For years, the Lexus brand has been almost synonymous with its bestseller, the RX crossover SUV. The egg-shaped RX enjoyed so much success that its admirers became copiers, and the RX itself became overshadowed by the copies.
With the outgoing fourth-generation RX, Lexus courted a more youthful demo by slapping on a giant spindle grille, folding in as many body creases as an origami crane, and floating a roof. Teenagers with crustaches have pulled off better takes on edgy youth.
Lexus pulled out the razor and trimmed the redesigned 2023 Lexus RX to split the difference between its ovoid past and recent spunk. More importantly, the changes to the fifth-generation bestseller go beyond skin deep.
Enticing new shoppers (in their 40s) without alienating core fans (in their 60s), the 2023 Lexus RX comes in six trims, four powertrains, three hybrid options, two all-wheel-drive systems, and a more versatile platform that’s new to the RX. The 3.5-liter V-6 is gone for good, but the 350 designation remains for a new generation.
Most of the changes occur behind the RX’s tamer design. Its new TNGA-K platform shared widely in the Toyota family is both stiffer and 198 lb lighter, and it influences the packaging and design. Regardless of the drivetrain and battery packs, the gas and hybrid models have nearly the same interior proportions as last year, except the cargo volume has blossomed from 32.6 cubic feet to 46.2 cubic feet with the seats down. The seven-seat RX L model won’t return this year.
Lexus pulled back the A-pillar and windshield an inch and trimmed the rear overhang by 2.4 inches, yet the wheelbase extends by that same difference. It makes the nose appear longer, and the rear more compact and muscular. The hood dips down into what used to be the top of the massive chrome-framed spindle grille. It’s melting now, and spreads out past the frame as if frozen in aero motion. Rounded wheel arches and a curving body line represent the smoother flow of the RX.
2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance
This iteration of the RX F Sport first introduced on the outgoing model takes a bigger step closer to the performance suggested by its name. It employs a 2.4-liter turbo-4 with a 6-speed automatic transmission and a motor generator. A 107-hp motor and inverter power the rear axle, and the motor is fed by the brand’s tried-and-true nickel-metal hydride battery. Together, this new system produces 366 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque.
With no direct mechanical connection between the axles, the 500h can adjust torque to the axles to optimize the driving mode. In Sport mode at launch, the torque shifts from that of a front-wheel-drive crossover to a 40/60 split favoring the rear axle. It steadies the weight transfer and helps the 500h reach a 0-60 mph time in 5.9 seconds, according to Lexus.
It’s spirited and surprisingly spry, but there were a couple of instances where I wanted a couple more gears in the 6-speed automatic. Shifting down into second gear when going heavy on the throttle takes a long beat that can interrupt on-ramp fantasies. It was more tolerant of the upshifts, letting me stay in second gear until about 56 mph, which was ideal up the hills on the interior of the California coast. But when downshifting, it stayed in third gear until about 45 mph no matter how I flicked the paddles. Coming around a bend into a valley left me hunting for more grunting, but that’s picking nits as there was plenty of passing power for everyday use.
It couldn’t fully shed the physics of its 4,751-lb profile, but the four degrees of rear-axle steering made a difference sashaying through the higher speed valley sweepers. At lower speeds, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction of the fronts to make parking easier or to hone a three-point turn into one point.
Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom modes change the throttle response, and Eco mode feels as if you’re stepping on a sponge. Each mode can be customized for Sport or Normal settings for the powertrain, suspension, and steering, but it’s best to set it before driving hard because the drive modes are only accessible through the touchscreen.
Still, with the Direct4 AWD system and adaptive dampers on its front strut and multi-link rear suspension, the RX500h feels more composed than any of its predecessors. It remains quiet and chill in the RX way, but now it has the option to be injected with more performance chops.
It’s a tempting alternative to the Acura MDX Type S, and sportier than any SUV from Infiniti, Lincoln, or Cadillac. (We’ll exclude the Escalade-V because it’s ridiculous.) It only gets a Lexus-estimated 27 mpg combined, but for efficiency over performance, check out the RX 350h.
2023 Lexus RX 350h
Like the 500h, the RX 350h comes standard with all-wheel drive. Unlike the 500h, it was built for efficiency mainly. Lexus targets a mpg stat line of 37 mpg city, 34 highway, and 36 combined, compared to the 30 mpg combined in the last model.
The 3.5-liter V-6 is replaced with a 2.5-liter inline-4 dual-motor hybrid system used in everything from the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid to the forthcoming Toyota Crown. In the RX 350h, it makes 246 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque (down from 308 hp and 247 lb-ft in the 2022 model). It pairs with a CVT that’s innocuous around town, but for any rushed driving it keeps the engine high in the rev range and fills the cabin with the kind of complaining that’s unbecoming of an RX. Lexus quotes a 0-60 mph time of 7.4 seconds, but we’d recommend taking it easy for good fuel economy and quiet cruising.
Its on-demand all-wheel-drive system can split the torque 50/50, but it defaults to front-wheel drive. A Trail mode splits the torque to both axles and brake-based torque vectoring controls wheel slip in turns. We didn’t go off road, and with just 8.1 inches of ground clearance and tires made for pavement, it’s best to stay on pavement.
2023 Lexus RX 350
Standard with front-wheel drive but available with all-wheel drive, the RX 350 opens the door for more performance and less efficiency at a lower expected price than the other models. The base RX 350 uses a 2.4-liter turbo-4 that makes 275 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque.
After a bit of turbo lag, the 350 responded sharply and the 8-speed automatic transmission flicked through gears without hesitation. With the engine allowed to climb into the 6,000-rpm range, there was never a doubt when passing trucks and tourists, including on uphill grades. Available AWD comes with paddle shifters for more driver control and a 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds, compared to 7.6 seconds with FWD
F Sport Handling models come with AWD and adaptive dampers that better helped the RX maintain its composure than in back-to-back testing without it. The RX 350 is both stronger and smoother than the RX 350h, and the new F Sport Handling might be the sweet spot in the RX lineup once pricing is finalized.
Lexus RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid
It’s still unclear when the first plug-in hybrid for the RX will go on sale in the U.S., and I was only treated to brief 10-minute loops of a pre-production Euro-spec model, so a lot remains unknown. But it’s very quiet.
The RX 450h+ shares a 18.1-kwh battery and plug-in hybrid powertrain with the smaller NX450h+ and the Toyota RAV4 Prime. It has a 2.5-liter inline-4 and two-motor hybrid system to power the front wheels, and a dedicated motor at the rear axle for AWD.
Driving in EV mode, the RX 450h+ was not as quick off the line as other PHEVs, but it made a seamless shift between gas and electric power. It also had the EV drive mode buttons on the console, which would be preferred for the drive modes in the 500h. It also had power seat buttons on the inside of the front passenger seat, so anyone in any of the five seating positions could adjust the front passenger seat, same as in Genesis models.
Aside from how it drives, the RX 350 compels for its boodle of standard features. It comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, a wi-fi hotspot, a 12-speaker sound system, six USB ports, a sunroof, and a 9.8-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone connectivity, though most models get a 14.0-inch touchscreen. Underneath the screen, Lexus provides actual climate dials, which is always nice. Options range from lush leather and suede trimmed seats to ash bamboo wood trim and a heated wood steering wheel.
Lexus equips every RX with pushbutton door handles that might not make the best first impression, but they appeal over time with their quiet effortlessness. Something that took me longer to get used to were the blank four-way controllers on either side of the steering wheel. They control icons that appear in the instrument cluster or in the head-up display when equipped (the visibility for either is not doused by the sun). To increase the adaptive cruise control speed, for one example, gently rest your thumb on the up arrow to activate that function then press the up arrow like a normal button to increase the speed. The compact design lets Lexus house a lot of info within the steering controls, including some features that may not be available yet, but it takes a learning curve that exceeded my day with the RX.
The redesigned 2023 Lexus RX casts a much wider net than its predecessor with four powertrains that give the crossover four distinctive personalities. Every demographic appreciates the power of choice.
Lexus paid for airfare and lodging for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.
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