2016 Lexus RX First Review: Striking on the outside, familiar within
One look at the exterior and it's easy to see that the latest RX has changed much compared to the outgoing model. Lexus' highly lauded sport utility vehicle enters its 4th generation with a dramatically restyled skin. Most notable are its giant spindle grille that appears big enough to swallow a Yaris and the SUV's "floating roof" design resulting from the flowing shape of its blacked-out C-pillars behind the rear passenger windows. It's a bold move for Lexus, and a potential gamble considering the RX is the brand's best-selling vehicle.
Some will appreciate the edgy looks. Others won't. That's the risk an automaker takes with such a departure, but Lexus clearly feels the bet is worth it.
Familiar ride and powertrains
Under the RX's slightly larger exterior, changes are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. And that's not a bad thing. Considering the surprise some may have with the exterior, the rest of the vehicle's familiarity could provide just the comfort they need, literally and figuratively.
When the 2016 Lexus RX luxury crossover SUV arrives at dealerships in November, it will again come in two forms: The RX 350 and RX 450h. The 2016 Lexus RX 350 uses the familiar 3.5-liter V6, which now makes an additional 25 horsepower for a total of 295. The RX 450h hybrid SUV comes with a reengineered 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine mated to a pair of electric motors and a nickel metal hydride battery pack. The hybrid Lexus RX makes a total of 308 horsepower, 13 more than the outgoing model. Both the gasoline and gas-electric hybrid versions of the RX come standard with front-wheel drive and are available with all-wheel drive for better traction. Additionally, both the RX 350 and RX 450h are available as F Sport models, which come with AWD standard and enhanced performance.
We had the chance to preview a trio of 2016 Lexus RX models in the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Here are our first-drive impressions of each -- and our recommendation of which is right for you.
Lexus RX 350
If you're already a fan of the RX, here's your new baby. Yes, it's quite different on the outside and refreshingly restyled within, but it drives like the way the RX long has. That is to say, comfort is the priority. It wafts along highways with the quiet determination of an artisan at work. Power flows seamlessly and with surprising depth from the retuned engine, and the new 8-speed automatic transmission is so good it, too, already feels familiar.
For those instances in which you might favor a crisper ride, there is a "sport" drive mode that is activated with a twist of a dial. Doing so livens throttle response and adds artificial weight to the electronic power steering system. We found it beneficial on the curvy roads in the hills surrounding Portland. Sport mode won't transform the Lexus RX into a BMW X5, but it's nice to have the option of injecting the inherently soft RX with more edge.
Lexus RX 350 F Sport
F Sport models come with all-wheel drive, adaptive variable suspension, paddle shifters, 20-inch wheels and the Sport S+ setting that further separates the Lexus RX F Sport models from their standard brethren. We found this RX the most rewarding to drive briskly. And aside from a higher level of perceived road noise -- quite possibly from the larger tires -- we didn't feel like it sacrifices Lexus plush ride manners.
When you're done having fun in the corners, simply switch it back to regular drive mode. Unlike BMW M and Mercedes-Benz AMG models, the F Sport edition of the RX brings no extra power. Of course, not everyone cares about that. If you dig the RX and its essence of plushness and practicality but want the ability to grant it with a firmer ride, more aggressive performance and the coveted Sport S+ mode that brings it all together, this is the one for you.
Lexus RX 450h Hybrid
Let's make one thing clear: the 2016 Lexus RX 450h is no slouch. While many people still equate "hybrid" with "slow," the Lexus RX 450h is actually just as quick as its gasoline-only sibling. The Lexus RX hybrid goes 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds for front-wheel drive models and does it in 7.9 when equipped with all-wheel drive--the same marks as the 2016 Lexus RX 350. Those times aren't blazing, but they certainly aren't slow. You'll get up to speed on that freeway on-ramp just fine. The rest of the RX hybrid's manners are equally impressive.
As we've come to expect of Toyota's and Lexus' hybrids, the transitions between gas and electric power are smooth, and the electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT) feels refined. When you need to get on the throttle, the RX 450h is eager to get down to business--even more so in the new F Sport RX 450h model. But the big appeal is fuel economy. Lexus estimates it will earn ratings of 31 mpg city/30 highway for front-drive models and 30/28 mpg for all-wheel-drive. That compares with the RX 350's figures of 20/28 mpg for FWD and 19/26 mpg for AWD. If you want an RX with the highest fuel economy, the 450h delivers it without sacrificing power, acceleration or cargo space.
How much will the new Lexus RX cost?
The revamped, 4th generation Lexus RX arrives in November. Lexus is keeping the lid on exact pricing until closer to launch, but has told us it will start "very much under $45,000."
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