The package is simple: A two-row luxury mid-size SUV/Crossover that acts as a long-distance tourer packing more than enough cargo and passenger room.
If you remember the original, then you understand why it has sold so many since.
The Lexus RX has been the best-selling model for the brand. It is also the best-selling model in its class. These statements have been on repeat, because they remain true. You witness it anywhere you drive or park.
The package is simple: A two-row luxury mid-size SUV/Crossover that acts as a long-distance tourer packing more than enough cargo and passenger room. This package has evolved over four generations, with varying results.
The challenge for the RX has always been its demographics. While new RX consumers tend to be “older” and “female,” they have always attracted upwardly mobile folks that want wat this vehicle has always promised: An elevated way to go somewhere.
As an introduction to the fifth generation Lexus RX, George and I was offered one as our ride between our Minnesota base and the Chicago Auto Show. That’s a 429-mile drive each way to see whether this 2023 RX is still the leader of the segment it created.
The direction Lexus took the new RX is to concentrate on efficiency and technology to advance this model. Gone are the V6 engines – including the Hybrid. In its place are a trio of four-cylinder drivelines. Our RX 350 had the 275-horsepower turbocharged 2.4-liter engine, putting down 317 pound-feet of torque. It is connected go an eight-speed automatic with the available all-wheel drive system. That same engine is also available in a plug-in hybrid version. “Regular” Hybrid models simply get the venerable 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor.
The expansion of technology is immediately witnessed upon entry into the RX. The doors are electronically controlled – and pretty darn heavy. However, you are immediately welcomed with a 14-inch version of the Lexus Interface infotainment system above the center stack. No more fussing with a track pad or a mouse-like controller. Simply touch the screen.
Lexus also elevated its driver assistance package to the 3.0 version. That included a more aggressive Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Lane Tracing Assist. Even the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control works when the lane curves. These features deepen the commitment to ensure you will get to your destination easily.
However, it is the little things that add up in a new generation model that will attract consumers. The shift-by-wire transmission lever is one of them. A fully thought-out head-up display is another. These are the kind of features you expect in a vehicle such as the RX.
Let me talk about the design, however. Lexus is trying out a new design language for its face and rear end. The blunter grille area, triple LED headlamps, and full-length LED taillight unit all work to elevate and advance this model. However, Lexus retained the fastback-like roofline and glasshouse profile to mix it with these new elements. Together, they work. It brings familiarity to consumers looking to trade their old RX in for the new one.
There are five trim levels available. Our Luxury model wore 20-spoke 21-inch alloy wheels, riding on Goodyear Eagle Touring tires. They look great with the darker blue paint job; I would’ve picked a better tire. That’s just me…and George…
Obviously, we spent a lot of time inside of this accommodating cabin. The seats were comfortable and made for multiple body types. Both George and I had good stints behind the wheel of the RX 350.
My advice for the rest of you: Fit yourself in these seats before you take off somewhere. Although, passenger space is quite good for up to five humans. I’m sure if your bodies are “normal,” you’ll enjoy a similar trip with no problems.
The driving environment is quite good. The new digital instrument cluster is comprehensive, but I would prefer a brighter screen. The head-up display was a huge help to give me what I need while I’m concentrating on the road ahead. The new steering wheel control were a mix of “good idea” and “you’re sure those are the right controls?” Once you comprehend their logic, they’ll be just fine. But, please bring back some real and understandable tactile controls!
The Lexus Interface makes a huge difference for infotainment control. While you get a huge screen off to the side, learning how to do certain operations – ranging from mirroring phones to the system to radio presets – will require patience and comprehension. At least we had a set of 21 Mark Levinson speakers, backed by 1,800 watts of sound reproduction.
As for cargo space, we were able to take our equipment without taxing the available cargo space. We’re talking 29.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats, 49.2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.
The driving experience was quite good. It was not too soft or firm. Just solidly luxurious. We kept ourselves on track through Wisconsin into Illinois and onto the “Ike” (The Eisenhower Expressway – Interstate 290) – and back. The steering system is clearly on point with solid on-center feel – augmented by the driver assistance technology – and with good degree of maneuverability. The brakes were fine, as well.
During our time in the RX 350, we averaged 23.2 MPG. That’s a good figure from a non-hybrid RX from my recollection.
As for pricing, this Luxury tester did not come with a sticker. However, we guestimated using the Lexus configurator that it would be around $63,145. The 2023 RX lineup starts at $48,550 and you have six trim levels to choose from.
There is one thing that has been in the back of my mind after our time in the 2023 RX 350 – the idea of Lexus luxury. The look and feel certainly calls out to its luxurious credentials. Yet, one would surmise that this is a different kind of luxury that we’re used to from the brand.
Then again, this brings up a larger discussion about what luxury is. Do the Germans do it right? Have we forgotten how lavish the American iconoclasts were from bac in the early 1970s? Has Genesis brought back that luxurious feeling again? Or, should we celebrate the fact that Lexus has put together a new benchmark for its segment-breaking vehicle that has lasted for over two decades?
The 2023 Lexus RX is where brand should be for its customers – luxury with technology and efficiency. A simple formula that requires no explanation or excuses. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle is provided by Toyota Motor North America
All photos by George Torline