First Drive: 2016 Lexus RXPosted on September 14th, 2015
Luxury crossover raises the bar for the midsize segment
By Nina Russin
Lexus has never been a company to take risks. When the automaker introduced the midsize RX in 1998, product planners knew their alternative to truck-based sport-utility vehicles would fill a big hole in the market.
The strategy was so successful, that the crossover maintained its leadership position in a segment quickly populated with competitors. Today RX sales exceed 100,000 units annually, making the crossover the brand’s best selling vehicle.
Never being a company to rest on its laurels, Lexus raises the bar again with the all-new 2016 RX that includes gasoline and gasoline/electric hybrid models, both available with front or all-wheel drive. For the first time, F Sport performance variants are available as hybrid all-wheel drive cars.
Lexus models tend to grow in dimension over time and the RX is no exception. The newest
car is 4.7-inches longer, translating to more space in the second row and cargo bay. Designers utilize vortices in key areas around the body to minimize coefficient of drag and boost fuel economy.
Styling is a radical departure from the outgoing model, with a more aggressive spindle grille, chiseled rear end and coupe-like profile infused with multiple character lines. Inside, designers utilized lush upholstery materials and wood trim. Interior quiet is segment leading in the Lexus tradition.
Power for gasoline cars comes from a new direct injection 3.5-liter V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Hybrid cars get an Atkinson cycle V-6 with electric motors that yield 308 net horsepower.
Lexus has yet to announce pricing, but hinted that the base model will start below $45,000.
Test drive in Portland, Oregon
At a recent media event I had the opportunity to drive the new RX 350 F Sport all-wheel drive model and front-wheel drive RX 450h on surface streets outside of the city. With its head-turning style and powerful new engine, the RX offers a lot to love for those wanting sport sedan performance in a more versatile package.
F Sport models feature a distinct grille, wheels and badging on the outside as well as unique interior trim. They are also quite different from a performance stance, with noticeably crisper steering response than other RX models.
The drive mode select system on F Sport models includes an extra setting called Sport Plus that gives the car more aggressive throttle and steering response, closer in character to some European competitors.
Car enthusiasts should also enjoy the F sport’s adaptive variable suspension that automatically adjusts shock damping according to road conditions. Available twenty-inch rims provide a firmer and more ample footprint for high-speed driving.
Available Michelin TLX Premier tires have a tread design that doesn’t degrade with wear. Whereas conventional tires have grooves that disappear when the tire begins to wear, the Premier tire grooves are consistent throughout the life of the tire. This is especially important in an all-season tire that requires biting edges to maintain traction on snow and ice.
Another key to the F Sport’s enhanced performance is a more rigid body structure that incorporates high strength steel, high tech body adhesives and laser screw welds. Not only does this enhance steering response, it also adds a measure of protection for the car’s passive safety systems.
A new heads-up display projects vehicle speed, navigation, shift position, tachometer and radar cruise control settings at into the bottom of the windshield, making this information easier for the driver to access without interfering with his forward view.
Ready for the daily commute
While our drive did not include much highway time, the car appears to have all the tools drivers require for daily commutes, including a quiet interior, blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera with cross traffic detection for enhanced visibility and firm, linear braking.
The available Mark Levinson sound system employs a proprietary technology called Clari-Fy that decompresses and rebuilds audio files to deliver remarkable sound quality. I listened to some classical music tracks in the test car and found the sounds of acoustic instruments to be close to symphony hall quality.
A new hands-free power mechanism opens the back door automatically if the driver positions his hand over the Lexus emblem, making it easier to load bicycles, kayaks and other large items into the back.
Enhanced active safety features
Lexus has upgraded its roster of available active safety features with Lexus Safety System + that integrates dynamic radar cruise control, lane keep assist, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection and auto-stop, and automatic high beams that dim when a vehicle approaches in the opposite direction. Standard safety features include ten airbags, antilock braking, stability control, Lexus Enform that automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a collision, hill start assist and tire pressure monitoring.
The all-new Lexus RX rolls into dealerships in November.
Like: A stylish, versatile luxury crossover with a more powerful engine and more fuel-efficient automatic transmission for gasoline-powered models.
Dislike: RX 450h models continue to have poor on-center steering response.
Models: RX 350 F Sport, RX 450h
Base price: N/A
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 295 Hp @ 6300 rpm (RX 350), 308 net horsepower @ 6000 rpm (RX 450h)
Torque: 267 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm (RX 350), 247 net torque @4700 rpm (RX 450h)
Zero-to-sixty: 7.9 seconds (RX 350 AWD), 7.9 seconds (RX 450h AWD)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 19/26 mpg city/highway (RX 350 AWD), 30/28 mpg city/highway (RX 450h)2016, Luxury 2016, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Lexus, performance, pricing, standard safety