Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 7, 2023
Made in Canada and one of the most popular SUVs on the market, the Lexus RX receives an overhaul for 2023 with updated looks, new hybrid powertrains, and a revamped interior. The starting price has swollen to $58,650 but we don’t think that will impact its position as a Canadian favourite.
The new RX is visually appealing and sports one of the freshest looks in the Lexus stable. It’s not as polarizing and sharp as the model that came before it but appears cleaner and more modern. The beluga whale front end matches the fetching rear and its full-width light bar, accentuating its dimensions and larger silhouette. While we don’t think most RX owners prefer to stand out like a peacock, the new Cooper Crest paint suits the shapes and curves of the RX 500h incredibly well. It comes off as a rose gold hue that’s been saturated with an orange tint, and significantly ramps up its road presence more than the standard shades of white, grey, and black. It will match your pink AMEX too.
The cabin layout follows a similar theme to the recently refreshed NX and LX. The center console is wide and expansive, housing adjustable-depth cupholders and a mini gear lever borrowed from the LC Coupe. Storage options are plentiful, along with a hidden wireless phone charging pad and USB-C outlets. A massive and vibrant touchscreen is perched on the dashboard and now handles every function from the climate controls to the driving modes. We still have dials for the temperature and audio volume, and it’s a delightful improvement over the fussy system from before and its mousepad. It sports a moderate learning curve but those who prefer a more familiar interface will find wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto loaded in.
As expected, the build quality in the RX is excellent with not a loose stitch or panel gap in place. The doors are electrically operated like in the NX, and are engaged with just the push of a button on the inner and outer door levers. The steering wheel is less chunky and obstructive than before - the rim circumference is much thinner and feels more ergonomic to grasp. The steering column allows for a great range of adjustment to cater to all driving positions, though the touch-sensitive steering wheel buttons take some getting used to.
One minor shortcoming is the lack of a dedicated drive mode button. Some automakers have it embedded on the steering wheel or below the gear shifter, but Lexus has relegated it to the touchscreen system. That means one must dive into the sub-menus to access Sport or Eco Mode, and it may just be a few touch inputs away but if you’re utilizing Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, it takes even more. Shame they haven’t kept those Frankenstein-bolt dials on the instrument binnacle like in the ES or LC - it’s less convenient without them.
There are three powertrains available for the RX. The entry-level RX 350 ($58,650) offers a traditional gas-powered 275-hp 2.4-litre turbo-four engine, while the RX 350h ($60,150) amps it up with a 246-hp 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder hybrid system paired with a CVT. The RX 500h ($79,800) we had on test utilizes a 2.4-litre turbo-four paired with the same hybrid system for a combined 367 hp. Of note, there is no plug-in hybrid or three-row seating variant available just yet.
The RX 500h is the powertrain of choice for those who want the most responsive and engaging RX in the stable. It replaces the outgoing RX 450h that utilized a naturally aspirated V6 and CVT, and is much livelier and fun to drive. It now accelerates instantly and with purpose, and while you can still feel that it’s a heavy car and that the powertrain isn’t as linear as a V6, we don’t think its intended audience would mind. There’s enough accessible torque to feel involved and rewarded in the low-and mid-sections of the powerband, where we tend to spend the majority of our time, and the Direct4 all-wheel drive system ensures optimum grip on all surfaces.
The 6-speed automatic transmission is a curious choice as most of its competitors now use more efficient 8-speeds, but is probably the only one off the Toyota and Lexus shelf that fits with this hybrid setup. It’s smooth, refined, and more importantly, quiet. We would take this over those brash and whiny CVTs any day of the week.
The RX 500h emits an aggressive and thrilling roar under wide open throttle, something we’re not used to from a Lexus SUV. We are aware that much of it is fake synthesized noise piped in through the cabin speakers, but it’s nevertheless thrilling to hear such a melodic roar accompanying the punchy acceleration. In fact, the exhaust noises in the RX 500h are eerily similar to the notes produced by the 5.0-litre V8 engine in the Lexus IS 500.
While clearly the quickest RX hybrid we’ve driven, we were disappointed with its overall fuel efficiency, as our city and highway driving averaged out to 10.7 L/100km. That’s decent when compared to non-hybrid SUVs of this size, but we expected more from our past experiences with Lexus hybrids. We discovered that the powertrain wasn’t very willing to cut the engine off and slip into EV mode at every possible opportunity, seemingly prioritizing smooth transitions and lively acceleration instead.
The 6-speed gearbox could be partly to blame as well, as torque converters aren’t generally as efficient as CVTs. Annoyingly, the RX 500h requires 91-octane fuel too, which dumps salt on the wound of those who sought a hybrid to save maximum dollars at the gas station. The fuel tank isn’t very large either, with our range hovering at the 500 km mark after a fill-up. Based on the official fuel ratings, the RX 350h should be significantly more efficient.
The RX 500h rides well, layered with an underlying firmness like in the outgoing RX. It neutralizes minor oscillations quite effectively and is compliant and comfortable overall. However, it takes a second or two to settle and stabilize after hitting larger bumps. It doesn’t offer the same kind of driver engagement or road security as a BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz GLE, and the lack of an adaptive or air suspension is a glaring omission.
But the new 4-wheel active steering system pays dividends to the RX’s newfound agility during low-speed maneuvers. With the rear wheels now able to steer, it bestows the RX with an extra layer of dexterity that it never had. In fact, it feels pointier and more graceful than the smaller NX, and is also more stable at higher speeds.
We haven’t driven the new RX 350 or RX 350h so we don’t have much to compare it to other than the last-gen models, but we genuinely expected more from the top RX model as it commands a $20,000 premium. It’s not the most comfortable SUV in its segment, nor the most powerful or even the most efficient. It is undoubtedly a well-rounded SUV that delivers the trusted and reliable Lexus experience in spades and offers excellent acceleration, improved handling with the 4-wheel-steering system, and thrilling exhaust noises to match, but we wanted it to be either the sportiest RX we have ever driven or the most luxurious. It’s neither, and we think most buyers will be flocking to the more affordable RX trims as a result.
Model: 2023 Lexus RX 500h F SPORT Performance 3
Paint Type: Copper Crest
Base Price: $79,800
Price as Tested: $86,250
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,890 / 1,920 / 1,710
Curb weight (kg): 2,155
Engine: 2.4-litre turbocharged inline-four cylinder, two electric motors
Horsepower: 367 combined hp
Torque: 406 combined lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway ) L/100km: 8.7 / 8.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.7