For most of its nearly two decade history, the midsize RX crossover has been the best seller in the Lexus lineup by a fairly wide margin. Like other Lexi prior to the current generation, it also had generally inoffensive, but uninspired design. That all changed in 2015 with the debut of the fourth-generation RX including the hybrid RX450h F Sport that I recently drove. Whether you like the new design direction or not, this latest RX is at least less likely to get lost in a crowd.
The new RX definitely shares its design DNA with its little brother the compact NX crossover, but this one takes the signature spindle grille to a whole new level. The lower edge of the NX grille doesn’t extend down as far as the RX, stopping well above the axle center line and then tapering back and down to the leading edge of the wheel arch. On the RX, the vertical portion of the grille that lies below the pinch extends all the way down to a line even with the lower extremity of the body.
The size of the grille is further emphasized by a chrome bezel that expands as it approaches the bottom corners. While the look of the spindle grille certainly gives Lexus visual separation from its German competitors, the RX execution strikes me as a bit overwrought and I think something closer to the NX version might have come across better.
One other detail that strikes me as curious was the chrome trim around the side glass that combines with very dark tinting on the rear doors and quarter glass to give the appearance of a floating roof. It’s not that the look is bad, but it strongly echoes the latest design language from Nissan that is visible on the latest Maxima and Murano. While it could be considered coincidental given the long development cycles of new vehicles, Nissan began showing this look on the Resonance concept in January 2013, giving Lexus plenty of time to adjust.
The sharply creased and angled character lines on the flanks of the RX give this one a much more athletic look that prior generations. This blends well with the newly available F Sport package that adds dark trim and dark painted 20-inch alloy wheels to give this RX a whole new attitude. The F Sport is available on both the standard RX350 and the hybrid RX450h. In addition to the exterior visual changes, the F Sport gets an adaptive variable damping system and more aggressive front seats wrapped in perforated leather.
Those seats keep the driver and front passenger securely planted while traversing corners, something the new RX does much more adroitly than its predecessors. In fact, this is easily the most sporting feeling Toyota/Lexus hybrid that I’ve yet driven. I haven’t tried a non F Sport variant of the new RX450h for comparison, but this definitely feels unlikely any previous Toyota/Lexus hybrid. Rather than calm serenity I’m accustomed to in a Lexus, this one has a notably more aggressive exhaust note (at least when not in EV mode) and smooth but quick simulated shifts from the electronic CVT.
While you’re unlikely to confuse the RX450h for a Porsche Cayenne, the combined 308-horsepower from the V6 engine and the front and rear electric motors are more than enough to urge this 4,740-pound machine along without too much hesitation.
Unlike the NX and RC coupe which switched to a touchpad, the RX retains the stubby joystick/mouse central controller with its unique haptic feedback as you reach the click targets on the screen. It’s an approach that helps by providing a physical guide as you navigate the interface so that you don’t have to focus on control precision. Lexus continues to eschew touch screens, opting for a standup central display on top of the dashboard.
Base level RXs get an eight-inch display while upper trims like this F Sport get a wide-format 12.3-inch display. The display offers excellent contrast and resistance to glare. It remains highly viewable even while wearing polarized sunglasses. The instrument cluster and central display are augmented by a heads-up display that does tend to fade when viewed through polarized sunglasses.
While the RX gets a notable performance boost from the addition of electric propulsion assist, it wouldn’t be a typical Toyota hybrid if it didn’t also help fuel efficiency. The 2016 RX450h gets an EPA rating of 30 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined, just marginally better than the 2015 model. For comparison the 2.7-liter EcoBoost-powered Lincoln MKX I drove a few weeks earlier was only rated at 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined. In my time with the 2016 RX450h, I averaged 27 mpg while the Lincoln got less than 19 mpg. Despite the improved driving dynamics of the new RX, the EcoBoost did feel stronger than the hybrid even if it was perhaps only marginally quicker.
Despite the more expensive hybrid powertrain in the Lexus, it still came in some $3,500 cheaper than the Lincoln at $60,215 including delivery. While you wouldn’t generally be looking to Lexus for value, when you consider the efficiency, performance and overall trimming of the cabin, the RX is definitely worthy of consideration if you can get past the overwhelming grille appearance.