The original Lexus RX made a huge impact on the crossover segment. It served as the first luxury offering in the space and fed an untapped appetite in the market. Now it’s entering its fifth generation and the all-new 2023 Lexus RX is aiming to make another big impact.
This time, though, the luxury crossover market is so big that the RX has a lot more work to do to keep up with or overtake its rivals. Gone is the V6 and in its place are a trio of different four-cylinder powertrains, each with its own transmission.
Quick Facts › › ›
› Model: 2023 Lexus RX
› MSRP: TBA
› 0-60 MPH: 5.3-Seconds
› Powertrain: 2.4-L Turbo Four-Cylinder l 8-Speed Auto l FWD or AWD
› Output: 275 hp (205 kW) and 317 lb-ft 429 Nm)
› EPA: 22 MPG City / 29 MPG Highway (Mnfr Est)
› On Sale: Late 2022
That might not sound like a benefit but after a few days with every upcoming RX trim, we can assure you that Lexus has addressed the issues of the last generation RX while also improving the facets of the design that we already loved. This crossover is better to drive than the outgoing generation and improves everyday livability too.
Pushing design forward is almost always a polarizing decision. Obvious examples like the C8 Corvette and the original Porsche Cayenne ever come to mind. The 2023 Lexus RX seems to be less controversial but no less polarizing. Before we drove the car we asked you what you wanted to know about it and it was clear that quite a number of you were shocked by the new exterior design.
We can assure you that, at least to our eyes, it’s less offensive and more cohesive in person. Some of that comes down to the fact that Lexus has tied the Spindle Grille design into the entire body now instead of just the front clip. The body overall is exactly the same length (192.5 inches / 488.9 cm) as it was last year but the RX is now wider (75.6 inches / 192cm vs 74.6 inches / 189cm last year), shorter (67.3 inches / 170.9cm vs 67.7 / 171.9cm inches last year), and has a longer wheelbase (112.2 inches / 284cm vs 109.8 inches / 278cm last year).
Combining a shorter and wider stance with bolder exterior design choices pushes the RX into the future in a way that should keep it looking fresh for quite a number of years. At the same time, small touches like the floating roof design element have remained as a way to tie this generation to its past. 19-inch wheels come standard on most trims but some, like the RX 500h, will come with 21s. As a complete design package, we think it looks a lot more aggressive and sporty than the outgoing generation.
Detail-Oriented Interior Design
Inside of the new Lexus RX, everything feels a lot more refined. We had access to every trim level that will be on sale at launch and even the chance to drive a plug-in hybrid that will go on sale sometime later. Every one of them offered a nice space to inhabit. Ergonomically, the front seats provide excellent support and adjustability. Controls are easily understood and logically placed.
Panel gaps and material quality is also top-notch. Small touches like the door popping mechanism (that’s right, no conventional handles here), the stitching, and the center console storage space that opens from both sides really help define what makes the RX special. They’re delightful choices that demonstrate attention to detail. Lexus didn’t need to include any of those features but they did, and each one makes the vehicle feel just that much more luxurious.
That theme continues throughout the whole cabin with high-quality design on the door cards, the dashboard, the center console, the steering wheel itself, and even in the second row where the climate controls are. Back there, the temperature control is flanked by individual USB-C ports. The rear seats themselves are spacious and comfortable too. Taller folks will want more headroom but they won’t need any more legroom even if similarly tall people might be in the front chairs. For the first time, Lexus is offering heated and ventilated outboard rear seats on specific trims.
Cargo space in the back is more than adequate for most trips. Those who need more can fold the rear seats flat to create a cavernous luxury mini-truck of sorts. The rear tailgate opens and closes three seconds faster than the outgoing RX and we can confirm that it’s fast enough that you’ll probably quit closing your tailgate on your own.
Pushing The Technology Envelope
In our eyes, the biggest step forward for the RX is the infotainment system. Gone is the frustrating touchpad of the last generation and in its place is the excellent touchscreen system found in a few other new Lexus models. The entire interface is a breath of fresh air with easy-to-navigate menus and a very logical layout. Most climate controls require the use of the touchscreen but they’re always positioned at the bottom of the screen and three physical knobs allow for control of the temperature and audio system volume. It’s a great balance between physical and digital controls.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard again but this time in wireless form. On top of that, a 12-speaker sound system is now standard and a 21-speaker 1,800-watt Mark Levinson sound system is available. It produces a very crisp clear sound and has excellent treble, mid-range, and bass too.
The available heads-up display is especially impressive. Not only does it provide excellent graphics but it also includes capacitive buttons on the steering wheel. When one glances their finger over one of those buttons a helpful little infographic pops up in the HUD to make sure that the driver understands what the button will do when pressed. It’s a great system that we’d love to see others incorporate.
Voice controls in the 2023 Lexus RX were hit or miss in our testing. Sometimes the system would recognize interactions and instructions without issue and other times it wouldn’t respond at all. Keep in mind that these were pre-production prototypes so the software could improve between now and when these cars go on sale late this year.
Every RX will come with Lexus Safety System + 3.0, a complete advanced driver assistance system. Included in that package is dynamic cruise control, lane-change assist, intelligent high beams, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, and more. The RX also supports a small camera located just above the center of the steering wheel that watches for dangerous behavior from the driver like not paying enough attention to the road.
In theory, it’s a great idea, but in practice, we had a lot of alerts during normal driving behavior like reading a street sign as we passed it. In addition, if you ever drive with one hand on the top center of the wheel, the system will beep away at you because you’re blocking it from seeing your face. Moreover, when taller people stretch out and rest their heads on the headrest the system can lose their face too. Despite these smallish gripes, we’re most impressed with the RX’s technology package.
The EPA has yet to release any data on fuel economy for the RX but Lexus has some estimates for us. It says that the new luxury crossover will get up to 22 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway, and 25 combined in RX 350 trim. That’s an improvement over the previous RX 350 by 2 mpg in each category. Keep in mind though that the new RX requires premium fuel while the outgoing RX could run on regular. Basically, you won’t have to stop quite as often to refuel but it might still cost more.
The Best Driving RX Yet
At launch, three different versions of the RX will go on sale. The base model uses a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that sends 275 horsepower (205 kW) and 317 pound-feet 429 Nm) of torque to either the front wheels or all four via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Off of the line, it feels snappy and fun. It’s lighter than the outgoing RX too (4,155 pounds compared to 4,222 pounds on the last generation FWD) and that translates to better handling and less body roll.
The RX 350h, a hybrid version focused on fuel efficiency, is the least powerful of the family with just 246 horsepower (183 kW) and 233 pound-feet (315 Nm) of torque on tap. From the driver’s seat, it’s very obviously the slow one. It’s also the only one in the lineup to use a continuously variable transmission. Surely, the added weight of a hybrid system isn’t helpful in the pursuit of speed but thankfully, it still features above-average body control and a comfortable ride. Unlike the normal RX 350, the 350h is only available with AWD.
That’s also the case for the new RX 500h trim which aims to harness the power of hybridization for the purposes of performance rather than fuel efficiency. It develops a very healthy total of 366 horsepower (272 kW) and 406 pound-feet (549 Nm) of torque. Power is routed to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. If there’s been a more engaging RX in the past we can’t think of it. The RX 500h offers enough power and torque to satisfy the needs of those who have always wanted an RX but demanded a powertrain that wouldn’t bore them.
A fourth model, the RX 450h, offers a plug-in hybrid solution to customers that want it but it won’t go on sale until well after the launch of the other three trims. We only had a very short time in a Euro-spec version of it and from that limited experience, it feels like a blend of the normal RX 350 and the 350h. It can tap into an EV-only mode or utilize both the gas and electric motor to outperform the normal hybrid.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t a direct competitor in terms of driving dynamics to vehicles like the Porsche Cayenne, the BMW X5, or the Mercedes GLE. Even in Sport mode, the RX isn’t as refined or adept at high-speed athleticism as its rivals. That’s OK though as it offers a better value with regard to luxury and comfort which is really the main goal of most cars in this class.
Trims And Sub-Trims
While Lexus will offer the RX in three distinct powertrains at launch, it’ll also separate each one of those with sub-trim levels. For example, the base RX 350 with its gas-only engine and FWD or AWD configuration can be had in five sub-trims.
The first is called Standard and it comes with 19-inch wheels, LED fog lamps, eight-way power-adjustable seats, faux-leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 9.8-inch infotainment system, 12 speakers, and more in addition to Lexus’ Safety System + 3.0.
Above that is the RX 350 Premium. It adds heated and ventilated front seats, a wireless device charger, a power-tilt and slide moonroof, aluminum roof rails, parking assist, and a backup camera.
The Premium + trim includes a 14-inch infotainment system with integrated navigation, leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, ambient interior lighting, and multi-zone climate control with automatic recirculation.
The most luxurious of the RX 350 trims is the appropriately named Luxury. It gets 21-inch wheels, suede door trim, upgraded seats, a heads-up display, four-way lumbar support, and 10-way power-adjustable front seats.
Technically the top RX 350 trim is the F SPORT Handling AWD. As one might guess, it comes standard with AWD along with six-piston front brake calipers, F SPORT front seats with thicker bolsters, adaptive variable suspension, 21-inch wheels, aluminum pedals, and unique F SPORT trim inside and out.
The 350h is available in each of those sub-trims except for the F SPORT variant and gets the same features in each. Finally, the RX 500h is only available in the F SPORT Handling AWD sub-trim. Pricing has yet to be announced for any RX trim or sub-trim but we expect it to start at about $50,000.
Distilling A Great Recipe
Lexus made it very clear in its presentation that it doesn’t think that the RX is going up against the likes of Tesla Model Y or the Cadillac Lyriq because they’re battery electric vehicles. Conversely, it does see the RX going up against the likes of the BMW X5, the Acura MDX, and the Mercedes-Benz GLE. Among that group, only the MDX can really go toe to toe with it when it comes to pricing if our estimated starting MSRP is correct.
Starting around $50,000 would make the RX one of the most well-rounded mid-luxury SUVs on the market today. To put that another way, there’s no one specific aspect of the RX that is unquestionably better than the rest of the field but every aspect is well above average. That makes it a compelling competitor in a market that’s more cluttered today than Lexus execs probably could’ve imagined back when the first RX debuted. You can only break ground on a project once but the new 2023 Lexus RX is adding a new level of quality that others will now have to contend with.