2016 Lexus RX: Compelling Boosts of Refinement

By Sue Mead, October 24th, 2015

The all-new fourth-generation 2016 Lexus RX retains its essence, but gets a boost of refinement on all fronts. The vehicle that jump-started the midsize luxury crossover craze in the late 1990s is as charming, comfortable, and compelling as ever.

And this should appeal to buyers looking for a sprightly and safe compact crossover SUV with unique style. After all, it's been the best-selling vehicle in the Lexus stable, the top-selling model in its class, and it's updated with a new attitude of expressive tailoring, improved performance, and more advanced technologies.

The 2016 Lexus RX comes in a 350 model and a 450h hybrid. Both are available in front- and all-wheel drive; each version has a souped-up F-Sport model with unique trims and boosted performance attributes, as well. Competitors in this ever-growing crossover segment are the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, Porsche Macan, Lincoln MKX, and Volvo XC60, and nearly a dozen others.

We drove the 2016 RX 350 AWD over a course of 125 miles in Portland, Ore., and were impressed by the quietness of the cabin, the great power-on-tap, and good visibility. Lexus has slimmed down the pillars framing the windshield and the rear C-pillar giving the driver a wider view in all directions, including rear blind spots.

The digital gauge cluster has the look of a classic analog gauge with the modern touch of features like changes in mood lighting, depending on the drive mode selected. Notable are its smooth-shifting transmission, upgraded brakes, and a comfortable ride that comes from refinements to the suspension system that increase handling prowess and rigidity. The RX's steering has also been tweaked for precision.

Lexus designers fashioned the newest model to represent sophistication with an edge. Its highly sculpted form is cultured and urbane, with chiseled contours. Concave-yet-angular lower panels run the length of the doors, while a more traditional convex line runs the length of the body at door handle height; rocker panels are penned with an upward kick. The crossover is almost 5 inches longer, with lines that converge at the nose from two contours that split the hood.

The tailgate design is sharpened and a new optional hands-free liftgate allows easy opening of the back by waving a hand or an elbow near the Lexus badge. Optional 20-inch wheels also stand out from the crowd with colored inserts in titanium, black, pearl white, or copper, while 18-inchers are standard; all are shod with Michelin Premier LTX tires with technology that extends the life of the tires.

Inside is a premium cabin that has been reimagined with high-quality trims, including aluminum and laser-etched Gray Sapele wood, Matte Bamboo, Expresso Walnut, and a collection of fine leathers. Interior styling cues from the exterior carry over with sculpted lines in the roomy, well-lit cabin with ambient lighting. Updates include a new instrument control panel and an ever-so-slight repositioning of steering wheel, front seat, and the rear floor that maximizes interior space; there is ample space for five with good elbow room, and more cargo carrying ability.

Under the hood, both the 350 and 450h come with a redesigned and more fuel-efficient 3.5-liter direct-injected V-6 engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission; the 350 produces 295 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque; the 450h hybrid powerplant produces 308 total system horsepower with instant torque on start thanks to its electric motors. It also boasts an intelligent, fuel-saving E-Four AWD system.

With six different drive settings -- Normal, Eco, Sport, Sport S, Sport S+, and EV (450h only) -- the drive experience changes as well as some cabin settings; Eco monitors the throttle response and the interior climate control. Sport S and Sport S+ are available with RX models that have Adaptable Variable Suspension (AVS) and are engineered to increasing the levels of its performance-oriented suspension. EV lets hybrid drivers operate the RX purely off electric power and completely shuts off the gasoline-powered engine. Additionally, drivers can customize the driving experience of F-Sport models through the dashboard display screen.

Specifications

Base price $43,300 (as tested: $44,240)
Curb weight 4,387 lbs.
Displacement 3.5-liter
Engine type 24-valve V-6 w/SMPFI
Epa mileage rating 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 19.2 gal.
Horsepower (net) 295 at 6300 rpm
Overall length 192.5 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 267 at 4700 rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD compact CUV
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