We get a few hours of seat time in the all-new 2016 Lexus RX
More luxurious interior
F Sport now available on the hybrid
Mouse controller improved, still needs work
Handling still not sporty
Rear visibility without the aids
2016 Lexus RX
Back in 1998, Lexus was the first upscale brand to base a sport utility vehicle on a unibody platform (Toyota Camry) and succeeded in creating a whole new type of vehicle: the luxury crossover sport utility.
It remained the only Lexus crossover until the NX was introduced in late 2014 and 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 in re-styling 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 touch that's been carried over: a rear wiper that parks under the upper rear spoiler, out of the way of accumulating snow and ice.
Getting into the numbers, 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 an option.
While the outside of the new RX tends 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 those on the lower doors executed in hard plastic look and feel good.
The seats are firm and supportive – especially the foam-injected leather ones found on both the AWD RX 350 F Sport and the new AWD RX 450h Hybrid F Sport, 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, up from last year. With both rear seats flipped forward, that expands to a very usable 56.3 cubic feet.
Under the hood
Changes are also afoot 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.
On hybrid models, the reengineered 2GR-FXS 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 now produces a combined system output of 308 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 247 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,600 rpm. On hybrid AWD models, control functions of the E-Four rear drive electric motor have been enhanced for increased system response while accelerating during turns.
Fuel efficiency is also improved. FWD and AWD versions of new RX 350 are rated by the EPA at 20/28/23 city/highway/combined and 19/26/22 city/highway/combined, respectively.
On the road
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 they lack an initial bite, the brakes are also very strong and it's easy to modulate the brake pedal.
Compared to the outgoing model, driving the hybrid – especially the F Sport version – was a much more pleasant experience. Take it from us; just put it in Sport mode and you won't even realize you're driving a fuel-sipper equipped with a CVT.
Handling is also improved in all models, with very little body lean in corners. Feedback through the steering wheel is also better, with more on-center road feel. On the freeway and despite the inclement weather, very little in the way of rain, engine or wind noise entered the cabin – although we did detect a small amount of tire noise over tar strips.
2016 Lexus RX 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.
The Bottom Line
It's easy to see why the RX continues to be a best seller in the midsize luxury segment. The good news is that the all-new 2016 model offers more across the lineup in every department – edgier styling, increased fuel economy, better driving dynamics and an even more luxurious interior. Current RX owners should be pleased, while the improvements should attract even more luxury crossover buyers into the Lexus fold.