2023 Lexus RX: The quintessential Lexus gets even better

For the “not badge obsessed”

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — The Lexus RX is the most popular vehicle Lexus sells, and with good reason.

The mid-sized luxury crossover has been well-regarded for years thanks to Lexus’ maniacal focus on comfort, reliability, and unpretentious luxury. The new one doubles down on the first two, adds a big splash of sportiness, and should continue its dominance as the SUV of choice for wealthy folks who have no need to show off.

The Lexus design team didn’t mess with the RX’s tried-and-true look, instead focusing on the typical nips and tucks of a redesign, except at the front, which gets an entirely new interpretation of the Lexus spindle grille that — to put kindly — will be polarizing.

The rear is a thoughtful expression of the new Lexus design language we’ve seen in the UX and NX, looking modern without being too flashy (a Lexus hallmark). The best part about the look of the new RX is a jaw-dropping new Copper Crest color. I once based an entire Lexus review around the fantastic Nori Green Pearl (also available on the RX), and the silky copper is one of the best colors I’ve seen in a car.

The interior has been reworked with the same large touchscreen found in the new Lexus LX and the Toyota Tundra, supporting wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Thankfully there are good storage spots for your phone, including a wireless charger and two USB-C ports easily accessible beneath the screen. The new infotainment has extensive connectivity, including built-in Apple Music through the in-car data connection.

There are three drivetrains to choose from, and the base 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft 2.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder is a capable option. It gets 25 and 24 mpg combined for FWD and AWD respectively. There’s a 350h hybrid that’s only available in AWD, making 36 mpg combined, which is excellent if you want better fuel economy.

And then we get to the weird one. The RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD takes the turbocharged engine from the base model and adds a more powerful hybrid electric system to create a total of 366 system horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. The result is a hybrid that makes just 27 mpg combined and a 0–60 mph time of 5.9 seconds, down from 7.2 seconds in the standard RX 350 AWD.

It’s faster, looks good, and it’s the first time the RX has had a “performance” option — but it disappointed me. Sure, it’s faster, but it feels like a missed opportunity. The Germans have turned their SUVs into cash printing machines as folks pay enormous sums for sporty SUVs like the BMW X5 M and the Audi SQ 5. I wonder if Lexus missed an opportunity to create a true performance SUV, perhaps the RX F with the same silky smooth V8 as the Lexus LC 500.

Still, the driving experience of the new RX is terrific. It’s improved from the old RX, especially with the addition of rear-wheel steering, which helps the rig navigate tight Starbucks parking lots.

The newest version of Lexus Safety Sense adds an auto-braking feature called Proactive Driving Assist (PDA) that uses “gentle braking” to help maintain vehicle distance between the RX and a preceding vehicle, pedestrian, or bicyclist. Instead of a last-minute crash-avoidance feature like Automatic Emergency Braking, PDA is more like “automatic slowing.” It’s so subtle that you might not even notice it happening, but it should help reduce tailgating and buy drivers more time to react in a crash.

In truth, the Lexus RX is not an exciting car. It is, however, an exceedingly popular one. Lexus says it’s likely to be bought by “creative visionaries” who are experiential and not badge-obsessed, as well as highly educated professionals. That tracks. The RX is practical, comfortable, and attractive. It’s efficient, well-designed, and will be a home run with the sort of folks who buy the Lexus RX. But it doesn’t push the limits, which is no surprise when you’re the market leader and have a very successful product.

There’s a plug-in hybrid version coming that I got to preview — it’s called the RX 450h+, and it’s currently available in Europe — and it will be the RX to buy once it arrives here in the states. But for now, there’s the 2023 RX, and if you are a creative visionary, this is the SUV for you.

About Jordan Golson 157 Articles
Jordan Golson is North State Journal's automotive reporter. He covers cars - both foreign and domestic - from around the globe.