Way back in 1998 Lexus introduced the RX model, and it was an instant hit. In those days it was a unique blend of car and truck. It featured a high seating position for a command of the road, along with the cargo capacity of a large station wagon.
The RX offered the smooth quiet ride of a Lexus sedan, along with the luxury interior appointments they’d come to expect from the Lexus brand, and better gas mileage than any truck based vehicle.
The public snapped them up like hotcakes.
In fact it became the first Lexus model to sell over 100,000 vehicles, and it is still their best seller, and the model that has more repeat buyers than any of their other models. That is a remarkable achievement considering that virtually every manufacturer has introduced similar vehicles over the years and in a wide variety of price points.
2016 introduces the 4th generation of the RX and it’s quite a bit different than the previous model. The formula is the same, but Lexus pushed the envelope in several areas, especially styling. Lexus in general, and the RX in particular, was never known for cutting edge styling. But this year the RX looks much bolder and visually exciting. While I’ve never warmed up to the big “spindle grill” in front, it does make a bold statement. The length of the hood is emphasized as the front roof pillars are pushed back. The roof appears to float above the vehicle with the use of black trim at the bottom of the rear pillars. LED headlight and marker lights have a jewel-like quality.
Character lines run down the sides of the vehicle, and everything looks nicely proportional and clean. In a sea of crossovers, the RX stands out with a high-tech modern look, emphasized by its longer and wider stance this year, which opens up even more room in the cabin. And the 20” wheels fitted to our F-Sport model, fill up the huge wheel wells nicely.
The RX 450h is powered by the same 3.5 liter Atkinson-cycle V6 that the standard 350 model, but with the addition of three separate electric motors (two in the front and one in the rear for the AWD system). Other manufacturers have made the switch to lighter lithium batteries, but Lexus has chosen to stick with nickel metal hydride batteries. They have history with those batteries, so they know they are reliable.
Total output is 308 hp and 247 ft. lbs. of torque. The result is that there is more than enough power to move the hybrid from a stop, or to pull out and pass on a two lane road easily, if not with neck snapping performance. And gas mileage is a very respectable 30 City and 28 Highway with premium gas. I observed 31 MPG on my highway stints and 30 City. But the best compliment I give out for any hybrid, is that you don’t really notice that it’s a hybrid when driving.
An eight-speed transmission replaces the previous six-speed unit, and it is a gem. Smooth seamless shifts are what you get with the new unit, and in the AWD models there is a new clutch-operated rear differential with a lock feature that holds the front/rear torque distribution at 50/50.
The regenerative brakes are excellent, and unlike many brakes in hybrids, you can’t feel the extra drag that generates the electricity.
The F-Sport package, which is just over $3,000, features Adaptive Variable Suspension, which lowers the ride height from 8.2 to 7.5 inches, and adds paddle shifters. It also offers a drive mode selector for changing the mood of the throttle, stability control, and suspension stiffness. Still, even in the Sport + setting, the RX has more body lean in turns than expected, and is anything but a sporting ride. Yet even in the stiff setting, the ride quality is outstanding, even on rough and broken pavement surfaces. Lexus knows its customers well, and a smooth ride is what their customers want. And truth be told, it is outstanding. I left the settings on Normal for most of my time, and enjoyed the plush ride. I don’t look for large crossover vehicles to go canyon carving in, so this RX is just relaxing and comfortable. Steering is properly weighted and isolating, in line with the character of the vehicle.
The rest of the F-Sport package is mostly cosmetic and trim bits, including scuff plates, the mesh grill, and aluminum pedals (which seem out of place in the cabin). And the front seats are more heavily bolstered than standard. Perhaps the standard seats would be more comfortable. Truth be told, I wouldn’t bother with the F-Sport package.
The cabin is a sumptuous combination of high end materials and style. It is not as edgy as the exterior, but handsome to look at. But most of all the occupants will notice how quiet it is when traveling down the road. No wind noise, or other noise enters the cabin. Lexus has invested a lot in sound deadening materials including the windshield.
The previous cabin looked too busy, but this one is just right. The dove grey seats and door trim were a nice contrast with the dark dash and trim pieces. The panoramic sun roof lets light flood into the cabin, and doesn’t disturb the quiet much when open. Soft touch materials on the door armrests, center console and door sills feel great. Good storage in the doors, center console and glove box. A 12-volt outlet in front, and another in back are handy for device charging, and two USB ports are also present.
The dash is dominated by a huge 12.5 inch navigation screen. It can be broken up into segments depending upon what information you wish to look at. I chose 2/3 of the screen for the map, (which is still larger than most screens, and 1/3 for the radio information.
I enjoyed the optional safety and tech features. The heads up display is excellent, and we wish more cars offered that feature. Blind spot monitors are standard, but they are enhanced with the addition of Lane Departure and Lane Keep Assist, which guides the vehicle back into the lane when if detects the vehicle straying into the next lane. And the Radar Cruise Control makes highway driving a much more relaxed experience. I wished the RX had a heated steering wheel, however.
Beneath that screen are controls for the radio and media, and then an easy to operate set of controls for the HVAC. One huge quibble I have with this vehicle is the mouse controller to navigate around the screen. I’ve criticized this before, and it hasn’t gotten better with age. It is so sensitive as to make it virtually unusable when driving, and very difficult to use when standing still. The cursor shoots from one side of the screen to the other with the slightest movement, and makes it very difficult to alight on the spot you desire. Inputting addresses is a chore, and the voice recognition to enter an address is spotty as well.
The other complaint I have is with the seats. They appear nicely shaped and bolstered. The leather is outstanding in looks and feel. But the seat bottom feels odd and thinly cushioned. On long highway trips, I was constantly squirming around and it felt like there was something lumpy just beneath the leather. Rear seat passengers had no complaints with the seats, which also recline, and no complaints about leg and headroom, which is abundant. Surprisingly, there were no separate rear climate controls. Naturally, the 60/40 rear seats fold down and offers 56.3 cubic feet of cargo space in the beautifully appointed cargo area.
The sticker read $57,045, and then added $2,030 in options. With freight, the bottom line came to $60,015.
That’s a lot of money, but the RX hybrid is a lot of SUV. It is easy to understand why this is the best-selling Lexus. It is comfortable, luxurious, with plenty of passenger and cargo space. I expect that this new generation will be just as popular as the previous ones, and rack up the sales numbers that Lexus has come to expect.
Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman has been a motor journalist for over 30 years, reviewing automobile, as well as motorcycle ride reviews and accessory reviews.
His car articles have appeared in Robb Report Magazine, Autoguide.com, Car-Revs-Daily.com and other media. His work has also appeared in Road Bike Magazine, Motorcycle Tour and Cruiser, SpeedTV.com, MotorcycleUSA.com and others.
As motorcycle columnist for The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, the paper became the only major circulation newspaper in the country to have a separate weekly section devoted to motorcycles. Later he wrote a weekly column for Cyclefocus Magazine.