2018 Lexus RX Review

2018 Lexus RX - Comfort, quality, and a new third row mark the 2018 RX 350h L.


The Lexus RX is a luxury midsize crossover that, depending on trim, seats 5 or 7 passengers. It's offered with front- or all-wheel drive and is powered by a V6 engine. A hybrid version is also available. Competitors include the Acura MDX, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5/Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac XT5, Infiniti QX60, Jaguar F-pace, Land Rover Range Rover Velar, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Porsche Cayenne, and Volvo XC60. The RX was last redesigned in 2017. For 2018 it received a new L trim level that adds 4.4 inches in overall length and a power operated, 2-person third-row seat. There are also some trim and package revisions for the 2018 model year that are aimed at making the hybrid version more affordable.

Six trim levels are offered: RX 350, RX 350L, RX 350 F Sport, RX 450h, RX 450h L, RX 450h F Sport. Prices start at $43,470 on the RX 350 and climb to $51,255 on the RX 450h F Sport. Gas-only models are available with front- or all-wheel drive while hybrid models come only with all-wheel drive.

Gas-only RX models are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine. In the standard 5-passenger model it makes 295 horsepower, in the L model it makes 290 horsepower. This engine is paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Hybrid RX models use the same V6 engine but mate it with a pair of electric motors and a continuously variable automatic transmission for a total system horsepower of 308.

Every RX comes standard with lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, forward-collision warning with emergency brake assist, and adaptive cruise control. Optional safety features include rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, rear automated braking, and front and rear parking sensors. Standard features include power-operated tailgate, and dual-zone climate control. The F Sport package adds paddle shifters, perforated leather-trimmed heated steering wheel, F Sport heated and ventilated front seats, aluminum interior trim panels, sport-tuned variable suspension, 20-inch wheels, and F Sport exterior styling.

Since the RX 350 and RX 350h are both powered by a similar V6 engine, acceleration and passing performance between the two is very similar. In both cases you can expect a 0-60 MPH time of about 7.5 seconds. Though by no means slow, that's a second or two behind than most competitors. In addition, both the traditional automatic in the gas model and the CVT automatic in the hybrid seem to be geared more for economy than performance, resulting in somewhat sloppy shifting around town. 

The RX's all-wheel-drive system -- gas-only or hybrid -- does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. Under most circumstances, front-drive with a good set of all-season tires is all most will need, but the AWD system does add a wee bit more traction on slippery surfaces.

Partly due to the RX's size and portly 4,500-pound curb weight, fuel economy for the gas-only model is a middling 18 MPG city, 25 MPG highway. That's near the bottom of the class. Thankfully, things look much better for the RX 350h. It posts EPA numbers of 29 MPG city and 29 MPG highway. Both tops in the class. Unfortunately, while the gas-only model runs fine on regular fuel the hybrid requires premium-grade gasoline.

In routine suburban driving, the Lexus RX 350h can easily match the EPA's rating of 29 MPG. Throw in some gentle highway cruising and that number might creep as high as 35 MPG overall. Impressive indeed! Keep in mind though, hybrid fuel economy tends to dip to more realistic ratings in extreme hot or cold weather.

The Lexus RX has always set the standard for ride comfort in the luxury crossover class and the 2018 edition does not disappoint. The absorbent suspension does an excellent job of eliminating road imperfections and softening harsh impacts. There's a bit of bounding on badly broken roads, but overall the suspension remains composed and the ride comfortable. 

On the flipside, the RX is one of the least athletic luxury crossovers on the market. Although, why anyone would want a crossover to handle like a sports car is a curious question. Still, the RX has too much body lean and brake dive in quick maneuvers. Opting for the F Sport package brings the RX closer to it's rivals, but still falls a notch or two short. In addition, the RX consistently has the longest braking distances in the class.

Interior noise levels are among the lowest in the class. Even more so on the hybrid where the electric motors help reduce engine noise further. On the highway, even at extra-legal speeds, the RX is delightfully free from wind and road noise.

RX offers a posh and upscale interior with materials that are appropriate for the price. Front seats offer ample head and leg room and are thickly padded -- offering great support on long trips. In addition, the seats have lots of adjustments and a power tilt-telescope steering wheel is standard. On the 5-passenger model second-row seats are among the roomiest in the class. Opting for the L means that the second-row seats give up a bit of leg room to make space for that third row. Speaking of the third row, it's best used by children but does offer cupholders and separate climate controls.

Entry and exit from the first- or second-row seats is a snap thanks to very large door openings and a modest ride height. Accessing the third-row seats can be a challenge. Outward visibility is good forward and directly to the side. However, the non-existent rear three-quarter windows and narrow backlight make maneuvering in tight spots a chore. 

The dashboard layout is fairly conventional for a luxury crossover. There is a large display screen in the center and an easy-to-decipher instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. As expected the cabin boasts a plethora of buttons -- thankfully they are mostly well placed and clearly marked. One downside is Lexus' infotainment system. Dubbed Enform, it's operated by a finicky touchpad on the center console. Moving through display screens and programming navigation quickly grows frustrating, in addition it eschews support for Android Auto and Apple Car Play. In this area, Lexus greatly trails industry leaders like the Volvo XC60.

Cargo capacity on the 5-passenger is quite good. Behind the second-row seats, the 5-passenger offers 18.4 cubic feet and seats down, cargo capacity is 56.3 cubic feet. The 7-passenger model has just a scant 7.45 cubic feet of capacity with the rear seats in use but an impressive 58 cubic feet with the seats folded. Cabin storage isn't bad with lots of open and covered bins throughout. However, the touchpad for the infotainment system eats into center console space.

Overall, the Lexus RX offers good value, with comfort, refinement, and reliability being its hallmarks.  The hybrid is easily the most fuel efficient in the class, but that economy comes with a price up front and then each time you fill up with premium-grade fuel. Downsides include the balky infotainment system and skimpy third-row. There are so many players in this class, be sure to drive more than a few before you make up your mind.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.