Raleigh, North Carolina--The RX has been the top-selling Lexus for years. The more rakish and plusher redesigned 2016 model shown at a media preview here in the Raleigh area should further enhance the RX's reputation and increase its sales.
For starters, the longer new four-door hatchback RX body has a dramatic mix of sharp creases and curves. The front end is lower, and blacked-out rear roof pillars provide a "floating-roof" effect never seen on a Lexus. Even the large dual exhaust outlets are artfully shaped.
The RX is more rigidly built and is church-quiet, even at 80 m.p.h. highway cruising speeds.
However, Lexus retains its large, polarizing spindle grille, which has a chrome-plated border and triple L-shape LED headlights.
Door openings are wide and their handles are large, but it takes extra effort to get in or out of the RX because of its high floor. Once inside, though, occupants have an excellent view of surroundings.
The RX is billed as a five-occupant vehicle, but only four adults fit comfortably.
The hatch opening is wide but rather high. The cargo area is fairly large, and rear seatbacks flip forward to increase cargo capacity.But they don't sit completely flat when folded forward.
The improved interior is more upscale, with convenient console cupholders. Front seats are supportive in curves, and even rear seats provide good support. But door pockets are too shallow for convenient use of larger objects.
For years, Lexus was known for its conservative looks, which suited most luxury buyers just fine. But many have been older buyers, and Lexus is looking to grab younger (or younger-at-heart) ones with the new RX, which lists from $41,900 to $57,045.
The standard RX350 model comes with front or all-wheel drive (AWD). It's powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 with 295 horsepower. Then there's the RX450H with a hybrid gas/electric drive system utilizing a 3.5-liter V-6 and a hybrid battery. Total system horsepower is 308, and you can also get it with AWD.
The RX 450h Hybrid actually is a bit faster than the RX 350 with its straight gas engine (0-60 m.p.h. in 7 seconds compared to 7.7 for the RX 350). No matter what drivetrain, both cars sound pretty much alike during hard acceleration.
A smooth, responsive eight-speed transmission comes with the RX 350, while the 450H hybrid has a CVT automatic, which works seamlessly.
The RX350 gets an estimated 20 m.p.g. in the city and 28 on highways with rear-drive and 19 and 26 with AWD. The RX450h's economy figures are 31 and 30 with front drive and 30 and 28 with AWD.
I drove all versions of the new RX at the media preview and found the racier looking F Sport model to have the best handling, although the RX 350 has decent handling and can be had with the adaptive variable suspension option that has "eco," "normal" or "sport" modes. Sport model gives the SUV a stiffer suspension for flatter cornering and sharpens the feel of the car.
No matter what model or suspension setup, all RX models have the smooth ride expected of a Lexus and linear brake pedal action.The steering is quick, but feels dull.
There's an all-out Sport S+ setting available with RXs with the Adaptive Variable Suspension system that offers a higher level of performance with aggressive throttle mapping, quicker drivetrain response and flatter cornering.
The F Sport Hybrid now is available with AWD. It has exclusive quilted sport seats special steering wheel, sportier interior and drilled aluminum pedals.
Outside is a blacked-out mesh grille, lower spoiler section, black side mirrors and revised front fascia, besides exclusive 20-inch spoked aluminum alloy wheels.
The F Sport has no power increase but handling benefits partly from the Adaptive Variable Suspension system and the 20-inch wheels.
I found it a little difficult to quickly read the somewhat gimmicky F Sport's circular gauge that combines a tachometer and digital speedometer. And the F Sport gets no power increase,
However, most RX controls are clearly marked and easy to use. It's nice to have convenient dashboard volume and tune controls for the audio system. A 12-inch center display is offered. An eight-inch unit is standard.
There's an available 12-speaker Pioneer audio system. The standard audio system includes an 8-inch display.There's also an available 12-speaker Pioneer audio system.
Luxury automakers seem to be trying to outdo each other with driving aid and safety features, and Lexus is no exception with the RX.
Such items include dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, vehicle sway warning, intuitive parking assist, panoramic view monitor, intelligent high-beam system and blind spot monitor with rear-cross-traffic alert.
The RX hood glides up gracefully on twin hydraulic struts, but Lexus has such high quality it's doubtful that many owners ever open the hood.