It’s hard to argue with success. And since it made its debut as the RX 300 in 1998, the Lexus RX has absolutely dominated the mid-luxury crossover market.
Like so many other products from the Japanese luxury brand — and its mainstream parent, Toyota — the RX gained a loyal following with its mix of features and generally bulletproof reliability. Where it’s fallen short is the fun-to-drive factor, however. It’s really more of an automotive appliance.
During the last few years, Toyota Motor Co. CEO Akio Toyoda has put a premium on “passion,” and we’ve begun to see that with products like the Lexus LC, as well as the new GR Corolla. Now, it’s time to show what can be done with the RX
“Nothing exemplifies our commitment to the transformation we’re making as a brand and Next Chapter for Lexus product more than the renewal of our best-selling vehicle — the RX,” Andrew Gilleland, group vice president and general manager of the Lexus Division, said when the automaker first debuted the new people-mover over the summer.
As I landed in Santa Barbara late last month for a first drive, the question on my mind was whether Lexus would actually deliver.
Set to reach showrooms in late this year, the 2023 RX has gone through a ground-up transformation. Its new GA-K platform has a lower center of gravity which, Lexus officials promise, will enhance its handling. And shedding 198 pounds compared to the old model won’t hurt. That also will help deliver improved fuel economy.
The 2023 Lexus RX gets far more than just a new design. The fifth-generation crossover is loaded with new luxury and technology features, including an Amazon Alexa-style voice assistant. It’s now significantly lighter, and, with improved steering and stability, it’s also sportier.
Buyers also will now get four new powertrain options — including a first-ever plug-in hybrid, the 2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance model.
During my visit to California, three of those four powertrains were available. Lexus is being tight-lipped about the timing for the plug-in hybrid which will first debut abroad before joining the American line-up. But expectations are particularly high for that package since it should deliver what was traditionally thought impossible: not only the best milage, but also the best performance of all the new RX powertrains.
Beauty is only skin deep, or so I’ve often been told, and that appears to apply with the 2023 Lexus RX. It starts off with an entirely new platform, dubbed the GA-K that’s shared with several other models, including the NX crossover and ES sedan. It’s stiffer and lighter. And while the new RX has the same 192.5-inch overall length, the wheelbase is longer, the rear axle moved back by 2.4 inches. The track is wider and the roof drops by just under an inch.
Surprisingly, the interior is actually a wee bit smaller on passenger space – largely the result of moving the windshield rearward. But cargo space nearly doubles, to 29.6 cubic feet.
The changes to the overall proportions give the 2023 RX a more planted, sporty appearance. That’s further enhanced by the crossover’s floating roof, rising character line and built-in spoiler. The new RX gets the latest take on the controversial Lexus spindle grille, here framed by wide LED headlamps featuring Nike-swoosh-like running lamps and, lower down, air curtains meant to reduce mileage-robbing turbulence around the front wheels.
Some key details vary from trim packages to trim package. The RX 500h, for example, gets a number of unique touches, including a mesh grille, a unique front bumper and 21-inch dark chrome aluminum wheels, (with 19s on most other packages). It also boasts six-piston brake calipers.
One thing to note: there will be no three-row RXL version of the Lexus RX this time. Officials aren’t revealing plans but we know the automaker isn’t planning to drop out of that segment. Expectations are that an all-new model is in the works and, with up to eight seats, it is likely to be renamed the Lexus TX.
The outgoing RX was saddled with a dated cabin layout. The 2023 model adopts a more contemporary appearance which, today, means a look that’s much more high-tech. That starts with a digital gauge cluster and, on all but the base trim, a 14-inch touchscreen atop the center console. (The entry-level screen is a 9.8-inch package.)
Kudos to Lexus for integrating conventional rotary controls for driver and front passenger temperature controls, as well as a centrally located volume knob. Those familiar with the old RX, meanwhile, will notice that the trackpad is gone. Where there are no conventional knobs and buttons, you either use touch, steering wheel controls or the new Lexus voice assistant to handle vehicle functions.
Even the base RX gets faux leather. And, on the whole, the interior is much more elegantly appointed than the 2022 model which tended towards too much cheap plastic accenting. That’s especially true on the F-Sport with its aluminum shifter paddles, and red-and-black leather seats with suede inserts.
Here’s where things get complicated. The crossover’s options begin with a new “base” engine, a turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-4 making 275 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. (The outgoing RX350’s 3.5-liter V-6 managed 295 hp but only 268 lb-ft of torque.) The new RX 350 will be paired with an 8-speed automatic and offered in a choice of either front- or all-wheel drive. Launching from 0-60 is as quick as 7.2 seconds with the AWD package, or 7.5 seconds with the FWD layout.
Mileage is estimated at 22 mpg city, 29 highway and 25 combined with a front-wheel-drive layout. It dips to 21/28/24 with all-wheel drive.
Buyers also will get the choice of two hybrids. The more conventional version shows up in the RX 350h. It pairs a 2.5-liter inline-4 engine with the now-familiar Lexus two-motor hybrid system to make a combined 246 hp and 233 lb-ft. Paired with a continuously variable transmission and offered only with AWD, it’s a bit sluggish — needing 7.4 seconds from 0-60. But I find it to be a smoother driving experience than the gas model, thanks to the low-end electric torque. This package is the mileage champ, managing 37 city, 34 highway and 36 combined.
For those who want maximum pep, the RX 500h uses a new hybrid system putting the emphasis on performance while still delivering solid fuel economy of 27 mpg City, 38 Highway and 27 Combined. This package starts out with the same 2.4-liter inline-four, but from there, virtually everything changes.
It adds a turbocharger, for one thing, and that helps bump power to 366 ponies and 406 lb-ft. The RX 500h adopts a six-speed transmission and a sport-oriented Direct4 AWD system that nominally directs most torque to the back wheels. That helps cut 0-60 times down to a factory-estimated 5.9 seconds.
As for the promised plug-in hybrid. Lexus says specific details “will be shared at a later time.” But expect to see even better performance and mileage than with the RX 500h — and the ability to get an estimated 42 miles in all-electric mode, officials hinted in June.
Safety and Technology
Beyond the addition of two conventional hybrids and the new plug-in hybrid, the update that’s most likely to tickle tech geeks is the arrival of the new Lexus “Intelligent Assistant.” It goes well beyond the functionality of the brand’s old voice control technology, making it far easier to operate a variety of vehicle functions using plain English commands. The system is similar to the Mercedes-Benz MBUX; here you just say, “Hey, Lexus,” followed by a command.
That said, it’s nowhere near as intuitive as the Amazon Alexa voice assistant many compare it to — or even the Mercedes system. It isn’t as flexible when plugging in a destination, for example. I could only use the “Go to” command to plug in a destination, where some competing systems can respond to additional commands, such as “Find address.”
There are plenty of other high-tech touches, including numerous USB ports and a well-placed Qi wireless charging pad. And the infotainment system has the requisite features such as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I did find it a bit confusing to get out of CarPlay and back to the native Lexus interface. Another hard “Home” button would be appreciated.
There’s also a great Mark Levinson audio system for those willing to upgrade for true audiophile sound.
The 2023 RX gets the latest version of the automaker’s advanced driver assistance technology, the Lexus Safety System+ 3.0. It includes features such as pre-collision warning with pedestrian and motorcycle detection, active cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist and more. An auto park system is optional.
With a stiffer body, updated suspension and improved drivetrain options, it doesn’t take long to appreciate what Lexus has done with the 2023 RX. While it might not be quite the sporty machine that Acura has delivered with the latest-generation MDX, the Lexus package is a major improvement and clearly moves it away from the “appliance” category.
I spent most of my time in Santa Barbara, California flogging the RX 500h and quickly came to appreciate both the turbocharged hybrid and the Direct4 all-wheel-drive system. Power came on smoothly, with the revised electric drive system filling in at low RPMs where one might normally expect a bit of turbolag. The Direct4 system helps by focusing torque towards the back set of tires at launch. But the system is not just intuitive but able to quickly recognize both changing road conditions and driver input as it balances that torque as needed.
The F Sport package adds to the experience with features like adaptive dampers paired with the front MacPherson and rear multi-link suspension. The six-piston front brake calipers can handle a hard stop much more competently than the single-piston system used on the rest of the line-up.
There is a modicum of body roll, but not nearly as much as with the outgoing Lexus. The bottom line is that the 2023 RX, whatever the engine package, is a lot more fun to drive than any version Lexus had previously offered. I can only imagine where the plug-in hybrid will take things.
2023 Lexus RX 350 Specifications
|Dimension||L: 192.5 inches/W: 75.6 inches/H: 67.3 inches/Wheelbase: 112.2 inches|
|Powertrain||2.4-liter inline-4 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission|
|Fuel Economy||22 mpg city/ 29 mpg highway/26 mpg combined|
|Performance Specs||275 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque|
|On-Sale Date||Available late 2022|
After 25 years, the Lexus RX remains the dominant player in a hotly competitive mid-luxury SUV segment. Marketing folks tend to play games and they’ve shifted where they see the 2023 RX fitting in this year. They now see it positioned against some even tougher players, such as the BMW X5, Acura MDX and the Mercedes-Benz GLE. If anything, they’re confident it will gain traction with the redesign and post still better sales in 2023.
Based on my initial day behind the wheel, I anticipate they’re on target. Is this the sportiest player in the segment? No, to be honest. But it’s substantially more fun to drive than any version of the RX that preceded it. It’s definitely no longer just an appliance; it now has a real, appealing personality. And that’s all the more so with the RX 500h F Sport.
If anything, the combination of drivetrains should help the automaker broaden the appeal of the 2023 Lexus RX, and all the new features will provide even more reason to check the midsize crossover out if you’re in the market for a luxury people-mover.
2023 Lexus RX — Frequently Asked Questions
Has Lexus redesigned the RX for 2023?
The 2023 Lexus RX gets a complete makeover. That starts with an all-new platform and body. There are significant updates to its technology, including new, nigh-tech safety features and a voice assistant. And it now has four new powertrains, including two hybrids and a plug-in hybrid arriving later.
What does the 2023 Lexus RX cost?
Lexus has not yet released pricing for the 2023 model but it is expected to rise by at least $2,000, depending upon powertrain, trim and other factors. With the base model currently starting at just over $47,000 — including delivery fees — that could move the entry point up closer to $49,000.
Is the 2023 Lexus RX fast?
With four different powertrains available – once the plug-in hybrid arrives – it will be notably quicker than the outgoing 2022 model. The base, all-gas RX 350 in front-wheel-drive configuration, takes 7.6 seconds for a 0-60 launch. At the other extreme, the RX 500h F Sport Performance will get there in just 5.9 seconds. We’ve yet to see specs on the PHEV.