2023 Lexus RX First Drive Review

Your familiarity with the Lexus RX will depend very much on where you live. It is far more popular in the US than in Europe and the UK, so it makes sense for my first drive of the luxury SUV to be in California.

Lexus says this generation of RX is 95 percent new compared to its predecessor. It arrives in the US towards the end of the year, before landing in other markets in 2023. Prices are yet to be confirmed, but should land in the region of $50,000 to $60,000.

The first thing you’re bound to notice is the way the new RX looks. Its front 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’s a smart looking thing, and one clearly styled to work better Stateside than in my native UK.

Sharp and shallow lights at the front and rear continue the modernist vibe, with the full-width rear light bar housing a new Lexus badge with huge spacing between its characters. There’s no mistaking what brand of car you’re following. The ‘floating roof’ design seen on previous models of RX, where blacked-out C-pillas 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.

Inside, the cabin has also been comprehensively updated. Gone is the fiddly, trackpad-style controller of the previous car’s infotainment system, replaced by a more intuitive scroll wheel. Or, reach out and tap at the new 14-inch touchscreen display. Angled towards the driver, the screen runs Lexus’ own system, but there’s also support for wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so most drivers will be best off hooking up a phone and using their mapping and music apps of choice.

Lexus has really leaned into its Japanese heritage with the interior of the new RX. It’s a clean and simple cabin that is smartly designed and has a calming air of quality to it, especially in top-spec Takumi trim. The door handles are particularly interesting (no, really), as they use buttons on the inside and out. This means pressing the handle to exit, instead of pulling the handle then pushing the door. It makes sense when written down like that, but recalibrating your muscle memory takes some time. There’s also a backup handle mechanism if the electronic actuator ever fails.

Space all round is very good, especially in the rear and trunk, although there is currently no option for a third row of seats. Tick the Takumi box and both rows get electronically-adjusted and heated seats.

It’s a pleasant cabin but one that does little to really stand out in what is a crowded market, fought over by BMW, Audi, Mercedes and others. Wind and road noise are kept nice and low, but there’s an obvious drone when the engine kicks in to help out the motors of the hybrid variants.

Lexus and parent company Toyota have a thing for complex drivetrains, and so instead of a simple range of petrol, diesel and hybrid options to pick from, the RX does things a bit differently. Expected to be most efficient is the RX 350h, which is powered by a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder petrol engine with a constantly variable automatic transmission (CVT), and a hybrid system comprising two motors.

Below this is the US-only RX 350 with a turbocharged 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 275 horsepower, and at the top rung you’ll find the 367hp RX 500h, which Lexus amusingly describes as being for “the most demanding petrolheads”. It isn’t, owing to not being particularly brisk, and driving a Lexus SUV in even a vaguely sporting way feels plain wrong.

In-between all this sits the most interesting model of the range, the RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid. This car has a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 185 horsepower and a pair of electric motors sending 182hp to the front axle and 55hp to the rear; total system output is 308hp. The motors are powered by an 18.1 kWh battery pack which Lexus says is good for about 40 miles of electric-only range. I tested this during my brief time with the RX and the estimate is spot-on. It’ll handle a 20-mile commute to the office and back without calling upon the engine, which is just what a hybrid in 2022 should be capable of without breaking a sweat.

An onboard 6.6 kWh charger means the battery can be filled from a home wallbox in a little under three hours. More interesting is how the plug-in hybrid can recharge its main battery on the move, then uses a second, smaller NiMH battery to act like a mild hybrid. So even when the primary, lithium battery is depleted, it should still be more efficient than a regular plug-in hybrid dragging around an empty battery.

The plug-in hybrid and range-topping RX 500h both feel powerful enough, with near-identical 60 mph sprint times in the mid-six-second territory. If anything, the performance of the plug-in shows how unnecessary the larger-engined and less efficient RX 500h is.

Ride quality is mostly very good and light steering mated to rear-wheel steering makes the big RX easy to maneuver in tight spaces. It isn’t the last word in driving dynamism, but will no doubt make for a very good family SUV for long and comfortable road trips.

The 2023 RX has a bold new look, with a refined and attractive cabin, a much-improved infotainment system, plenty of space for all four/five occupants and a decent trunk. The car wafts along smoothly enough and the clever plug-in hybrid system of the RX 350h+ shows Toyota and Lexus are ever keen to try something new when it comes to drivetrain technology.

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