The 2016 RX is huge news: an ultra-modern makeover adds style, tech and efficiency to the all-star crossover from Lexus.
We had a chance to drive all five trimlines last week, and have some great news to report about the handling crispness, exterior design and cabin comfort.
But also some fairly important gripes about the performance and style execution of the new RX — which can leave you slightly confused versus the BMW X5.
Let’s start with the highest-volume model: the RX350 front-wheel-drive. As we can see in the pricing charts below, this $42k base price is the most affordable in the group. Its siblings ratchet up the costs fairly rapidly to a $56k base for the RX450h F Sport, a new trim choice for 2016 that comes standard with AWD.
Why start with the RX350 FWD, besides it taking the lion’s share of sales? We’d argue the RX350 is the best balance of luxury, performance and style among the group. So let’s dive in! 100 new photos plus headings of Exterior, Interior, Performance, Pricing and Summary.
The RX350 is a rockstar among its 2-million owners for being posh, comfortable and right-sized for a big back seat and trunk. The model is perfect for simple city maneuverability, and is also exceptionally efficient versus big luxury trucks.
The new design is a bold step for Lexus: the RX and ES are the most traditional models in the Lexus range. Continuing the core existing look for the 2016 ES and RX is the easiest way to keep the devoted owner group happy.
The mid-size luxury crossover market has exploded with competition, however, since the RX essentially created the segment with its 1997 introduction. Sharper looks for the 2016 RX will be critical to attracting outsiders as well as keeping current RX fans engaged.
On the style front, the new RX is a huge hit. The bodywork is exceptionally fresh, cohesive, intriguing and memorable. Every panel is new for the 2016 revamp, and it shows clearly in side-by-side photoshoots below.
2016 vs 2015 (white car is 2016 RX350)
Design Analysis: Nose
There is freshness in the new RX: the nose is sleeker and more premium, with sculpted and carved bumper details and a fully-integrated spindle grille for the first time.
Previous executions seem somewhat slapped-on to the existing RX face, whereas the spindle is now a defining element of the design. The standard (non-F Sport) RX models wear a thick sheath of satin pewter brightwork around the spindle, becoming thicker and more pronounced toward the lower section. Gloss black horizontal bars up and down the grille are aero-efficient plus on-trend versus previous chrome waterfall grilles.
The pinched spindle shape of the RX350’s nose is the leading edge of the truck, with angles and creasing originating here like high cheekbones on a supermodel. Another sharp crease and angle flows outward from the focal point and into a newly-sexy lower bumper edge.
The headlamps for 2016 are slimmer and feature standard LEDs for
— the low/highbeams via a bi-LED projector ball
— LED foglamps
2016 RX — All Models photo highlights
The standard headlights are really underwhelming, to be honest, and are one of the worst parts of the design, to these eyes. Unfortunately, these boring and ultra-conservative lights are standard on all trims.
The LED arrowhead of the standard DRLs is not very bright, made up of numerous single bulbs for a non-continuous, segmented look, and overall feels very yestertech. At least for an admitted LED fanatic.
If you are LED-obsessed like us, the $2,300 triple-beam LEDs are a standalone option, or included in the desirable $4k Luxury Package.
The new lights look far more appropriate, and on par with the hottest Lexus models like the GS-F and RC Coupes. In addition to ultra-bright low and highbeam functions, the triple beam LEDs wear a full-width LED amber turn signal missing from the base lights. The DRL element is also far more high-quality and high-tech, forming a line of pure and uninterrupted white light just along the lower edge of the lamps. Automatic LED corning lamps are another addition with the fancy LEDs option. These live just beside the standard-on-all LED foglamps.
Design Analysis: Profile
Behind the front axle, that sharp crease continues climbing upward, intersecting with wind-shaped creases that continue the low and long hoodline into the doors.
Down below, a standard sharp scallop in the lower doors/sills flips upward right ahead of the back wheels.
All these lines form an inflection point right at the trunk of the RX, where they make a 3D new shelf in the tailgate.
Still in profile, the glasshouse is the next most striking design detail for the new RX.
Where the previous RX looks high-roofed and egg-like in profile, the new RX has a deeply low look and a slightly more formal windshield angle.Much of this is thanks to the embellished floating roof and blacked-out C-pillars. The dark-tinted rear quarter window now chops the chrome window edging behind the back door, letting the dark-tinted/gloss-black elements flow rearward in a clean sweep. The upper brightwork window trims continue from the tops of the doors directly into the tailgate — not meeting the beltline window chrome.
Sharp details like flush-mounted roof rails and ultra sleek rear glass even give the car a vaguely coupe-like look from some angles. THAT, folks, is genius design from Lexus. An X6 look with X5 roominess! Color me impressed.
This design detail is expected to be unique to the five-seat RX. For the 2017 model-year, the RX is tipped to gain a seven-seat, LWB option. This RX-L is likely to revert to a more functional, but less chic, glasshouse and rear tailgate appearance.
Lexus did not add a 7-seater to this primary RX because buyers — generally without toddlers and little kids at home — like the current size and did not want the truck to expand much.
Design Analysis: Tail
The tail angle of the RX battles with the profile for most-improved angle — particularly on this relatively low-rung RX350. Long gone are the chrome taillight optics, flowing curves and abudence of chrome brightwork.
In their place are slim and wide-mounted new LED brake lights wearing unique L-shaped light pipes.
It really impresses from the back, where no one could mistake the 2016 for the current RX. Satin bright accents bring the carved exhaust pipe finishers on both edges of the bumpers to life, while simultaneously grounding and lowering the design visually from the rear.
The Luxury package or LED triple-beam-equipped RX models for 2016 bring yet more premium class to the RX in back: full-width amber LED blinkers replace the standard bulb units.
The 20-inch, machine-polished alloys shown on the Matador Red truck pictured here are the sexiest available for any 2016 RX — including the F Sport. The black swish of inner spokes contrasted with the shiny yet super-slim five spokes is on-trend and very sexy.
A particularly cool detail for these optional wheels? They come with standard gloss-black blade inserts around their spokes. These can be swapped for three other finishes, a new level of personalization for the best-selling — and therefore ubiquitous — RX. A cool and premium way to make your RX unique, while maintaining an OEM, unmodified appearance.
EXTERIOR DESIGN GRADES:
— Nose with triple LED headlight option: B+
— Nose with standard LED projectorbeam headlights: C-
— Profile: A
— Tail: A
The cabin of the RX is a much cooler place to be than ever before, with a high and wide center console imparting a big of sedan-like sportiness versus the previous van-like mood up front. A wraparound center stack is close at hand for 2016, with simple controls and a high-quality overall feel. Standard infotainment screen moves to the top of the dash, inside a dedicated sunken binnacle. Gorgeous and easy to read, especially with the upgraded 12-inch screen. The standard unit is an eight-inch display, with optional navigation functionality or full Nav + Mark Levinson audio upgrade.
The Luxury pack includes some gorgeous new laser-cut ebony/silver woodwork that looks stellar. Deep black but with grain and intricacy up close. Not touchable grains, though. Still heavily lacquered, unfortunately. As is the part-wood steering wheel, which is pretty icky. In addition to feeling cheap, the upper wood wheel portion gets slippery with wet hands — its wood finish wraps all the way around the top of the compact, sexy new steering-wheel boss and three-spoke design.
The seats of the RX Luxury pack include some more expressive stitching patterns, a lower possible drive position via the power adjustments, and ultra-strong new heating and cooling. The Cool setting with its three options can now be set to automatic, coming on whenever you start the truck. They are far, far more effective at removing back sweat than the previous vented seats, but there is a bit of a newly-noticeable hum in your ear when the fans are engaged.
While comfy, the RX thrones we tried lacked a power squab adjustment to extend the seat base under your thighs on command. The headrests are also fairly limited in their up/down adjustment options versus the Germans, with their 6-way headholders a far more comfortable solution for long drives. At least if you have a big melon.
These seats really lack lateral support, despite a nice sitting-within feel once plopped inside via the simple access/egress. Driven harder than many owners will, we were sliding all over the place and needed to brace against the dead pedal on the floor, doors and console.
This is a super nit-picky thing, but the RX also is a bit harsh in parking and as it selects its Drive gear sometimes from Park. The bump stops, for example, at the edges of the wheel travel come on with a sharp stop. It should be damped when you hit the max steering angle. Insulating this and the drive engagement seems more inline with the RX ethos.
Another detail observation? The new automatic parking brake is awesomely simple and strong, with jumbo rear brakes now bringing benefits in hard driving, mountain roads, or when towing. But…. in our rush to start the truck, plop it in Drive and set off, the e-brake often disengaged slowly and audibly. Likely a pre-production quirk to be fixed for customer cars.
It must be said that we really liked driving the RX, despite some expectations not being met — as griped-about above.
The new model brings far, far more body control around tight bends. There is little of the toss and turn of the old RX in fast lateral moves thanks to new suspension elements. These actually soften the main springs, but sharpen the dampers. The result is awesome: the RX rides and rolls like a dream. While not air-sprung like the new Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE-Classes, the RX350 shows a near-perfect ride/handling balance.
The steering is also vastly sharper and more accurate than before, despite being all-electric to save energy. The new rack changes dramatically across its Eco, Normal (adpative) and Sport modes. The Sport setting is the best of the lot, and we wish the car could be locked into that drive mode versus needing a knob-twist every time you start it.
Despite staying light in Sport, there is a real feel for the pavement and sense of how much grip the front tires have.
Grip… mind you… was not always easy to find in this FWD RX around our greasy and rainy drives through Raleigh, NC.
There are two core issues, in our opinion, with the RX350: in front-drive form, the RX struggles to put its power down around corners, like exiting an office park and joining a divided highway. Lots of wheelspin and ESP intervention. With ESP off, just lots of wheelspin and slow progress in low-grip conditions. [This may be while AWD is standard on the F Sport RXs.]
In a straight line, the RX350 is grippier — the 0-60-mph launch is easy and ultra-smooth via the all-new eight-speed automatic as standard.
Even on a sunny day with great grip, however, the RX350 FWD’s official sprint time to 60-mph is 7.7-seconds. This is too slow for the segment, and a cool 2 seconds off the BMW X5 xDrive35i’s pace. Efficient and easy, yes. Quiet and smooth, yes. But actually rapid? Not so much.
[Things improve with the F Sport-exclusive Sport Plus drive mode. Watch this space for F Sport reviews in near future.]
2016 Lexus RX – Luxury Package (highly recommended)
Semi-Aniline Perforated leather-trimmed interior
Driver’s-seat power cushion extender and four-way power lumbar support
20-inch split-five-spoke alloy wheels* with superchrome and machined finish and interchangeable painted inserts
Heated wood-and leather-trimmed steering wheel
Gray Sapele wood interior trim
Aluminum roof rails
Illuminated door sills
Lexus Memory System
Electrochromic outside mirrors
Rear armrest storage compartment
2016 Lexus RX Pricing and Trims
Lots to love about the new RX. And to be frank, the new truck is vastly superiour to its predecessor in every single way. Making incremental improvements in drive manners and tech is always welcome for a revamped luxury car — and the RX is no exception.
Where the RX350 has real surprise and delight is in its newly-masculine appeal outside and from the driver’s seat. With such gorgeous lines, many more styles to pick from, and a bigger back seat, the RX is all about checking owner boxes.
Where the old RX was easy to like but harder for enthusiasts to love, the new RX is much more endearing. Has Lexus delivered a bulls-eye for current owners? 100-percent. Yes. Absolutely.
In terms of luring BMW or Audi owners to consider this newly-stylish crossover? Sure, if they like it smooth and cruisy. But for us, the RX has a long way to go before it is a viable performance SUV able to compete on track with its many nemeses from Deutschland.
Check back soon for the F Sport reviews, or view the HD drive videos of the RX350 F Sport and new RX450h F Sport over here.
2016 Lexus RX350 Review
Explore RX trims, options and colors over at this Lexus link.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.