2023 Lexus RX: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll-New 2023 Lexus RX
When Lexus introduced the RX more than 20 years ago, it created the notion that an SUV could also be a luxury vehicle. Many premium crossovers from luxury brands would follow, but the RX has consistently been one of the best-sellers in this competitive automotive segment, and it is the best-selling model in the Lexus lineup. In 2021 the RX had its best sales year ever. Not to rest on its laurels, Lexus aims to continue this trend with an all-new 2023 RX boasting fresh styling, new powertrains, and a host of advanced safety and convenience features. After spending time behind the wheel of the fifth-generation 2023 Lexus RX, we’re certain this new version will continue to be as successful as prior models — if not more so.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNext Chapter for Lexus
“Nothing exemplifies our commitment to the transformation we’re making as a brand and Next Chapter for Lexus product more than the renewal of our best-selling vehicle — the RX,” said Andrew Gilleland, group vice president and general manager of Toyota’s Lexus Division. “We’re breathing new life into the segment-leading RX with enhanced safety and technology, human-centered design and undeniable performance from a diverse mix of powertrains,” Gilleland observed.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUpdated Styling
Redesigning any best-selling vehicle can be a challenge for any automaker: it needs to look fresh without alienating those who appreciate the current design. The new RX has numerous subtle styling differences between the previous and new versions, although the most obvious is its new grille and front end. The iconic spindle grille is now integrated into the body with a more vertical display; it doesn’t dominate the front of the vehicle as it did in past versions. Not simply for looks, the new design better directs airflow for engine and brake cooling. The hood is slightly lower with deep sculpting that flows behind new, slimmer LED headlights.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceClean Silhouette
Many styling cues from the previous RX remain in the new vehicle, although the overall design looks much cleaner. Fender flares are rounded, and a single, sculpted curve flows from just behind the front wheel up into the rear quarter panel, providing a powerful appearance. Multiple wheel options are available, ranging in size from 19 to 21 inches.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear View
At the rear of the 2023 Lexus RX, LED taillights wrap around the corners and are connected with a slim LED light bar that spans the tailgate. The Lexus badge has been replaced by LEXUS in large lettering emblazoned across the center gate. Exhaust outlets are hidden; however, F-SPORT variants feature stylized trim pieces to simulate the look of dual exhaust.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNew Platform
The 2023 Lexus RX gets built on the brand’s new Global Architecture-K platform which is both lighter and stiffer, making use of stronger metals, adhesives and welds. The chassis has better bracing throughout, which results in improved driving dynamics as well as a quieter ride. The new RX is the same length as the previous generation, although this new platform permits a longer wheelbase and wider track, which results in increased passenger and cargo space.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceModel Lineup
Lexus offers the RX in three trim levels primarily differentiated by powertrain: the RX 350, RX 350h and the new RX 500h. The RX 350 is available with front or all-wheel drive; the two hybrids are AWD only. (A plug-in RX 450h+ will join the lineup at a later date.) Although pricing is not available, we expect numbers will be released in the next few weeks.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceStyles
In addition to the powertrain differentiation, the RX comes in a variety of configurations, including Standard, Premium, Premium+ and Luxury. The RX 350 is also available with the F-SPORT Handling package, while the RX 500h comes exclusively with the F SPORT Performance package.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRX Standard
Even the base-level trim of the Lexus RX comes well equipped. Standard features include NuLuxe interior trim, heated front seats, mulitzone climate control, a 9.8-inch touchscreen display, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 12-speaker premium audio system and 19-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRX Premium
The RX Premium upgrades the base trim with a power moonroof, rear cross-traffic alert with auto braking, heated and ventilated front seats, wireless device charging, a backup camera with washer and aluminum roof rails.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRX Premium +
Moving up to the Premium + bring in a 14-inch touchscreen display with navigation, a leather trimmed interior, a heated steering wheel and thematic ambient lighting.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRX Luxury
Upgrading to the Luxury trim, the RX also gets semi-aniline leather trim, luxury seat design, suede interior door trim, 10-way power front seats, head-up display and 21-inch 20-spoke alloy wheels with dark metallic finish.

RX F SPORT Handling
The F SPORT Handling package is only available on the non-hybrid RX 350. This package adds a unique front fascia with a piano-black mesh grille, unique front and rear bumper valences, adaptive variable suspension, sportier front seats with enhanced bolsters, aluminum pedals, 6-piston front brake calipers and 21-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels in gloss black.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRX F SPORT Performance
Only the new RX 500h gets the F SPORT Performance package, which features seats trimmed in leather and Ultrasuede, piano black molding, smoked chrome exterior trim, black brake calipers and 21-inch 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels with a matte-black finish.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
The 2023 Lexus RX makes good use of interior space with decent storage between the seats. We like that the center console opens to the right or left, making access easy for both driver and front passenger. Multiple USB-C ports can be found in the lower dash, and the center console has an additional USB-A port.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInterface
All communication, infotainment and climate functions in the 2023 Lexus RX are accessed via a large touchscreen display, voice control or interactive buttons on the steering wheel. The only physical buttons are for front and rear defroster operation. Saying “Hey Lexus” will activate the voice control; the system works well to set a destination or change the radio station, but the voice prompt from Lexus of “What do you want to do?” has a bit of attitude, sounding as if it doesn’t want to be bothered. Using the touchscreen works well — the present controls for audio, communication and vehicle settings enable quick access to the most-used items. One feature we would like to see: the ability to split the screen between navigation and audio; the big screen possesses plenty of real estate, and it would put the plentiful screen space to good use.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSteering Wheel Controls
Perhaps our least favorite features of the new 2023 Lexus RX are the multi-use controls on the steering wheel. Two unmarked 4-way touch controls on either side of the steering wheel interface with audio on the right side, and driver assistance systems on the other. However, once the button is pushed it brings up a menu that appears either in the head-up display or in the driver display (if there is no HUD) that requires the driver’s attention to select the menu and then move the selector to choose the desired function. We prefer to have more buttons that are single use, although owners might discover that over time this becomes less of an issue.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear Seats
The 2023 Lexus RX isn’t longer than the previous generation, but the increased wheelbase of the new model results in improved rear-seat room. Passengers will find good legroom and headroom as well as comfortable seats, and with a relatively flat floor even the middle seat is usable. USB ports and climate controls add to rear-seat comfort.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCargo Space
With the new design, the 2023 Lexus RX offers more cargo space with plenty of room for multiple pieces of luggage or other gear. Rear seats can be easily folded flat for a total of 38.5 cubic feet of space — an increase of almost 6 cubic feet over the previous version.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePowertrains
Lexus will offer three powertrain options for the new RX at launch — one gas-only and two hybrids. A plug-in hybrid variant will be added to the lineup at a later date.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLexus RX 350
The RX 350 is powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine delivering 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. This is slightly less horsepower than the outgoing model but considerably more torque makes it feel quicker. The engine gets teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission and is available with front- or all-wheel drive. Fuel economy numbers are also improved over the previous generation. According to the U.S. EPA, the RX 350 earns ratings of 22 mpg city / 29 mpg hwy / 25 mpg combined. Numbers drop by 1 mpg for the AWD RX.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLexus RX 350h
Powering the RX 350h is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson Cycle engine with an electric motor, teamed with a continuously variable transmission to produce 246 horsepower and 233 lb-ft of torque. The RX 350h is available exclusively with AWD, which employs an additional electric motor on the rear axle to provide additional grip in situations of low traction or strong acceleration. This hybrid Lexus is rated at an impressive 37 mpg city / 34 mpg hwy / 36 mpg combined.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLexus RX 500h
For 2023 Lexus adds a new trim to the RX lineup — the 500h – with an all-new powertrain. The 500h hybrid system includes a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor, but also has a rear eAxle that adds an 80 kW electric motor driving the rear wheels. Total output is rated at 366 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, while fuel-economy ratings are an impressive 27 mpg city / 28 mpg hwy / 27 mpg combined.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDIRECT4 AWD
The new RX 500h comes exclusively with the brand’s new all-wheel drive system called DIRECT4 AWD. With the powerful motor on the rear wheels, the RX 500h can redirect power front or rear in milliseconds, with as much as 80 percent of torque available to the rear which gives the newest RX better driving dynamics. This is the main differentiator between the new hybrid system and the one found in the RX 350h. The RX 350h directs power to the rear only when the front wheels slip and additional traction is needed, while the RX 500h uses the rear-wheel power for improved performance during spirited driving.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDynamic Rear Steering
Available exclusively on the RX 500h F SPORT Performance, the Dynamic Rear Steering system improves both maneuverability and handling. At slower speeds the rear wheels steer opposite the fronts for tighter turning and easier parking. When the RX is travelling at higher speeds, the rear wheels steer in the same direction as the fronts, which improves stability during lane changes or quick turns on winding roads. Wheels can turn as much as 4 degrees in either application.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUpdated Suspension
The 2023 Lexus RX gets a completely revised suspension thanks to the new GA-K platform that features MacPherson front struts and a new 5-arm multilink suspension in the rear. The setup is more compact, allowing for better interior space. Adaptive variable suspension is available on the F SPORT Handling and F SPORT Performance, which features solenoid-type actuators to instantly adjust damping force based on driving operation and road conditions for a much improved ride.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSafety
Every 2023 Lexus RX comes with the brand’s latest suite of advanced safety features. The Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking; pedestrian, bicycle and motorcycle detection; intersection turning assist; emergency steering assist; a blind-spot monitor; safe exit assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Intelligent high-beam headlights, road sign assist and all-speed dynamic radar cruise control are also standard across the board.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTraffic Jam Assist
A first for Lexus is a new traffic jam assist for the 2023 RX. Available in limited-access situations such as highways and 4-lane roads, this new system uses the adaptive cruise control and lane-trace assist to allow hands-free driving at speeds less than 25 mph. This means the driver can relax while stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, allowing the car to inch along the road on its own. However, this doesn’t mean the driver can take a nap or read a book; a monitoring system uses a camera to confirm the driver remains watchful of the road ahead.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
Lexus invited us to California to spend time with all three powertrain variants of the new RX. We began the day with the newest hybrid, the RX 500h. With more than 400 lb-ft of torque, this top-tier RX feels quick off the line with abundant power on tap from any speed. The 6-speed automatic responds quickly to throttle inputs and has rapid downshifts as necessary. We were pleasantly surprised by the powerful-sounding exhaust note — not something we’d expect from a Lexus hybrid. The 4-wheel steering works well, offering incredible maneuverability; during our drive, it allowed us to easily make a U-turn on a narrow two-lane road.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSurprisingly Fun
The RX 500h is designed to deliver the highest performance in the lineup, and it doesn’t disappoint. We pushed this newest Lexus crossover pretty hard on some twisty back roads near Santa Maria, and came away suitably impressed. With its 4-wheel steering and rear-biased all-wheel-drive system, the RX feels confident and has smooth acceleration out of corners. That said, our enthusiastic drive did come at a cost to fuel economy — the trip computer reported 17 mpg.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePerformance and Efficiency
The hybrid RX 350h provides an admirable mix of performance and efficiency with a definite bias toward the latter. With a CVT and lesser-powered drivetrain, the 350h is not as responsive and gets a bit buzzy when accelerating hard. It’s not slow by any means, delivering more than adequate power in most situations. We took the RX 350h on the same twisty road as the RX 500h; it didn’t feel as agile and clearly has less power, but it performed on a level close to the RX 350 (non-hybrid), and it did return 11 mpg better than the more powerful 500h over the same route.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNon-Hybrid
The non-hybrid RX 350 sits between the other two variants when it comes to horsepower, so not surprisingly it splits the difference in performance and efficiency. It doesn’t feel quite as crisp as the RX 500h, but it does possess decent power and the 8-speed automatic shifts quickly and smoothly.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGreat Cruiser
All three RX variants provide a quiet, smooth ride on freeways —something consumers have come to expect from any Lexus model. Seats are comfortable even after several hours on the road, and the RX is perfectly content to cruise at 70-80 mph no matter what engine is under the hood.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight for You?
There’s a reason the RX has been one of the most popular SUVs in America. It successfully blends the luxury expected of a Lexus with the utility and capability of a crossover. The 2023 Lexus RX continues this role but with a fresh face, new motive power and a range of high-tech features many luxury SUV owners will appreciate.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 8.5
Pros: Roomier interior; more powerful hybrid 500h; smooth, quiet ride.
Cons: Confusing steering wheel-mounted controls; CVT slow to react in 350h; No F-SPORT on 350h.
Bottom Line: With an updated design, powerful and efficient drivetrains and high-tech features, the 2023 Lexus RX should have continued success in the competitive luxury crossover landscape.

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