Expert Reviews

2023 Lexus RX First Drive Review

The Lexus RX invented the midsize crossover segment when it launched in 1998, and despite fierce competition from American and German rivals over the years, it remains the best-selling vehicle in its segment in Canada today.

With a resume like that, there was little reason to worry that Lexus would fumble when re-engineering and redesigning the mainstay midsize luxury SUV for the 2023 model year. And while the latest iteration of the RX likely won’t have drivers raving about revolutionary looks or impressive performance, it offers the sturdy, buttoned-down build quality and powertrain efficiency that’s helped Lexus attract a loyal customer base here in Canada.

Lexus RX, Remastered

The 2023 Lexus RX moves to a new platform derived from Toyota’s TNGA-K architecture, with the wheelbase growing 60 mm but the body remaining the exact same overall length as the outgoing RX at 4,890 mm. This means the new model has a little extra interior cargo and passenger space without increasing its footprint. As an aside, the three-row extended-wheelbase Lexus RX L model has been discontinued due to low U.S. and Canadian sales.

Also gone is the 3.5L V6 engine, with the RX now offering a trio of more efficient four-cylinder powertrain options. The base RX 350 model taps the brand’s turbocharged 2.4L engine, which produces 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, along with a snappy eight-speed automatic transmission. The RX 350h, meanwhile, gets a naturally aspirated 2.5L engine and a two-motor hybrid system integrated with the continuously variable transmission, and produces 246 total system horsepower.

The range-topping model, the RX 500h, pairs the turbo 2.4L engine from the RX 350 with a two-motor hybrid system and six-speed automatic transmission, delivering a performance hybrid setup rated at 366 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. A plug-in hybrid RX 450h+ model will also eventually arrive, but won’t be offered in Canada from launch.

All three of these powertrains deliver decent performance in the Lexus RX and are certainly capable enough, but they aren’t without slight shortcomings. The RX 350h has a somewhat mushy-feeling gas pedal as a result of the CVT, along with an oddly weak-feeling brake. The RX 500h also leaves a little to be desired with regard to acceleration – especially as this model will exclusively wear the F Sport Performance badge on its tailgate. I found the gasoline RX 350 to be the most enjoyable to drive thanks to the 2.4L engine’s considerable torque, which offers better performance than the on-paper figures would suggest (Lexus claims zero to 100 km/h happens in 7.2 seconds) thanks to the eight-speed’s quick, smooth shifts and close gear ratios.

Driving enjoyment aside, the RX 350h should be commended for its fuel efficiency, which is likely to make it the best-selling model of the three. This model is rated at 6.5 L/100 km combined, while the RX 350 comes in at a surprisingly high 9.8 L/100 km combined. The 500h splits the two with a rating of 8.7 L/100 km.

Solid Sanctuary

The 2023 Lexus RX offers a much-improved cabin over the outgoing model, integrating a crisp-looking seven-inch digital instrument cluster, the slimmer electronic gear selector from the Lexus LC, and a new standard 9.8-inch touchscreen. While this screen is adequate, there’s an option to upgrade to the 14-inch screen with navigation. Not only is the larger navigation screen much nicer to look at and use, these models also get the digital readout climate control knobs that help make this package feel luxurious from the driver’s seat.

Like many new Lexus vehicles, the RX’s various interior panels feel more like they were carved from a single piece rather than bolted together, with the SUV offering up hugely impressive build quality with zero creaks or rattles and nearly non-existent wind noise. So while the RX may not send owners raving to their friends about its styling or performance, its build quality is worthy of a brag.

Standard equipment on the RX 350 and RX 350h includes heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a 12-speaker audio system, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These models can also be equipped with a head-up display, a multi-function steering wheel, a digital key, a digital rear-view mirror, a power tailgate, and a 21-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, among more.

All three models come standard with the Lexus Safety System 3.0+ suite of active safety features, while traffic jam assist, lane-change assist, front cross-traffic alert, and adaptive high-beams are optional. During a brief drive using Lexus’ advanced driver assist tech, it seemed to work as designed. The driver attention monitor did seem somewhat finicky, however, playing visual and audible warnings even when my eyes were focused on the road ahead.

Final Thoughts

As redundant as it may sound, the 2023 Lexus RX is an SUV developed for existing Lexus customers. This is a solid, under-the-radar offering that has lots of appeal for the sensible midsize luxury SUV buyer who knows what they want, placing refinement, build quality, and efficiency over curb appeal and performance. There may be quicker and more alluring midsize luxury SUVs out there, but few rivals can compete with the RX’s impressive overall quality.

As an added bonus, the RX will continue to be produced by Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada in Cambridge, Ont., alongside the Lexus NX compact SUV. This applies to all models except the 450h+ PHEV, which will be produced at Lexus’ plant in Kyushu, Japan.