2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance review by Ben Lewis

It’s comforting when there’s things you can rely on. Like the Lexus RX. You know it’s going to be a pleasantly styled SUV, with loads of luxury, quiet and refined.

So, all of sudden they announce a serious performance-minded, hard-edged RX! What!!!! Well, actually, we have seen Lexus and parent company Toyota getting more sport serious, from the IS 500 to the new GR 86, so it’s not that outrageous. But can it live up to the promise? Let’s find out.

Looks the Part

The RX 500 makes a bold first impression – instantly identifiable as a Lexus, but a clear refinement of the brand’s design motif. For those horrified by the massive spindle grille found on most new models, while it’s still prominent, it looks better integrated. That’s especially true in our F SPORT model with an exclusive front fascia. We like the smaller side grilles that break up the main grille, while the signature LED headlights look even meaner than before.

The profile is more exciting – there’s over 2-inches more wheelbase but no change in length meaning tighter front and rear overhangs that give a more athletic look. It’s also more voluptuous with rounded wheel arches, bulgier fender flares and deeper sculpted lines that really give a sporty feel. Once again, the F SPORT leads the way, wearing exclusive massive blacked out 21-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport tires and body-color side sills finishing off a dynamic look.

The rear is more like an evolution of the previous model, with a new slender single LED taillight spanning the width of the rear, LEXUS spelled out in big block letters, and the F SPORT’s unique rear bumper with large squared-off outlets that look like afterburners should be poking out!

The perfect finishing touch was our tester’s Copper Crest paint that was just stunning, and unique. The next color trend for cars? Might be!

Next-Gen Cabin

Inside, the RX looks like a slightly larger version of the NX we tested – no problem there, this is a very modern and handsome set up.

There’s a strong cockpit vibe here, with a large center console between the front buckets, and a massive available 14-inch touchscreen angled towards the driver marking out the territory. The whole theme is made even more delightful in F SPORT models like our tester with Alcantara-trimmed front sport seats, an exclusive steering wheel and gauge display, as well aluminum and metal trim in the cabin and on the pedals.

There’s plenty of digital eye candy to keep you entertained – the gauge display is adjustable and can vary with mode and serves up neat stuff like G-force and powertrain info, while the 10-inch Head up Display helps you keep your eyes on the road.

The majority of controls work through the 14-inch info-tainment display, and it’s so good we’ve almost forgotten about the old Lexus touchpad system that was nervous and fidgety. The well thought out screen keep certain features always on tap, like heated seats/steering wheel so even on a freezing morning you can pop in and get things warming up in a hurry.

There’s a mother lode of tech on board, and with the Lexus Interface system, you get advanced voice control – we liked saying “Hey Lexus” and then adjusting navigation, multimedia and climate control without having to touch a button! The RX also includes Cloud Navigation which provides real time route information, standard Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and an optional 21-speaker Mark Levinson sound system that sounded fantastic.

When you don’t feel like talking to the RX, multiple touchscreens give you quick access to navigation, entertainment, drive mode, etc. Like most modern vehicles, there are so many choices, you do have a fair number of screens to sift through, but the Lexus system makes sense, and you quickly learn where the things you need most are. We like that a few key features are off the screen, for example the selector for the 360-degree overhead view is a button that’s easily located – great when rolling into a tight parking space.

Also at your fingertips is a small stubby shift lever, which we still much prefer than the unintuitive pushbuttons we find on the new Hondas and Acuras. The final finishing touch are the high-quality trim pieces that make a Lexus a Lexus. We were warned that since our tester was a pre-production unit, some of the trim pieces weren’t up to final standards, but frankly, everything looked and felt upscale.

While we prefer to sit up front, the rear seats are spacious, adult-sized, and easy to recline as well. Even with the rear seats up there’s impressive cargo space, and flip them down, and you’re ready for a visit to the big-box electronics store.

Big Power, Big Tech

Driving the RX 500h is the nicest surprise of all. With the new RX model, the 3.5-liter V6 engine is gone,replaced by a variety of four-cylinders, including a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter hybrid, and a turbocharged 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder with 275 horsepower. At the top of the performance pyramid is the RX500h hybrid, with a turbo 2.4-liter 4-cylinder including a front electric motor and a dedicated 80 kw electric motor on the rear axle for an impressive 366 total horsepower, and jaw dropping 406 lb.-ft. of torque.

That’s a lot of power, and that mountain of torque at low rpm means the RX500 really flies off the line. That rear axle is part of Lexus’ new DIRECT4 AWD system, helping to put the power down. Instead of traditional planetary gear systems you find on Toyota and Lexus hybrids, the 500 has a more traditional 6-speed automatic, which makes the driving much more responsive and fun. If we have any complaints, the turbo 4 can sound a little grainy when being worked hard – the old V6 models were always silky smooth.

Still, it’s hard to argue with the fastest RX ever – Lexus says 0-60 in under 6 seconds, and our seat of the pants agrees with that. All this and you get an EPA 28 mpg combined rating – impressive for such a big, powerful SUV.

Lexus didn’t just stop with a scalding hot powertrain, either. You can attack corners like no RX before thanks to the 500’s Dynamic Rear Steering which can help the RX steer into turns for added confidence and even helps maneuverability at low speeds.

Another RX500 exclusive is the Adaptive Variable Suspension which gives you a Lexus-smooth ride in the daily drive but can really firm things up when the going gets fun. It’s a great time steering into a turn and finding virtually no body lean, and a tight, precise response through the suspension.

A special note has to be made about the brakes – these probably have the best brake feel we’ve ever had in a hybrid. The pedal is firm, precise and you never have the feeling when the regenerative braking is working to add charge back to the battery. Truly awesome!

While the overall demeanor feels like a Lexus, you also get a nice smattering of Audi and BMW-ness in your drive and that makes it a direct competitor to those value European brands, something no previous RX really offered.

Do I need a doctor’s RX to get a new RX500?

Nope, there’s nothing sick about wanting the most exciting RX ever. If you just love the looks, and want a super luxury SUV, you can get into the RX 350 with front wheel drive at $48,550, or $50,150. That’s excellent value in this segment.

The RX550h F SPORT Performance AWD like out tester is the crème de la crème and starts at $62,750. The uber cool Cooper Crest paint will set you back $695. Our tester was a prototype, but we estimate that a similar production model should ring the bell at $68,685.

While a Lexus is a premium model, the RX 500h comes across as excellent value, too.

Competitors would include the Acura MDX Type S, which is a bit larger, and is not offered in hybrid, but has the same high-performance feel, coming in at $74,195.  If you like the European feel, a comparable BMW X5 xDrive45e is a significant step up at $78,850.

Crisp new looks, tech heavy and luxury-laden interior plus jaw-dropping performance with eco-friendly efficiency, the all-new 2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance is a superb SUV that can do it all.