in other markets in 2023. Prices are yet to be confirmed, but should land in the $50,000 to $60,000 region.
The first thing you notice is how the new RX looks. The front end is sharp and angular, like that of a concept car, and the grille is unashamedly massive, especially in a state where cars don’t need a front license plate. It looks smart and it’s clearly styled to work better in the States than in my native UK.
Sharp and shallow lights at the front and rear continue the modernist vibe, with the full-width taillight bar featuring a new Lexus decal with massive character spacing. It doesn’t matter what brand of car you follow. The ‘floating roof’ design seen on previous RX models, where darkened C-pillars create the illusion of a disconnected roof, is present and correct. The aesthetic is a big step forward for the RX, but the overall look is still unmistakably that of a Lexus.
The interior has also been thoroughly renovated. Gone is the clunky, trackpad-esque controller of the previous car’s infotainment system, replaced by a more intuitive scroll wheel. Or reach out and tap the new 14-inch touchscreen display. The driver-facing screen runs on Lexus’ proprietary system, but there’s also support for wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so it’s best for most drivers to plug in a phone and send their map and music apps to use choice.
Lexus has really plunged into its Japanese heritage with the interior of the new RX. It’s a clean and simple cabin that has been cleverly designed and exudes a soothing atmosphere, especially in the top-of-the-line Takumi equipment. The door handles are particularly interesting (no, really), because they use knobs on the inside and outside. This means that you press the handle to get out, rather than pulling the handle and then pushing the door. It makes sense when you put it that way, but recalibrating your muscle memory takes some time. There is also a backup lever mechanism if the electronic actuator ever fails.
The space around is very good, especially in the back and in the trunk, although there is currently no option for a third row of seats. Tick the Takumi box and both rows will get electrically adjustable and heated seats.
It’s a pleasant cabin, but one that does little to really stand out in a crowded market where BMW, Audi, Mercedes and others are fighting over. Wind and road noise are kept nice and low, but there is a distinct drone when the engine kicks in to help the engines of the hybrid variants.
Lexus and parent company Toyota have a thing for complex powertrains, so rather than a simple array of petrol, diesel and hybrid options to choose from, the RX does things a little differently. The RX 350h, which is expected to be the most efficient, is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a Constantly Variable Automatic Transmission (CVT) and a two-engine hybrid system.
Below that is the American RX 350 with a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 275 horsepower, and on the top step is the 367 horsepower RX 500h, which Lexus amusingly describes as being for “the most demanding petrolheads”. It’s not, because it’s not particularly lively, and driving a Lexus SUV in even a vaguely sporty way feels downright wrong.
Among all this is the most interesting model of the range, the RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid. This car has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 185 horsepower and a pair of electric motors that send 182 horsepower to the front axle and 55 horsepower to the rear; total system horsepower is 308 horsepower. The motors are powered by an 18.1 kWh battery pack, which Lexus says is good for approximately 40 miles of electric range. I tested this during my short time with the RX and the estimate is spot on. It can handle a 32-mile commute to the office and back without relying on the engine, which is exactly what a 2022 hybrid should be able to do without breaking a sweat.
A built-in 6.6 kWh charger means the battery can be topped up from a home wall box in just under three hours. More interesting is how the plug-in hybrid can charge its main battery on the go and then use a second, smaller NiMH battery to behave like a mild hybrid. So even when the primary lithium battery runs out, it should still be more efficient than a regular plug-in hybrid towing around with a dead battery.
The plug-in hybrid and top-of-the-line RX 500h both feel powerful enough, with nearly identical 60mph mid-six seconds sprint times. In any case, the plug-in’s performance shows how unnecessary the larger engine and less efficient RX 500h is.
Ride quality is usually very good and the light steering combined with the rear wheel steering makes the big RX easy to maneuver in tight spaces. It’s not the last word in driving dynamics, but it will undoubtedly be a very good family SUV for long and comfortable road trips.
The 2023 RX has a bold new look, with a refined and attractive interior, a vastly improved infotainment system, plenty of room for all four/five occupants and a solid trunk. The car floats smoothly enough and the smart plug-in hybrid system of the RX 350h+ shows that Toyota and Lexus are always eager to try something new when it comes to powertrain technology.