A week spent in the all-new 2016 Lexus RX midsize crossover from Toyota's luxury brand.
More luxurious interior
Smooth engine and transmission
Mouse controller better, still needs work
Rear visibility without the aids
2016 Lexus RX 350
Back in 1998, Lexus was the first upscale brand to base a sport utility vehicle on a unibody platform (the Toyota Camry) and succeeded in creating a whole new type of vehicle: the luxury crossover sport utility.
It's also hard to believe that despite the success of the RX, it remained the only Lexus crossover until the NX was introduced in late 2014. It continues to be the brand's best-selling model, representing nearly 40 percent of Lexus sales here in the U.S.
Looking at those stakes, Lexus could be forgiven if it took the conservative route when it came time to restyle its midsize crossover; but it didn't.
Lexus describes the overall design of the 2016 RX as "seductive strength" and "sophistication with edge" with the "edge" being readily apparent in the sharp edges and deep creases of the new model's sheetmetal. Up front, the RX now sports a chrome-bordered example of the largest iteration yet of Lexus' signature "spindle" grille. Bracketing that are a pair of narrow L-shape LED headlamp enclosures and, just below them, a set of triangular-shaped fog light enclosures.
The spindle design theme is repeated, albeit a bit less aggressively, in the outline of the license plate surround between the trapezoidal-shaped rear taillamps. Meanwhile, the lower rear valance features a pair of oversized, chrome-trimmed, exhaust outlets.
The sides are characterized by a deeply-sculpted lower rocker panel and chiseled upper character lines, all topped off by a roof that seems to float above the beltline. A particularly nice feature that's been carried over is a rear wiper that parks itself under the upper rear spoiler and out of the way of accumulating snow and ice – something we're sure is appreciated by drivers in the northern climes.
Getting into the hard numbers, its overall length is up by 4.7 inches, the wheelbase has been extended 1.9 inches, while width is up by 0.4 inches. 18-inch wheels are now standard, while three different 20-inch wheel designs are offered as options.
While the outside of the new RX leans toward the avant-garde, its interior is far more traditional. No longer a single piece, the hand-stitched, two-tier, dashboard features a horizontal theme with the upper dash dominated by either a standard 8-inch or optional 12.3-inch TFT touchscreen display. Although it looks imposing, it doesn't interfere with forward visibility.
The good news is that the RX has retained its title as a benchmark for midsize luxury crossovers. Overall fit and finish is outstanding, while soft-touch surfaces can be found nearly everywhere and even panels on the lower doors executed in hard plastic look and feel good.
The seats are firm and supportive, with just the right amount of side bolstering. There's plenty of leg, hip, shoulder and headroom for both front passengers as well as three full-sized adults in the back seat.
Sightlines out the front and sides are improved with narrower A-pillars, although the rear three-quarters view is hindered by a thick C-pillar and the view out the back is also compromised by the smallish rear window. Fortunately, a rear view camera is standard, while an available panoramic view monitor allows the driver to survey the surroundings – an especially nice touch in tight spaces.
The instrumentation is clear and easy to read, with the buttery-smooth console and center-stack buttons and knobs being very intuitive. But while Lexus has once again given its computer mouse-like controller "enter" buttons on either side of the joystick (as well as map, menu, "back" and scroll buttons ahead of it), the setup still seems to demand too much of the driver's attention, especially when you need to get deeper into some of the sub-menu functions.
Loading objects into the cargo area, however, is a breeze with the standard electric hatch that can be operated from the back, from a button on the dash, or from the key fob.
The newly-configured 40/20/40 split rear seats now come standard with a fold-down center arm rest that contains a storage area and a flip-up dual cup holder. Cargo volume behind the rear seat is now 18.4 cubic feet. With both rear seats flipped forward, that expands to a very usable 56.3 cubic feet.
Under the hood
Changes were also made under the hood, as the 2GR-FKS 3.5-liter DOHC all-aluminum V6 now generates 295 horsepower (up from 270) at 6,300 rpm and 267 (up from 248) lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm. On non-hybrid models, it's now mated to an eight (up from six) -speed automatic (F Sport models get ECO, Normal, Sport and Sport+ settings, while non-Sport trims get everything but the Sport+ mode).
On all-wheel-drive models, an Active Torque Control AWD system uses an electronically controlled coupling ahead of the rear differential to vary the distribution of torque anywhere from 100:0 to 50:50 front to rear, depending on driving dynamics and road conditions.
Fuel efficiency is also improved. Fuel economy numbers for AWD versions of new RX 350 are estimated by the EPA to be 19/26/22 city/highway/combined mpg. Our own observed fuel economy turned out to be 21.0 miles per gallon in suburban driving.
On the road
By their very definition, crossovers are not the type of vehicles one normally associates with either twisty roads or straight-line performance. This is also very much the case with the 2016 Lexus RX 350 as it's more of a boulevard/freeway cruiser than a corner carver.
On the road, the V6 is smooth, powerful and refined with strong acceleration. Road and wind noise are both down from the outgoing model, while suspension compliance is excellent and body lean is well controlled. Although we didn't experience much of an initial bite, the brakes are very strong and it's easy to modulate the brake pedal.
Handling is also improved, with very little body lean in corners. Feedback through the steering wheel is also better with more on-center road feel, although even in normal mode we felt that there's a bit too much weight to the wheel. On the freeway very little in the way of rain, engine or wind noise enters the cabin – although we did experience a small amount of tire noise over tar strips.
One of the few issues we found is the result of the RX’s styling – rear quarter visibility is impaired by the wide C-pillars and low roofline. Fortunately, a rear view camera is now standard. Our tester was also equipped with the optional Blind Spot Monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and the overhead Panoramic View Monitor, making it even easier to park and maneuver in congested parking lots.
2016 Lexus RX 350 pricing
Lexus's midsize crossover is now available in six flavors: front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive and F Sport all-wheel-drive for both the conventional RX 350 and hybrid RX 450h. Pricing for the FWD RX 350 starts at $42,840, while the AWD model begins at $44,240 and the AWD F Sport commences at $51,215. (Hybrid pricing begins with the base FWD 450h at $53,175, rises to $54,575 for the AWD version and tops out at $58,035 as a starting price for the F Sport model).
As you would expect, all models come with the usual power features (windows, locks, mirrors) as standard equipment. Additional features include a power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, one-touch up/down windows, power rear door, dual automatic climate control, auto-dimming inside rearview mirror, heated outside mirrors, alloy wheels, Siri Eyes Free, Bi LED headlights and LED fog lights and daytime running lights and taillights.
Our tester, an AWD model finished in Autumn Shimmer, had a base price of $43,300.00. The addition of a Blind Spot Monitor w/Rear Cross-Traffic Alert & Panoramic View Monitor ($1,300), Color Heads Up Display ($600), Lexus Safety System + & Adaptive Front Lighting ($1,050), Heated & Ventilated Front Seats ($640), Panorama Moonroof ($1,600), nav system with 8" multimedia display and Lexus Enform App Suite ($1,750), Intuitive Parking Assist ($500), Premium Package with leather-trimmed seats, power-folding outside mirrors, driver's seat/steering wheel/mirror memory, rain-sensing wipers and aluminum roof rails ($$1,085), Espresso Walnut interior trim ($400), all-weather floor mats and cargo mat ($190) along with $940 for a delivery, processing and handling fee, brought the total MSRP to $53,355.00.
The Bottom Line
It's easy to see why the RX remains a best seller. For 2016 it’s got lot going for it – edgier styling, better fuel economy, a quiet ride and a comfortable, richly-appointed interior. The fact that steering weight is a bit on the heavy side, while the infotainment joystick leaves a bit to be desired, are all relatively minor quibbles as we feel that buyers looking in the midsize luxury crossover segment should put the 2016 RX 350 at the top of their lists.