Table of Contents
Fifth Generation Luxury SUV
Lexus easily could have merely updated the RX midsize SUV, seeing as RX owners continue returning to this model year after year. But more of the same was not the approach taken by Lexus, as it tries to keep the loyalists happy while reaching out to a new and much younger buyer. The all-new 2023 RX has new engine options (no more V6) and even a completely new model, all of which is to broaden the RX appeal to new and current owners. This introduction touches on the high points of each model, with detailed Road Test reviews in the coming months.
RX Model Line-up
There are four distinctly different 2023 RX models that offer the option of front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) and five powertrains, three of which are electrified.
- RX 350
- RX 350h
- RX 500h
- RX 500h+
Clean Fleet Report recently had the opportunity to drive three of the four when Lexus brought the international media to Santa Barbara for a few days of driving through mountains and vineyards. The bottom line is the all-new RX, regardless of which model you chose, will satisfy current owners to stay with the RX, and entice those new to the brand to give Lexus a try.
Clean Fleet Report drove the RX 350 F Sport Handling AWD, RX 350h Premium AWD, and the RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD. Here are our thoughts.
RX 350 AWD
The RX 350 is the only model to not get electrification. Powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine producing 275 horsepower (hp) and 317 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque, it is available with either FWD or AWD. Fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg city/29 highway/25 combined with the FWD model. The AWD is one mpg less for each category.
The short-ratio 8-speed direct shift automatic transmission has been designed for smoother acceleration and deceleration. A direct shift automatic performs better and faster than a manual, which is the Holy Grail for driving enthusiasts. When in manual mode and using the paddle shifters, the fast up and downshifts are thanks to the gearbox speed being quick enough to use on a racetrack. This direct shift transmission technology is also found on the RX 500h, which is covered below.
The RX 350 comes in six trims of RX FWD, RX AWD, RX F Sport Handling AWD, Luxury AWD, Premium FWD, and Premium+ AWD.
Clean Fleet Report drove the RX 350 F Sport Handling AWD from Santa Barbara to the Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria, a 63-mile jaunt over the Santa Ynez Mountains where we encountered a good mix of low and mid-speed corners to test the handling, acceleration and braking ability.
The steering was precise and handling flat with the adaptive variable suspension and the 235/60 all-season tires on 19-inch five spoke alloy wheels. Slowing and stopping, over the curvy and challenging San Marcos Pass on CA 154, was even and solid, with ABS, front and rear ventilated disc brakes, and on the F Sport, 6-piston front calipers.
RX 350h AWD
The all-wheel drive 2023 Lexus RX 350h is powered by a 3.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine that, when combined with the electric motors, produces 246 hp and 233 lb.-ft. of torque. A constant velocity transmission (CVT) smoothly puts power evenly to all four wheels, with the fuel economy rated at 37 mpg city/34 highway and 36 combined. Comparing the fuel efficiency to the above RX 350, it is clear why so many people opt for the hybrid model.
The Lexus Hybrid System is among the best we have tested. Consistently, it provides ample power while delivering fuel economy that exceeds the rated numbers. When Clean Fleet Report has the 2023 RX 350h for a full week of driving, not just an hour or so, we are confident of reporting real-world fuel economy in the low to mid-40 mpg range.
The hybrid RX 350h Premium+ AWD we drove handles similar to its gasoline-powered sibling RX 350. However, due to the additional weight from the hybrid batteries, we liked the road feel better as it was a bit heavier and planted to the ground.
RX 500h AWD
Of the three RX models we drove in Santa Barbara our favorite was the 500h F Sport Performance AWD. With the largest and most powerful hybrid engine of all the RX models, the 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder puts out 366 hp and 406 lb.-ft. of torque, driving all four wheels through a 6-speed direct shift automatic transmission. The fuel economy is rated at 27 city/28 highway and 27 combined. Clean Fleet Report will report on the actual mileage, which we know will be into the 30+ mpg range after we have had more time in the 500h F Sport Performance AWD.
What we liked about the 500h was its balance, and excellent acceleration and deceleration as we drove twisty vineyard roads in Santa Barbara County. We found one, Palmer Road, that starts at Highway 101 and ends in the small farming community of Sisquoc. If in the area, regardless of what you are driving, we recommend checking it out.
We were impressed with the 500h F Sport’s handling, helped by the all-new five-arm multi-link rear suspension, the larger 235/50 Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires mounted on 21-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels, solid braking with the 6-piston front calipers, and dynamic rear steering. Summer tires are a stickier performance rubber, which we were glad Lexus added to the 500h as the grip was excellent, and the body roll was non-existent even when taking corners at the above posted speed.
Dynamic Rear Steering can turn the rear wheels the same or opposite direction as the front wheels, a maximum of four degrees, based on the speed being driven. Most people don’t consider a SUV to have performance cred, but Lexus has built a sleeper with the RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD.
The 2023 RX has gone through some subtle but important changes from the outgoing model. The first is it weighs 198 pounds less than the 2022 model, and this is even with the use of stronger steel on the side rockers and roof. They kept the overall length but extended the wheelbase which results in more rear leg room, cargo space and shorter rear overhangs that positively helps handling.
The Lexus spindle grille, that either rubs you right or wrong, has evolved to be more stylish, blending almost seamlessly into the nose and hood. Lexus says the vents on the lower front fascia, which on many cars are decorative and non-functional, “are designed to allow the pressure inside the bumper to release from the front molding to regulate the airflow around the tires, providing excellent straight line stability.”
The L-shaped jewel-like LED head and daytime running lights look great, sleekly sweeping into the front fenders. The stylish LED tail lights stretch the width of the tailgate.
The dash is simple in what Lexus says is a “minimalist layout.” We agree that all controls were within easy reach of the driver and liked how the standard 9.9-inch or optional 14-inch color multimedia screens no longer jut from the dash, but are neatly integrated. The straight-forward gauges, with black faces and white numbers, were easy on the eyes.
Clean Fleet Report is a big fan of volume and channel knobs for the radio, which in this case was the excellent sounding Mark Levinson PurePlay surround sound audio system with 1,800 watts and 21 speakers. Since there is only a volume knob, the channels are changed by touching the screen, using the steering wheel-mounted buttons or clearly saying “Hey Lexus” to request a specific channel. The Lexus voice command technology has improved greatly over the past year, and we find it to be one of the best we have used. Oh, and a big shout-out to retiring the trackpad, which was not well-placed and didn’t work all that well.
In addition to the voice command, other technology and convenience features include a head-up display, wireless phone charging, two USB-C outlets up front and a total of six USB ports in the cabin, an AC power outlet, power folding rear seats that spilt 40/20/20, front and rear heated and cooling seats and ambient lightning. This last one offers a palette of 64 colors and 14 themes to sooth the cabin passengers.
There are six interior color options of Macadamia, Black, Birch, Peppercorn and Rioja Red, plus four accent elects of Black Cascade, Ash Bamboo, Black Open Pore and Dark Green Aluminum. The combination of wood, brushed aluminum, soft materials, accent top stitching and the Lexus monogrammed carpets gave the RX cabin a very upscale look and feel.
The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio, voice command, telephone, and the dynamic cruise controls. The high-resolution split screen color display that handled navigation and the panoramic-view backup camera also was home to SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and AM/FM/HD, with connectivity through Bluetooth streaming audio and hands-free telephone and messaging.
The RX is equipped with a full suite of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) with the centerpiece being the Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 that includes a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, dynamic cruise control with lane tracing assist, and several other warning features. Additional active and passive safety features are air bags, a tire pressure monitoring system, collapsible steering column, anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer.
Pricing and Availability
Pricing will be announced closer to the late-2022 on-sale date.
Observations: 2023 Lexus RX
Lexus knows a good thing when they see one, especially with the RX as it is 55% of all the brand’s SUV sales and has sold ~72,000 units through the first eight months of 2022. With more than 50% of their owners returning to buy another Lexus, there is no way they were going to take too big a swing with the all-new 2023 RX. But the evolution of the RX does include some of what for Lexus would be considered revolutionary changes.
These include the V6 going away, no RX 450 planned for 2023 and saying goodbye to the trackpad. The RX being built on a completely new platform has increased the wheelbase, but kept the overall length the same, and the introduction of two new models: the 500h and the 500h+ PHEV.
The latter of these is the plug-in version of the 500h and should deliver excellent acceleration and up-to an all-electric 40-mile driving range. The RX 500h and 500h+ are a step-up from most SUVs as they will offer luxury, performance and fuel efficiency.
Lexus folks didn’t want to talk about it, but the company has also announced its first all-electric model—tentatively called the RZ. It shares a platform with the Toyota BZ4X and the Subaru Solterra. Teething problems with the platform may be putting the intro off.
This First Drive review is an overview of the four all-new 2023 Lexus RX models. Make sure to opt-in to the Clean Fleet Report newsletter (top right of page) to be notified of our Road Test reviews of each RX model, plus other stories and vehicle reviews.
Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Lexus.
Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at [email protected].