SANTA BARBARA, CA –After three years of development, the ’23 Lexus RX rides on a stiff global platform and offers a suite of top-notch driver-assistance technologies.
The RX is based on the Lexus Global Architecture K that is 198 lbs. (90 kg) lighter than the previous platform, providing a lower center of gravity, longer wheelbase and wider track. It incorporates three types of lightweight metals: aluminum, steel and high-tensile steel, taking advantage of the unique strengths and properties of each.
Combined with adaptive variable suspension, the result is better handling, reduced road vibration and less impact from bumps, reducing the noise level to ensure a quiet, refined ride.
The '23 model year sees 4-cyl. propulsion supplanting the 3.5L V-6 that had been an RX mainstay. The venerable powertrain produced a respectable 295 hp and 267 lb.-ft. (362 Nm) of torque in the '22 RX 350, but with poorer fuel economy compared with the new 4-cyl. units.
The ’23 RX lineup is topped by the RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD, powered by a 271-hp turbocharged 2.4L inline 4-cyl. combined with an 80-kW (107-hp) electric rear axle motor, producing a total system power of 366 hp and 406 lb.-ft. (550 Nm) of torque.
Stepping on the gas in the RX 500h gives a rush of acceleration due to the power assist from the electric motor adding 67 lb.-ft. (77 Nm) of instant torque to the 339 lb.-ft. (460 Nm) of the engine, revving up to a top speed of 130 mph (209 km/h). The RX 500h takes hills and curves with aplomb, providing a sense of control and the feeling of owning the road.
For those content with a more traditional model and powertrain, the RX 350 (available in front- or all-wheel drive) comes equipped with a 275-hp, 317-lb.-ft. (430-Nm) turbocharged 2.4L inline 4-cyl.
The RX 350 offers ample power to accelerate onto the highway and pass other vehicles as needed and is fairly nimble for a vehicle that weighs 4,310 lbs. (1,955 kg). With AWD as tested, the RX 350 grabs the road and doesn’t let go even under maximum acceleration.
The RX 350h 2.5L inline 4-cyl. delivers 185 hp and 178 lb.-ft. (241-Nm) of torque, much lower than the 350 or the 500h. However, this is augmented by the rear axle motor for a respectable total system power of 246 hp and 233 lb.-ft. (316 Nm) of torque. The acceleration is underwhelming but would be sufficient for a soccer mom or dad to drive around town and take the occasional road trip.
A fourth RX model, the 450h+ PHEV with electric assist, is expected to be powered by a 2.5L 4-cyl., an 18.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and an AWD-e motor. No specifications have been released, but the power and torque are likely to be higher than the 350h thanks to the more powerful rear motor. A major feature of the PHEV is the EV Hold button near the shifter which switches the CUV to all-electric power. The 450h+ initially will be offered in Europe with U.S. availability “at a later date,” the company says.
The sleek lines of the RX interior are easy on the eyes. A well-laid-out dashboard provides ready access to all common controls without having to tap or scroll through layers of menus. The 14-in. (36-cm) touchscreen display with navigation and 7-in. (18-cm) instrument cluster provide information in a clear, bright format that is uncluttered.
Roomy seats complete the experience and are comfortable even after hours of driving. Interior colors range from a creamy Macadamia tone to a whitish Birch, tan Palomino and a nice medium Black. We like the three lighter colors for looks but wonder how they would fare after ferrying kids for a year or two.
A wide sunroof provides a panoramic view, especially from the back seats. Even though there is no shade to cover the sunroof, the glass itself reflects almost all of the heat, leaving it slightly warm to the touch.
All three models we drive include the Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 driver assistance features. The LSS system is designed to address the three most common types of accidents: frontal collisions, unintended lane departures and nighttime accidents.
The configurable ADAS packages include pre-collision braking with low-light pedestrian and bicyclist detection, turning and braking support for intersections, lane departure alert, curve speed alerts and management, dynamic radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist, traffic jam assist and road sign assist. The adaptive cruise control works as expected. Acceleration and braking are smooth and reliable.
Lane-keeping assist is one of the very best we have tried so far, and the only one that works reliably with only a center line paint stripe on two-lane roads. Except for tight curves, the lane-keeping kept us in the lane 95% of the time on interstate highways, city streets and curving country roads, even at relatively high speeds.
Where there are clear lane markings, the lane-keeping system rapidly engages as soon as the driver presses the cruise control button. It readily reengages automatically after braking or after disengagements for tight corners, quickly resuming steering assistance to keep the vehicle centered.
Unlike almost all other carmakers’ systems, the LSS rarely gets confused by exit ramps, center left turn lanes or patches of unmarked roads. This is because it uses cameras as well as map data to maintain lane position. Quite an impressive ADAS system overall.
According to Wards Intelligence data, 2021 Lexus RX sales were up 3% from 2019 at 115,320 units, reversing a slight downward trend that began in 2018. In 2018 and 2019, Lexus RX sales hovered around 111,000 units, capturing about 25% of sales in its class. In 2020, the RX market share dipped slightly to 22.6% with sales of 101,059 units, then rose significantly in 2021 to garner a 28.3% share, selling 115,320 units out of 407,068 in the luxury CUV class.
Lexus must be doing something right, because first-quarter 2022 sales grew to grab a market share of 29% with 26,795 units even as competitors lost share and the overall market declined. The second quarter saw the industry bounce back somewhat, and the Lexus RX share dipped slightly to 27.2% with 26,974 units of the total 99,012 sold.