Ride Review: 2016 Lexus RX
What goes well with fine arts and dining? A fine luxury car!
We’re exaggerating here, but there is a point being made. The luxury car market has seen its share of sales growth of crossovers and SUVs, along with mainstream brands. It is no surprise to find that the most popular SUV/crossover in the luxury market is the Lexus RX.
The RX practically invented the phylum of “luxury crossover.” It came about in 1998 as an early 1999 model where Toyota took a car-based platform and crafted a two-row crossover for the Lexus brand. They emphasized not only a distinctive design and interior atmosphere, but a comfortable ride-handling mix expected from a Lexus. The result was not only its lead in sales volume, but earning the trust of its owners toward the highest loyalty level of any vehicle in its class. If you have a Lexus RX, it is almost expected that you will own another one.
For 2016, there is a new RX. It follows the same formula as its previous three versions: two rows of seating, a V6 engine with an available hybrid gas-electric driveline, available all-wheel drive, and spacious accommodations for everything (including a major shopping yield). You can also get an F Sport version for a more aggressive look and feel, now for both the regular V6 and Hybrid models.
There is more to this fourth generation RX. Much more!
You have already seen what Lexus has already done with the exterior by looking at these photos alone. It is a continuation of a design language now honed in on the smaller NX crossover. The spindle grille becomes a focal point for the entire front end. Everything else is shaped from that face. The headlamps are angled back while the lower side areas include integrated fog and driving lamps for better night vision and daytime visibility. Our RX 350 tester had the “standard” grille with a linear horizontal set of slats all the way down to the lower trim.
The lines flow rearward with many shapes to cheat the wind. Meanwhile, the roof offers a rakish windshield and the most controversial piece of the entire vehicle, the C Pillar. Lexus decided to make the rear area more dramatic by creating a “floating roof” motif with the glasshouse angled down to the beltline at the very end. There is a piece of glass back there, smaller than any seen on prior RX versions.
The tailgate has a similarly raking shape for the glass, while offering a three-dimensional series of shapes to bring the taillight assembly outward and other visual effects for the license plate area and the bumper. Though it still stands tall, Lexus ensures us that they’ll use the right size of wheels to finish each model’s look. Our Luxury package model had nice 20-inch alloy wheels with large vent openings.
While the exterior offered the biggest dramatic change in the RX, it will be the interior that offers the biggest leap in improvement over previous generations. The biggest change is the shifter; while it used to be housed high on the console in a 45-degree angle, Lexus raised the console higher and placed a shorter shifter upright just like the rest of the brand’s lineup. This is a huge, and welcomed, change.
The rest of the interior continues this huge and dramatic change. The instrument panel is now aligned with the latest Lexus models — a straight forward binnacle with large dials and a customizable TFT screen in the middle, along with a short center stack for the audio and climate controls. The infotainment screen is placed inside of a deep cowl with excellent eye contact position. It is now a tablet-like screen, with a standard eight-inch version, leading to an available 12.3-inch wide screen. Our version had the smaller screen, which worked very well. Although, Lexus’ Remote Touch “mouse” still controls the functions on the screen. It is still one of the weakest spots on the RX, as the Remote Touch controller is pretty finicky, even when it has to complete a command on the screen. Lexus Enform drives a series of connected services using both Bluetooth and on-board mobile technologies, enabling a dial-in service to send destinations to the RX and an app suite that allows for certain phone apps to be utilized in the vehicle.
Five adults will enjoy loads of space in both rows. Front seats are sized well, but do not offer enough bolstering to lock front occupants in. There are power adjustments for the lumbar and thigh support, along with standard rake, recline, and high adjustments. Rear seat occupants enjoy good comfort with more than enough head and leg room for everyone. The rear seatbacks do recline and the cushions also adjust for rake. In other words, it should be no problem for you to set a reservation for five at your favorite place to eat and grab five tickets to the theater — while riding along in luxury.
Cargo space starts with just 18.4 cubic feet with the retractable cover in place, yet is expandable to 56.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. For that finishing touch, our Luxury package tester came with a lovely sapele wood finish inlaid between brushed aluminum trimmings. In all, the RX has one of the finest cabins in its class.
Lexus also did a lot of work underneath the hood. The 3.5-liter V6 may look the same as in previous generations; however, there is a significant and noticeable power increase than ever before. This engine is now rated at 295 horsepower and you can feel it! It also helps to have an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission connected to it. This combination exhibits a quicker and more flexible driveline with smooth moves in passing and in maintaining highway speed. This Luxury trim version had all-wheel drive, which offers a lockable differential to ensure maximum traction. Plus, there are selectable drive modes that actually affect throttle response and gearing. In terms of fuel consumption, the RX 350 averaged 19.5 MPG in our care.
One expects the RX to ride smoothly and handle competently. Further improvements were made to the suspension to enable a greater balance between a comfortable ride and competent cornering. The result is perhaps the core of why the RX is a leader in its class. It does everything well as advertised. Although, you will experience a bit of roll when going through the cloverleafs. Otherwise, it is a very nice riding vehicle for its class.
Stopping the RX is a smooth experience. A solid braking system yielded good behaviors in normal, panic, and winter situations. The steering system feels good, offers a good turning radius and a solid on-center lock. Part of the latter comes from the Lane Keep Assist feature that uses the steering system to lock the RX in-between the lines as guided by sensors underneath the vehicle. Active safety features also include adaptive cruise control guided by a radar system, blind spot monitoring, a 360-degree camera system with a rear-view monitor and cross-traffic alerts, parking sensors front and back, and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection. These are just to name a few of the technological leaps the Lexus RX undertook for this new edition.
Obviously, the Lexus RX will cost more than just a fine dinner for five and concert tickets for everyone. The base price of a front-drive RX 350 is $41,900. The all-wheel drive RX 350 we tested came with a sticker price of $55,690, including the luxury package and various other options. For the curious, hybrid RX 450h models start at $52,235. F Sport versions of the RX 350 and RX 450h are a bit extra, $49,125 and $55,645 respectively.
The art of living luxurious should never be compromised. Like fine food, wine, and culture, there needs to be a compliment to that lifestyle. This has been the realm of the Lexus RX right from the start. This new 2016 version elevates the experience with new style, luxury, performance and technology.
As far as how the Lexus RX stacks up against the competition, consider how much it has done to cultivate its loyal ownership base. Now, consider how it continues to sell above all models in its class as well as being the sales leader of the brand. Luxury is a feeling of something special to behold and enjoy. That in itself describes the Lexus RX. This ideal continues with this new version.