With the crossover segment quickly transforming into a key battleground for the worlds automakers, the pressure is on for these companies to create a compelling crossover that's a perfect fit for a wide range of customer tastes. Lexus aims to establish itself as a top player in the luxury crossover segment with the 2017 RX350.
The RX first appeared back in 1998, and quickly made a name for itself not only because of its approachable price tag, but also its slick for the period styling elements. But can the 2017 RX continue its winning ways? Or has it become a follower in a segment where it once reigned supreme?
The exterior styling of the 2017 Lexus RX350 channels some of the recent attempts that Lexus designers have made in a bid to breathe new-found identity into its other models. Wheras older RX models suffered from styling that progressively got more mundane, the 2017 version suffers from a figurative laundry list of aesthetic failures, and is a poster child for design overload. The front fascia features an oversized and overpinched "spindle grille" that looks more like it was plastered on with Elmers glue versus being a sculpted detail.
The squarish looking wheel covers do a good job meshing with the character line that rises on the side of the body, but they also starkly contrast with the descending roof line and its blacked out chrome trimmed C-pillars.
The various angles and other haphazardly placed lines on the RX make its suit of clothes look like a crowded canvas, especially since the bright chrome work highlights some of the off putting elements of the design.
The rear fascia also takes part in the act, and features a very prominent pinch line in the tail light frames which helps create an element that is more aesthetically awkward than pleasing. Thankfully our tester's Atomic Silver paint served as the lone highlight, and highlights just how good Lexus is in this category.
While the exterior styling may not do itself any favors, it also helps channel the classic saying "don't judge a book by its cover." For when you look past the stylistically challenged wrapper and slip behind the wheel, the RX undergoes a welcome transformation.
Various shapes and lines flow together into a pleasing design, with many controls within easy reach of occupants. The 12-inch infotainment screen is also one of the biggest in the industry, and the luminous gauges look sharp, especially at night.
Our tester was also equipped with the F Sport package that adds metal look pedals, an F Sport designed steering wheel, as well as F Sport exclusive front seats that featured built in heat and cooling.
The fore-mentioned seats are comfortable on daily drives, and also have a healthy amount of bolstering that helps keep occupants in place during spirited drives. However, this bolstering also has the side affect of making the seats too narrow for some occupants, especially larger passengers.
Rear seat room is fine, but taller occupants will feel the pinch when it comes to leg and headroom. While the cabin shines in many regards, the lone fly in this proverbial ointment is a long standing complaint that we have had in other Lexus vehicles, the remote touch multimedia controller.
The mouse like contraption allows users to access various menus and functions, but it is still awkward to use and creates an unnecessary distraction when out on the open road. Lexus designers were kind enough to add hard buttons on the side of the controller in an attempt to alleviate some of this frustration, but we look forward to the day when Lexus will ditch the the mouse, and embrace a conventional control scheme for its infotainment system.
Performance for the 2017 RX350 comes from the same 3.5 liter V6 that also sees duty in other Lexus and Toyota products, but here it makes 295 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque with our tester's optional all-wheel drive system sending the power to all four wheels. Acceleration is smooth and confident with the engine doing a good job getting the RX350 up to speed with no noticeable fuss.
This is due to the sea of sound deadening plastic shrouds and other materials under the hood and firewall, which might discourage do it yourself service, but delivers high levels of quiet and refinement out on the open road.
The eight speed automatic in our tester replicates the silky smooth moves generated by the engine with crisp gear changes and smooth operation. However, there were occasions where the transmission's software got caught napping on the job, and that produced bouts of gear hunting even in Sport + mode. Handling in our tester is typical luxury car, with Lexus engineers fine tuning the steering system to eliminate vibrations and harshness at the cost of precision and accuracy.
This luxury oriented vibe shows itself when the RX is pushed hard, with our tester performing about as well as its cousin the Toyota Highlander. The F Sport exclusive tuned suspension helps improve things slightly, but don't expect the RX to dogfight with more performance oriented SUV offerings anytime soon.
Pricing for the 2017 Lexus RX350 starts at $43,220 for the base RX 350, with all-wheel drive models starting at $44,620.
F Sport models start at $49,120 with all-wheel drive versions like our tester boasting a $50,520 base MSRP. Our lightly optioned tester had goodies such as the $1,600 panorama moonroof, the $3,200 Premium audio system that bundles the infotainment system and the sweet sounding 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, and other extras that helped balloon the final price to $58,760. This lofty price tag puts our tester in the crosshairs of established rivals such as the BMW X3 and the Audi Q5, as well as newcomers like the Porsche Macan and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
While some of these rivals have a better balance of style and driving dynamics, very few can match the RX's interior refinement as well as it available hybrid option (aka the RX450h) which makes the RX stand out as one of a select few in this segment to offer an eco-friendly trim.
We look forward to seeing what the RX can achieve in the near future, especially once its exterior styling adopts the same design magic that helps make the interior a wonderful place to spend time in.