The Lexus RX is a trendsetter and benchmark for the luxury midsized 5-passenger crossover. Being one of the very first to the market for its luxury offering, the Lexus RX is a force to reckon with, and for the 2023 model year it gets a complete redesign but one that doesn’t shy far away from its tradition but adds a bit of aggressive design and also some performance spice in the upper-level trim, which is all a good thing in my view.
For my first experience with the new Lexus RX, I get the 350h Luxury AWD trim, which falls in the line of being the 8th highest trim of basically ten trim levels that Lexus defines. The styling of the new Lexus RX may be somewhat of a shock to some, but it mostly retains the traditional look of what we expect in modern-day Lexus vehicles. For my RX 350h Luxury AWD trim test vehicle, the styling is more fluid with its larger 21-inch wheels and adorned in a unique and rare Nori Green Pearl paint. Essentially, the RX350h Luxury is the highest trim level you can get before moving to the RX 350 F Sport Handling or the most powerful RX ever, the RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD trim touting 366 horsepower from its turbocharged hybrid powertrain.
Performance and Driving Character
Hybrid powertrains appear to take a new life for the 2023 Lexus RX in that half of the trim lineup get a hybrid setup, such as in my test vehicle. Powering my tester is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine coupled with a hybrid electric drive motor. There’s 246 horsepower and 233 lb-ft of torque to work with, where the engine by itself outputs 190 horsepower.
The gas engine provides power solely to the front wheels while the electric motor is mounted at the rear to power the rear wheels, which creates an electronic all-wheel-drive setup. The engine is mated to a continuous variable transmission (CVT) but finds itself a bit buzzier than the previous generation Lexus RX hybrid, primarily due to the powertrain consisting of a 4-cylinder instead of the outgoing V6 paired with a hybrid setup. However, the power delivery is surprisingly smooth, and the hybrid powertrain is the most sophisticated than it has ever been, where I didn’t experience any missteps or delays in the system sorting things out to provide a seamless driving experience.
On initial acceleration, the electric motor musters out all it can, providing a bit of instant torque from the rear wheels as the gas engine starts to fire off in seamless step, and ultimately gets the 4,450-pound RX hybrid up to 60 mph in about 7.4 seconds. There’s a rather soft feeling about the RX 350h Luxury AWD in mostly everything it does out on the road, which appears to be the goal of Lexus having reserved the RX 350 F Sport Handling and more powerful RX 500h F Sport Performance for a sportier feeling.
I was able to take the RX 350h Luxury on the track at Daytona for a few parade laps joining in with many Lexus enthusiasts in the Lexus corral at the 24 hours of Daytona race thanks to a gracious invite by Lexus to ultimately celebrate Lexus Racing’s 3rd-place podium finish. While the laps were nothing close in the realm of being “hot,” they proved to reveal how easy the RX hybrid is to predict its soft and luxurious driving sensation where there’s a good amount of body lean into the turns. If anything, the parade laps in the new RX Hybrid proved how well the RX remains suited for legal road-going duties and nothing else, which is perfectly fine considering no one is even thinking about putting an RX Hybrid on a track. I may have been one of the first to put a fifth-generation Lexus RX Hybrid on a track!
There’s not much to complain about the way the Lexus RX Hybrid drives other than the braking transition from the motor regen to the friction brakes being a but lumpy under heavy braking. Having the Luxury AWD trim solidifies the fact that the RX has what it takes to remain competitive in a vast landscape of crossovers. Moreover, the Lexus RX Hybrid is actually a rarity in its class for touting a hybrid drivetrain, one that puts luxury and efficiency at the forefront instead of trying to be something that it is not. The new Lexus RX Hybrid can also tow up to 3,500 pounds when you select the optional towing capacity option.
As a hybrid, the new Lexus RX 350h Luxury AWD returns respectable fuel mileage numbers of 37 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, and 36 mpg combined. In the real world, those figures remain consistent and easily obtainable while you benefit from an exceptional range of up to 636 miles going by the city mpg figure. Even on the highway, you’ll get close to 600 miles out of a tank of 17.2 gallons of recommended premium fuel.
Interior and Technology
Inside the new Lexus RX, there’s a slight reworking of the proportions that feels mostly like a larger Lexus NX. The seating areas have plentiful room, and the semi-aniline leather-trimmed heated and ventilated front seats are comfortable and feel up to the task of preventing fatigue on long trips with several power adjustments, including 4-way lumbar and a power thigh adjustment. In the rear, featuring heating and ventilation for the outboard seats, there’s a good amount of space and the convenience of controls for the third automatic climate zone, along with manual side window sunshades.
For technology, Lexus brings us their 14-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which as I have said before, could benefit from having the option of using a split screen setup to make more use of the vast screen real estate. The system remains mostly simplistic in its core functions and has quick access menus to interact with primary vehicle functions and its many active safety features.
The 21-speaker Mark Levinson audio system has better sound quality than similar setups in the past. What remains to be a questionable approach is the use of the steering wheel buttons that have a unique touch-sensing feature that relays in the color head-up display what function your finger is about to press. I found this integration useful for lessening driving distraction, but it eventually becomes annoying as your hands and fingers often brush against the touch-sensitive areas bringing up the head-up display animations of the button’s functions.
The integration of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is seamless, as it can also be paired via USB connectivity. The wireless charging pad is in a convenient place, and the natural voice recognition system prompted by saying “Hey Lexus” does a good job of sorting out your requests from some vehicle functions to quickly entering an address into the cloud-based navigation system.
The new Lexus RX doesn’t skimp on the offerings of advanced tech around safety. There are all the traditional active safety features included as part of the Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 (automatic high-beam LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning/mitigation, lane departure warning/mitigation, lane keeping system, rear cross-traffic warning, blind-spot warning, 360-degree camera system). The unique highlights of the safety system include a traffic jam assist system, a safe-exit system that can prevent a passenger from opening a door into traffic, and a proactive driving assist (PDA) system that uses the front radar to detect vehicles that you are approaching and add gentle braking, or regenerative braking in the case of the RX Hybrid, to help control the distance between you and the vehicle ahead or slightly reduce speed on approaching curves.
Overall, there’s a welcoming methodical approach that Lexus has succeeded in the redesign of the RX to not offend many in what remains to be a hot seller for the brand. There’s no doubt that the Lexus RX will continue this same successful path considering its starting price only increases a couple of grand to start at $48,550 before any fees or options. My nicely equipped 2023 Lexus RX 350h Luxury AWD comes to an estimated as-tested price of about $65,000.
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