By Matt Degen
If you’re shopping for a 5-passenger luxury crossover SUV, you have the Lexus RX to thank. This model essentially created the segment when it debuted in the late 1990s. Nearly two decades later, the RX has become Lexus’ best-selling vehicle and a benchmark for rivals such as the Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Cadillac SRX and Lincoln MKX. All new and now in its 4th-generation, the 2016 Lexus RX features a bold exterior design, revamped interior, and new safety and technology features. As with previous generations, the standard RX 350 employs a velvety V6, while the RX 450h is a fuel-efficient gasoline-electric hybrid. F Sport variants have sharper driving dynamics, but the RX’s best traits remain its quiet, composed manners.
If you want a 2-row, 5-passenger luxury SUV that emphasizes serene driving characteristics and has a cabin that coddles, it’s hard to beat the Lexus RX. This model has also set the standard for smart interior functionality, reliability and resale value.
The Lexus RX is all-new for 2016. Now in its 4th generation, this midsize luxury SUV features a new exterior design, revamped interior, and a bump in power over its predecessor. The vehicle has grown slightly and offers more amenities such as touch-free liftgate operation.
While the new Lexus RX’s exterior styling screams aggressiveness, its driving manners remain much as they have been: comfortable, quiet and confident. This is an SUV for those who appreciate...
... a soft ride and serenity, vs. drivers who prefer blasts down twisty roads accompanied by a roaring exhaust note. That said, the new RX can be optimized for better agility and friskier throttle response by engaging Sport mode via the standard selectable drive-mode system. F Sport models go one better with the Sport S+ setting that further stiffens steering feel and livens throttle response. With Sport S+ engaged, we found the RX more rewarding on curvy mountain roads. RX 350 models retain a powerful and smooth V6 engine, and an 8-speed automatic transmission is now standard. They are a match made in automotive heaven. RX 450h hybrid models are equally pleasing and almost imperceptibly switch between gasoline and electric power.
“USE THE FORCE” LIFTGATE
Many automakers offer hands-free liftgates, but they often involve using a kicking motion or some other potentially-silly looking movement. The new Lexus RX offers its own twist. The Touch-Free Back Door option makes it go presto by merely placing a hand near the Lexus badge. You can be discreet or go full Yoda.
LEXUS RX 450H F SPORT
With the F Sport package now available on Lexus RX hybrid models, you don’t have to choose between high fuel efficiency and more dynamic driving manners. And just like the RX 350 F Sport, it comes standard with traction-enhancing all-wheel drive.
The 2016 Lexus RX interior boasts its own new style. Among the biggest changes is gear selector placement, which abandons its long-held position in the center dash to a more traditional spot in the console below. This opens space in the dash for easy-to-access climate and audio controls. The mouse controller just south of the gear selector is easier to operate. The seats are plush, and there is plenty of legroom in back. Beware of rear blind spots from the new roof design. Cargo space is impressive, with over 18 cubic feet behind the rear seats. That number expands to over 56 cubic feet with rear seats folded.
Terms like “bold,” “aggressive” and “highly-styled” all describe the new Lexus RX’s look. “Polarizing” is another. Keeping with the rest of the Lexus lineup, it begins with a gaping “spindle” grille up front, fluid headlight housings with LED lights, a high beltline, and the 2016 RX’s most divisive element: a flowing, blacked-out C-pillar behind the rear windows. This element – also in use on vehicles like the Nissan Murano – makes the Lexus’ roof appear to float. You’ll like it or you won’t. Lexus acknowledges the new RX is a “dramatic re-imagining” which it hopes will appeal to “soccer dads, too.”
The Lexus RX has always been well-equipped, and the latest model is no different. Even a base RX comes with a power tailgate, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a power-adjustable steering wheel, a faux-leather interior, dual-zone climate control, a backup camera, a HomeLink garage door opener, 18-inch wheels, and the Lexus Enform Safety Connect system with emergency assist button and more. The standard infotainment system includes an 8-inch command screen, 9-speaker audio with USB, Bluetooth, Micro SD card slot and auxiliary input, and Siri Eyes Free for Apple iPhones. One especially neat feature is Cache Radio, which lets you pause and record 10 minutes’ worth of live radio.
Both the Lexus RX 350 and the RX 450h hybrid can be had with all-wheel drive (AWD) instead of the standard front-wheel drive (FWD). Other options include leather seating, a power moonroof, a heated steering wheel, heated/ventilated front seats, the touch-free tailgate, navigation, an upgraded 12.3-inch display, and a fantastic-sounding 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. F Sport models add AWD, 20-inch wheels, paddle shifters, adaptive variable suspension, and unique front and rear fascias. Optional safety and driving aids include a pre-collision warning system with pedestrian detection, radar-based cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking and lane-departure alert. A rear-seat entertainment system with DVD player and dual screens is also available.
The 2016 RX 350 uses Lexus’ tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6. The engine has been enhanced with new cylinder-head design, reshaped intake ports and more. The result is a bump in horsepower – from 270 to 295, and improved fuel economy of up to 26 mpg. Unlike some luxury SUV rivals, this one runs just fine on regular 87-octane unleaded gasoline. The most efficient Lexus RX remains the 450h hybrid, which pairs the 3.5-liter V6 with a battery-electric powertrain. Like a standard Prius, no plugging in is required, but premium unleaded gasoline is recommended. The 2016 RX 450h has total output of 308 horsepower and delivers up to 31 mpg. The Lexus RX’s towing capacity is 3,500 pounds. Hybrid models have the same rating, but towing is meant for AWD models.
3.5-liter V6 (RX 350)
295 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm
267 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/28 mpg (FWD), 19/26 mpg (AWD)
3.5-liter V6 + 123 kW electric motor (RX 450h)
259 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm (gasoline engine alone)
Total system horsepower: 308
247 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm (gasoline engine only)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 31/30 mpg (FWD), 30/28 mpg (AWD)
The 2016 Lexus RX 350 has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting just under $43,000 for a front-wheel-drive model. All-wheel drive costs an additional $1,400, while the Lexus RX 350 F Sport, which comes with AWD, begins just over $50,000. Hybrid Lexus RX 450h models begin just over $53,000. The priciest Lexus RX is the 450h F Sport, which starts just under $58,000. Adding options to any of these models can increase the bottom line by thousands. At these prices, the Lexus continues to significantly undercut German rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz GLE and BMW X5. It is in line with the 3-row Acura MDX, and above the starting prices of the Lincoln MKX, Volvo XC60 and Infiniti QX50. Before buying, check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for their new RX. In addition to having a stellar track record in reliability, the Lexus RX has a tradition of holding its value extremely well.