Raleigh, North Carolina- While marketers gleefully toss around the "trend-setter" term far too freely; few products qualify for such esteemed praise. The wildly successful Lexus RX crossover, however, meets the merits for this distinction. While seemingly commonplace today, a luxury-minded mid-size crossover with more car than truck underpinnings was far from reality when Toyota's luxury division began serving up this dish at the tail end of the 1990s.
The all-new sculpted and stylish fourth-generation 2016 RX began arriving to dealerships throughout Chicagoland during the first week of November. Since the first generation launch in 1998, 2.1 million units have been sold, making the five-door craft the best-selling Lexus vehicle in the division's 26-year history.
A loyal customer base helps the five-passenger RX attain 100,000 unit sales on an annual, sustained basis in the U.S.; the only other luxury-branded vehicle to make this high volume claim is the long-running BMW 3 Series. Gen Four updates only add to the momentum.
This reimagined effort was described as "sophistication with an edge" by Mo Durand, manager of Lexus public relations at a gathering of auto writers outside Raleigh, North Carolina last week. A full, multi-media advertising blitz starts in earnest after the first of the year with plenty of traditional TV buys planned.
Wheelbase, distance between front and rear axis, stretches by an additional 1.9 inches. Overall length grows by 4.7 inches while the height remains virtually unchanged. Stretched dimensions grow leg room by one inch in front and 1.2 inches in row two.
Once again, Lexus RX is available with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, nicely retuned for 2016 as well as a gas-electric hybrid edition, dubbed RX 450h, with the same 3.5-liter V-6 supplying gas motive. Horsepower from the 3.5-liter gas engine jumps 25 to 295 from the outgoing gas model. An upgraded fuel conscious eight-speed automatic transmission, replaces a six.
The vehicle continues assembly in Ontario, Canada with pricing starting at $41,900 for a front-wheel drive RX 350, a $930 increase from the 2015 despite updates. A front-drive RX 450h checks in at $53,635. All-wheel drive is available in both. Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h get marketed in one decently-equipped trim with a goodly number of factory stand-alone and option packages to sift through.
The hybrid's combined horsepower increases by 13 to 308 while continuing with Toyota's tried and true hybrid drive system featuring a slightly scaled down nickel metal hybrid battery pack stowed under enhanced padded second-row seats. The RX 450h provides a not-to-shabby 31 mpg city and 30 mpg highway with front drive compared to 20/28 in a front-drive RX 350.
Electric motors powering rear wheels in all-wheel-drive hybrid model provided performance perks from a standing start, appreciated when testing through North Carolina roadways.
The available on-demand dynamic torque control all-wheel drive needs no driver input. The system toggles automatically between 100 percent of the power to front wheels to a maximum 50/50 front-rear power split depending on conditions. The instrument panel's multi-function display animates torque split distribution in 2016.
The RX returns with the 'new face of Lexus,' a highly visible and identifiable, vertically-sculpted front spindle grille resembling a truncated hour glass but with higher center pinch points in 2016. Borrowed from the recently introduced (2015 model year) Lexus RC premium coupe are sharper body angles.
All this sculpturing is expected to elevate the 'Dude' factor of buyers. The prior generation produced a near 50/50 split between male and female shoppers.
Larger 20 inch wheels are optional for the first time in select packages in place of standard 18-inch seven-spoke alloys. Lighter weight aluminum now adorns the hood and rear latch. Dual exhausts come standard. Both high and low beam headlights employ LED (light emitting diode) technology with an "L" shaped housing merging closer to the spindle grille's pinch point. Fog lamps are LED as well.
Lexus is to blame for setting the bar obscenely high regarding interior quietness. Many rivals have caught on and up, but acoustic side window glass, strategically placed sound-deadening foam and resin coating on the floor move the bar quietly forward.
"Not to say that you don't hear some engine noise particularly when getting inside an F-Sport. You are going to hear a little bit of a growl from the engine. We don't want to be so isolated," commented Lexus engineer Doug Herbert during an AM presentation.
Returning by popular demand after a short hiatus; a ceiling-mounted holder for stowing sunglasses located near the rear view mirror. Front inline cup holders now include an adjustable floor bottom for better handling of Big Gulp beverage. An electronic parking brake is found in front of the transmission shifter
Second-row seats come with an optional power fold 40/20/40 split. Smartly, Lexus resisted the temptation to shoehorn in an optional third row, which can be problematic in a mid-size frame.
A decent-sized 8-inch high-definition flat-screen-like multi display jets up from the top of the center dash above the distinctive-looking circular analog clock and closer to the windshield than most other designs. When opting for in-vehicle navigation, screen size swells to a Pictorium-like 12.3 inches.
The RX introduced remote touch interface to Lexus in 2010 to interact with the non-touch screen; it's also tied to the optional navigation package. Enhancements for 2016 include 'enter' buttons on the side of the hand wrist/palm rest allowing a secondary way to select highlighted screen icons in addition to tapping down on the square wiggle pad in front of the rest. A return button is now adjacent to home and map buttons accessible via finger tips.
Remote touch interface rates as more intuitive choice with better tactile feedback than the finger-tip swipe, flat remote touch pad found in Lexus' RC premium coupe.
New this year a panoramic view monitor with center screen feeds from four strategically placed camera for a 360-degree view of outside surroundings; optional in several packages.
The aforementioned F-Sport package, once privy only to all-wheel-drive RX 350s, now is offered in all-wheel-drive RX 450h hybrids chuck full of visual and performance perks.
F-Sport include steering wheel paddle shifters along with 'Sport S' and 'Sport S Plus' drive modes selectable via a chrome twist dial. These settings tighten up suspension and engine revs when called upon. Conventional RX models select from normal, eco and sport modes.
Blacked out side-view mirrors and perforated steering wheel and gear shift knob also adorn F-Sport. Twenty-inch graphite finished wheels join a polarizing spindle grille which receives an inside honeycomb pattern. A bold red interior is available along with more subtle black or grey palates.
Also new, a motion-sensing option built into the power rear lift gate. While not foot activated as with some Ford Motor Company designs, Lexus sensors get ensconced within the hatch's circular 'L' logo. An open hand (or if occupied, an elbow suffices) situated in proximity to the logo begins the lift process as long as the key fob remains on person.
2016 RX 350 FWD
Starting price: $41,900
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Overall Length: 192.5 inches
Overall Width: 74.6 inches
Curb Weight: 4,222 pounds
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway
Assembly: Cambridge, Ontario, Canada