The Lexus RX is a midsize luxury crossover with a soft ride and practical design. The current-generation, introduced for the 2016 model year, added a healthy dose of style to its practical merits. For nearly two decades, the RX has been practically synonymous with midsize luxury crossovers. In its more fashionable current form, the RX retains its fine road manners.
There are no major changes for 2018. Enform Safety Connect and Service Connect are complimentary for 10 years (previously one year) on 2018 Lexus RX models, and the 2018 RX 450h offers more options than before. The 2018 RX lineup is as broad as before.
The RX 350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 that develops 295 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque. Running on a lean combustion cycle for best gas mileage, the V6 mates with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel standard is standard, with all-wheel drive an option.
The gas-engine RX isn’t as quiet-running as it used to be because sports appeal has been added. F Sports are louder yet, because intake sounds from the engine are amplified and sent into the cabin, ready to stimulate the aural sense of enthusiastic drivers. A Drive Mode Selector provides Sport and Eco modes.
Lexus continues to produce hybrid versions. The RX 450h blends a lower-power V6 gas engine with batteries and electric motors that power rear wheels, resulting in an all-wheel-drive powertrain. Combined output is 308 horsepower, sent to a smooth-operating continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Every RX includes forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, automatic high beams, and a rearview camera. Blind-spot monitoring and surround-view cameras are optional.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the front-drive model four stars overall, while the all-wheel-drive version gets the full five stars. Both got five stars for side impact, but four for frontal crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the (identical) 2017 RX its Top Safety Pick Plus designation. The RX earned Good results in each crash-test, meeting the organization’s standards for advanced safety technology and headlight quality. Frontal crash protection was judged Superior.
The 2018 Lexus RX 350 ($43,220) comes with front-wheel drive, the 3.5-liter V6, synthetic leather upholstery, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, power front seats, and an 8-inch touchscreen. (Prices are MSRP for 2017 models and do not include $995 destination charge.)
All-wheel drive ($1,400) is available. Premium and Luxury option packages are available, each adding leather upholstery. The available navigation system can upgrade to a 12.3-inch screen.
RX 350 F Sport ($49,120) has an adaptive variable suspension, restyled front and rear ends, sport front seats, black mesh grille, 20-inch wheels, and supercar-inspired instrument cluster. All-wheel drive ($1,400) is available.
RX 450h F Sport ($56,645) contains the hybrid powertrain with F Sport equipment.
Options include a panoramic sunroof and Mark Levinson audio.
Compared to its conservative predecessors, the current RX qualifies as daring. Abundant detail work, topped by a roofline that could suggest jet aircraft, imbues the RX with a more forceful personality and sleekly adventurous character.
Like other Lexus models, the RX is dominated by its hourglass-shaped spindle grille. Considered radical when it first appeared, the unusually tall grille is not universally admired.
What has been called a floating canopy roof also gives the RX a more notable appearance than some rivals. Lexus has given the bodysides exuberantly sculpted and flared surfaces.
While the RX body shuns conservatism, its cabin retains a calm, orderly aura with few distractions. Nothing is flashy inside, and nothing feels cluttered or overdone. Although the base RX is upholstered with synthetic leather, other versions are fitted with genuine hides, along with wood trim. Subdued materials with excellent fit and finish remain an RX highlight.
Five adults can fit inside. Front seats are particularly comfortable, with plenty of space all around. Soft cushioning feels fine even after a long drive, and the driving position is excellent. Entry/exit is easy, because seats are at optimum height for step-in access.
Back-seat occupants get relaxing accommodations with abundant space and reclining seatbacks. Split-folding rear seats offer good support. Seats in the RX 450h are an inch higher, due to the location of the hybrid batteries, but headroom isn’t affected much. Cargo space is good, with 18.4 cubic feet of storage volume behind the rear seat, expanding to 56.3 cubic feet with seatbacks folded.
On the horizontal-themed, uncluttered dashboard, controls are split into upper and lower zones. The infotainment setup uses a mouse-style interface and touchpad, which can respond to swiping or zooming gestures. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity are unavailable.
Most road and wind sounds are subdued, but F Sport passengers will hear engine noise that’s sent into the cabin. Visibility is adequate, but broad back pillars obstruct some of the rearward view.
Not only is handling composed and confident, the electric power steering delivers greater road feel than expected. In F Sport models, the drive-mode selector adds Customized, Sport S, and Sport S+ modes to the usual Normal, Eco, and Sport settings.
Expect a firm ride from the F Sport, as well as heavier steering. Adaptive dampers stiffen as needed to firm up the ride.
An RX isn’t the quickest-accelerating crossover, but a front-drive model moves out swiftly with considerable authority. The CVT in the RX 450h hybrid tends to restrain performance, compared to the regular model’s conventional automatic.
With the RX 450h, the gasoline engine powers the front wheels, while electric power propels the rear wheels. In addition to making the hybrid all-wheel drive, this setup permits the RX 450h to start off using battery power alone.
Fuel economy ranks around average. With front-drive, the 2017 RX 350 was EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg City/Highway, or 23 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive drops each estimate by 1 mpg. The RX 450h hybrid has been EPA-rated at 31/28 mpg City/Highway, or 30 mpg Combined.
Brashly shaped and refreshing compared to past RX models, today’s version may not be quite as refined, but it’s a hard vehicle to ignore. Up front, the brazen grille might either attract or repel one’s eye, but its effect is commanding either way. Performance is a plus for the gas-engine RX 350, though not necessarily stronger in the stiffer-riding F Sport.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.