The Pleasant Surprise
A Victory & Reseda review of the 2016 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
It was the first full week of November in 2015 when I first encountered this vehicle.
I was honored by Lexus to have brought me to Raleigh-Durham to sample the then-new 2016 RX. It was mostly a look at the Lexus lifestyle, combined with its most popular product. Lexus has banked on this vehicle since 1999 to have carried them through even the toughest time with recalls and the global economic crisis.
When I sampled the new version of the RX, it was a complete concurrence that Lexus had done a great job by not only maintaining its leadership in this class, but by raising the bar for it.
They did not just do so by a single feat. They went further on various fronts. One such direction Lexus took was to extend the F Sport package to the RX 450h – its Hybrid model. It took some time for my brain to process this, as I questioned this melding of sustainable transport and sporty feel. As a passenger, I rode along with my media partner as we both remarked how much this combination actually worked. It was perhaps the biggest surprise from the whole experience in the Triangle area of North Carolina.
Almost a year later, Lexus sent the RX 450h F Sport to me for a more in-depth examination. I have worked with RXs before – but never the Hybrid version. The F Sport package is a personal trim level of mine. It has done a huge service for the brand in creating a sporty motif that also included additional dynamics. Adopting it across the lineup – save for the ES sedan, the big GX and LX SUVs – helped raised the profile for Lexus in terms of adding driver engagement to its products.
This vehicle ticks a lot of boxes for me – with the exception of the choice of engine. Maybe, I could be convinced that the RX 450h F Sport could make me overlook the blue-tinged "oval-L" logo on each end of this vehicle.
Let's start with the obvious – the exterior. The new RX continues the design language now seen across the lineup. It is sharper from end to end, which helps the RX's cause. In the RX, the spindle grille becomes a focal point for the entire front end. Everything else is shaped from that face. For the F Sport, the mesh grille texture works perfectly around its chrome surround in giving the front end an aggressive mouth for all others to be fed through.
The headlamps are angled back while the lower side areas include integrated fog and driving lamps for better night vision and daytime visibility. The lines flow rearward with many shapes to cheat the wind. Meanwhile, the roof offers a rakish windshield and the most controversial piece of the entire vehicle, the C-Pillar. Lexus decided to make the rear area more dramatic by creating a "floating roof" motif with the glasshouse angled down to the beltline at the very end. There is a piece of glass back there, smaller than any seen on prior RX versions.
The tailgate has a similarly raking shape for the glass, while offering a three-dimensional series of shapes to bring the taillight assembly outward and other visual effects for the license plate area and the bumper. Though it still stands tall, Lexus ensures us that they’ll use the right size of wheels to finish each model’s look. The F Sport’s 20-inch wheels in a graphite-like look are indeed the best compliment to the F Sport package.
I should mention the color. This Nightfall Mica is a dark shade of blue that is amazingly stunning. I have always advocated the use of color in vehicles – aside from white, black, silver and gray. Without color, you cannot have individuality. For me, it is blue – it always been since I was a child.
The deep blue on the outside is contrasted with the Stratus Gray perforated leather interior inside. F Sport seats offer deep bolstering and a tauter seat than on regular RX models, but are sized enough for most bodies. Power adjustments for rake, recline, height and lumbar support are available on both passenger and driver front positions, and both can be heated or cooled, as well. Rear seat occupants have a flatter seat, but swathed in the same lovely Stratus Gray perforated leather. Space is fantastic for five adults, especially with a flat floor in the rear.
Having driven the previous iteration of the RX for this site, I can tell you how much I appreciated the changes made to the ergonomic setup of this newesy version of Lexus' most popular vehicle. Before, the shifter was offered at a 45 degree angle, which worked better in a minivan than in a crossover/SUV. It is now at a proper angle, along with a raised center console. In all, there is better access to switches and a more comfortable and sporting access to the gear lever. That also means better access to the Remote Touch controller for the new 12.3-inch infotainment screen. The Remote Touch "mouse" can be a bit touchy at times, but one can control it when the logic is figured out. I would assume add the touchpad seen on the NX and RC – that is much easier to control.
With every F Sport, the instrument panel gets the single big TFT dial with a digital speedometer and information center to the left of it. If one thing excites me about driving any Lexus F Sport model is the instrumentation binnacle – especially when you flip the Drive Mode knob to Sport S and Sport S+. It just makes things a bit bolder to look at. It also helps when the entire instrument panel is set off with the F Sport's grooved brushed aluminum accent on the console and matching aluminum trims all around.
Back to that huge 12.3-inch infotainment screen, it is quite massive, as it appears as a tablet-like piece inlaid above the center stack. It is designed as a split screen for multiple functions – audio, navigation, even vehicle information. Integral to this screen is Lexus Enform. This telematics service drives a series of connected services using both Bluetooth and on-board mobile technologies, enabling a dial-in service to send destinations to the RX and an app suite that allows for certain phone apps to be utilized in the vehicle.
Cargo space starts with just 18.4 cubic feet with the retractable cover in place, yet is expandable to 56.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. In all, the RX has one of the finest cabins in its class.
Though it looks like any F Sport inside and out, there is something that has caused a few debates underneath the hood. The combination of the 3.5-liter V6 with the Lexus Hybrid Drive electric motor and battery pack simply works well with the RX. Combined, there is 308 horsepower between the V6 and electric motor. Connected to it is a Continuously Variable Transmission, sending power to all four wheels. This is a really seamless system, in which the electric motor can run by itself up to about 38 MPH – which is better than most systems. With the Hybrid system, I found the RX 450h F Sport to turn an average fuel consumption figure of 28.2 MPG. More remarkable is that figure was achieved in a vehicle that weighs 4,740 pounds.
One expects the RX to ride smoothly and handle competently. It does – even the F Sport offers a very smooth and comfortable ride unlike its regular RX counterparts. Although, you will experience a bit of roll when going through the turns at the limit. Sport S+ mode tightens the suspension a bit, without hardening the ride quality.
Stopping the RX is a smooth experience. A solid braking system yielded good behaviors in normal, panic, and winter situations. The steering system feels good, offers a good turning radius and a solid on-center lock. This is improved when putting the Drive Mode into Sport S+, where the weight is heavier inducing better steering response. There is a full active safety suite on this model. Features include Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Keep Assist, Active Cruise Control, Front Collision Warning, Rear Cross-Traffic Warning, and rearview camera. Whether you like these feature or not, there will be a time when you cannot live without them. Trust me on this one…
Our 2016 RX 450h F Sport tester came with a sticker price of $60,015. However, it is already the 2017 model year. You can get a basic 2017 Lexus RX 350 for a starting price of $43,020. That model gets you just the V6 engine with front-wheel drive. For us Northern Climes people, we have to get all-wheel drive. AWD models start at $44,420. The base price of the 2017 RX 450h F Sport happens to be $56,495 – a price reduction of $550 from the 2016 model.
Here is the thing about the Lexus RX – it is the top seller of the brand currently and leads its class – two-row, premium-branded, mid-sized SUVs – in sales overall. It also has the highest customer loyalty of any vehicle in its class. To review it is to essentially "preach to the choir," right? You will find that there are plenty of people that stop, stare and absorb the new RX – even those who own its German and American rivals.
Perhaps it is the F Sport package that attracts possible conquest customers. It is attractive, aggressive and very much out front for them. Add the Hybrid to the mix, and you might confused looks. However, it should be the Hybrid that would draw them in because there are a few rivals to this type of vehicle in its class. It also turns the kind of fuel economy one would love to get in a vehicle of its size and purpose.
Having never driven the 2016 Lexus RX 450h F Sport a year ago, I am pleased to report that it is exactly what I expected upon further and extensive evaluation. It does the job in combining two opposite elements – sportiness and sustainability. It is indeed the best package Lexus offers its most popular vehicle.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor Sales USA
All photos by Randy Stern