The RX is the most important vehicle Lexus makes.
When it first debuted about 25 years ago, it set the standard for what was, back then, a brand new segment of luxury SUVs. Today, the RX is the brand’s best-selling model, and it was completely overhauled for this year.
Rather than resting on its well-earned reputation, the 2023 Lexus RX has been elevated in order to remain competitive in what’s now a rather crowded segment.
Tested here in 350h hybrid guise, the redesigned RX looks mostly the same as the one that came before it, with the exception of the dramatically different front end that replaces the old spindle grille with a body-coloured one. The result is somewhat controversial, and there’s definitely something awkward about the way the hood dips down to look like a heavy unibrow, but the rest of the SUV presents well.
Especially in this tester’s Nori Green Pearl paint, the design comes together well with the faux floating roof adding some visual flair and cleverly disguising a very useful window in the C-pillar that improves outward visibility.
Inside, the RX has a variety of luxurious trims and materials used to keep the cabin warm, inviting, and upscale.
This RX is powered by Lexus’ proven conventional hybrid system. Combined with a naturally aspirated 2.5L four-cylinder engine, a big battery pack, and a couple different electric motors, total system output is 246 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque. The SUV has an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) and all-wheel drive (AWD). I’m a big fan of the AWD system used in this hybrid; the rear axle is powered by a dedicated electric motor and only receives power on launch or when slippage is detected, enabling AWD without a penalty on fuel economy.
To improve fuel efficiency, the RX 350h will also run on battery power when coasting, parking, or waiting at a red light. It also has a great regenerative braking system that recaptures some of the energy that’s normally lost during braking to help charge the battery and increase efficiency. The system works well without being too twitchy or so jarring that it gives occupants motion sickness.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
The Lexus RX 350h’s fuel consumption is officially rated at 6.3 L/100 km in the city, 6.8 on the highway, and 6.5 combined. After 565 km of mixed driving skewing more towards highway trips, the RX hybrid returned 7.0 L/100 km. I was expecting a bit better, but this is still incredibly efficient for an SUV of this size with AWD, and I wasn’t driving with the goal of maximizing efficiency..
Driving Feel: 8.5/10
Acceleration isn’t blazingly quick, but it’s enough to pass or merge on the highway without any stress. Under full throttle, the engine and transmission sound a bit rough, but the combination works smoothly. The RX 350h’s smoothness is one of its highlights; it’s imperceptible when it flips between gas and electric power, and the suspension does an impeccable job of soaking up rough or broken roads so it feels like the SUV is gliding. The steering has a satisfying weight to it and feels responsive.
The RX has a tangible weightiness to it that adds to its feeling of luxury and security. Even though it can handle a corner confidently, I wouldn’t describe the drive experience as sporty – the goal here is comfort, and the RX shines when driven in a relaxed manner.
Comfort is a hallmark quality of any Lexus, and the RX feels like a couch on wheels. The seats are both plush and supportive, barely any noise from the outside world makes it into the cabin thanks to acoustically laminated glass and active noise cancellation, and the ride is silky smooth. All passengers have plenty of room, and with the optional Executive package ($15,500), rear outboard occupants get heated and cooled seats as do the ones up front.
Most desirable features are included, but shoppers really need to add the expensive Executive pack that includes features I consider necessary in this segment like heated and cooled rear seats, surround-view parking cameras, a head-up display, panoramic sunroof, 64 colours of ambient lighting, wireless phone charging, and more.
All passengers get USB ports for charging, and heated and ventilated front seats are standard, along with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Lexus goes all-in on safety and includes its entire suite of advanced features as standard. Some highlights include blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, junction turn assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assist, road sign recognition, automatic high-beam control, lane departure alert with steering assist, collision avoidance and mitigation, safe exit assist, a camera-based rear view mirror, an automated parking assistant, and more.
The back-up camera and the headlights have washers to clean dirt and grime, which is useful in winter, and the Lexus emblem on the front where many of the safety sensors live is also heated, so the safety systems should work more reliably in the colder months as well.
Out on the open roads, the safety systems are very sensitive and seem to overreact to non-existent threats. The RX seems to be constantly beeping and warning you of potential danger even if the risk is extremely low, and it ends up making it somewhat stressful to drive. The overactive safety systems just seem like overkill in some instances where even if you’re waiting at a stop light with your foot firmly planted on the brake pedal, it will warn you that there are pedestrians crossing or cars driving through the intersection, which are completely normal situations that do not present any real danger.
The RX’s immense practicality is a big surprise. Too often in this segment, luxury automakers forget that SUVs need to be practical, but Lexus hasn’t forgotten to make the RX family-friendly. From tons of cubbies for small-item storage to a huge centre console bin and door pockets large enough to fit a big water bottle, there’s a lot to like.
The trunk has room for 838 L of cargo, which expands to 1,308 L with the 40/20/40 split rear seats folded flat, which is the same as the non-hybrid model. There’s a kick sensor for the tailgate and buttons in the trunk and on each side of the rear seats that can be used to fold the seats and put them back into place, and you don’t have to hold the button down while you wait. Grocery bags in the trunk and an optional 1,200-watt inverter makes the RX 350h even more practical.
The RX’s new optional 14-inch touchscreen is vibrant and quick to react, but it’s a few shortcut buttons away from greatness. Toggling between Android Auto or Apple CarPlay and the native Lexus system takes a couple too many taps, which can be distracting while driving. The menus are logical and everything is easy to find, however, and the smartphone mirroring is well-integrated and makes great use of all the touchscreen real estate. It’s a massive improvement over the RX’s previous system that used a laptop-like touchpad and cursor, which was an absolute dealbreaker.
Some of the controls are a bit finicky as well, like the gear selector and the door handles. The handles are buttons rather than traditional levers, which required explaining to every passenger who climbed inside. While the electronic actuation is what enables features like safe exit assist that will not allow a passenger to open the door if there’s a car or cyclist approaching from behind, but other automakers have figured out how to include such systems without re-engineering the door handle.
The steering wheel also has touchpad thumb controls that can be used to customize the digital gauge cluster display, configure the adaptive cruise control, or control certain audio or media functions, but they are also very fussy to use and don’t react to inputs in the way you expect them to.
On a positive note, the RX’s excellent outward visibility makes it easy to park and manoeuvre, and the blind spots are minimal thanks to thin pillars and big windows, and the lower placement of the side mirrors.
The 2023 Lexus RX 350h starts at $60,150 plus the $2,205 destination fee. While adding the $15,500 Executive package is expensive, it adds many desirable features. Even then, the as-tested price for this RX is $77,955, which offers a lot of value for a luxury SUV. Competitors like the Infiniti QX60, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, and Acura MDX don’t come with hybrid powertrains and are priced higher with similar equipment.
One big reason to buy a Lexus is that you get Toyota’s proven reliability but in a luxury package. Lexus isn’t just resting on its reputation with this RX, however, because it’s legitimately fantastic and the recent overhaul really helps keep it competitive.
In a segment where some other luxury automakers are focusing on style and performance, it’s refreshing to see that the 2023 Lexus RX 350h is still stylish, but also practical, family-friendly, efficient, and comfortable, which is what the Lexus experience is all about. And as a big bonus, it’s built right here in Canada.
|Engine Cylinders||Hybrid I4|
|Peak Horsepower||246 net hp|
|Peak Torque||233 net lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||6.3 / 6.8 / 6.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||838 / 1,308 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2023 Lexus RX 350h|
|Price as Tested||$77,955|
$15,500 – Executive Package, $15,500