For the fourth generation of its best-selling model line, Lexus sent its RX to the style salon for an extensive makeover.
Actually, the longer, wider, taller, roomier and more powerful crossover only evolves the formula that let the automaker sell nearly 101,000 RX models last year, but it does get your attention.
Dominating the front along with angles and lines galore is a massive “spindle” grille fitting the RX into the family portrait with current siblings in Toyota’s upscale brand, and the revision probably helped its popularity.
Last year the RX 450h lagged behind a couple better selling Lexus hybrids in the U.S. with 7,700 units delivered, or 7.7 percent of total RX sales, but this year through April, the revised 2016 RX 450h leads the five other Lexus hybrids sold with more than 3,300 delivered.
The car-truck which originated the luxury crossover hybrid subsegment over a decade ago is available in front and all-wheel drive and also ranks well on the EPA’s list of sport utility vehicles. Its 30 mpg combined shadows the Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid, Lexus NX 300h, and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, but by no more than 1-3 mpg.
This year’s mpg is also virtually the same as last year’s 220-pound lighter and slightly more aerodynamic RX 450h however. Otherwise, within the powerful luxury crossover class, it remains the most efficient unless one wants to go all-electric, ante up $30,000 more, and opt for the Tesla Model X.
New this year is availability of the F-Sport AWD trim, as pictured and tested, to add a dash of performance to the serviceable family luxury car.
The Hybrid Difference
All conventional and hybrid RX models get a 3.5-liter V6, but the hybrids modify the engine to run on the more-efficient Atkinson cycle, while blending in electric power.
The hybrid’s 259 horsepower is lower than the 295 in the non-hybrid RX, but this is more than made up for with electric assist.
Specifically, front-wheel-drive models get two motors, with the primary drive motor generator (MG2) rated for up to 165 horsepower (123 kW). All-wheel drive models add to this a 67-horsepower (50 kW) rear motor generator as the defining feature of Toyota’s E-Four electric AWD system. This setup which defaults to front-wheel-drive senses slip, is entirely independent from the front powertrain with no driveshaft connection as with conventional RX AWD models.
In all, system output is rated at 308 horsepower. Note the “system total” power is not the sum of the motor horsepower added to the engine’s, as these two merged sources peak at different operation ranges.
An Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT) also supplants an 8-speed auto in the conventional models which also get a mechanical AWD system.
By definition, the “Lexus Hybrid Drive” – a renaming of “Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive” adopted from the Prius –is a “series/parallel” system, meaning it can run on gas plus electric power, or either of the two depending on driving circumstances.
Four modes of user settable operation are available from sub-25 mph pure EV to Normal to Eco and Sport.
F-Sport models get a knob allowing Sport and Sport Plus, along with unique instrumentation that switches between an eco-gauge and a red-accented tachometer face. Paddle shifters let you emulate stepped gears, but a mash of the pedal sends the CVT into full on, and no extra horsepower is available for the F-Sport, unlike BMW M cars, or Mercedes AMG models, for example.
Body and Exterior
The RX rides on the same essential platform as the third generation, but everything was gone over with a magnifying glass to add strength, make the ride quieter, and ensure equal or better road manners. Advanced chassis bonding techniques and repositioned motor mounts were part of the re-engineering.
The wheelbase is almost two inches longer, and the overall length is 4.7 inches longer. Width also increased 0.4 inches while wrap-around tail lights attempt to increase the look of wideness. Ground clearance also went up from 6.9 inches last year to 8.2 inches this year. Curb weight also increased by 221 pounds, with the AWD hybrid version coming to 4,608 pounds, and the FWD weighing 4,740.
In house, the design theme was called “seductive strength” to describe the look characterized with enough angularity to compete with a stealth fighter. Gone is the roundish pod-like style, and the nose has lost the rodent-like profile thanks to the aforementioned prominent grille and lower lip. Coefficient of drag only suffered a little going from 0.33 to 0.34.
The F-Sport gets its own minor treatment and badging and 20-inch wheels instead of base 18-inchers to make it look more purposeful.
Headroom, legroom and hip room improved a bit, and rear legroom especially benefitted with the stretched wheelbase and body.
Cargo capacity is respectable with 18 cubic feet or 55.9 cubic feet with 60/40 split seats folded. By the way, these can be electrically operated, or manually. A unique addition to the electric rear hatch is one may place a hand over the “L” and the door opens.
Greeting the occupants also is a cozy, functional, interior with lots of attention to detail, quality switchgear, and materials.
The F-Sport we drove came with proprietary red seats in supple cooled and heated ventilated leather, special optional steering wheel, metal pedals, all in an attempt to scream luxury race car.
Atop the center dash is also a 12.3-inch screen adding a nice touch above the base 8-inch screen. Lexus’ Enform system has a plethora of functions considered de rigueur and it works well.
Ambient lighting at night is especially pleasing, and adds to the high-end feel.
Included this year also is Lexus Safety System, centered around automated pre-collision braking, and including All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Collision System (PCS) with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keep Assist/Lane Departure Alert, and Intelligent High-Beam headlamps.
An All-speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system is also offered in what is a very complete package in all.
Lexus kept to the formula of smooth and refined that has made this all-rounder so popular. The entire operation of switching back and forth between electric power and gas power is seamless, detectable mainly by ear if one is listening inside the well-muted cabin.
The stop/start system which saves gas at a stop, then restarts instantly is also unobtrusive with no shuddering or lag, and the regenerative braking that sends energy to the battery is also imperceptible at the pedal. In AWD models, the rear motor is also enabled as a generator to add extra energy to charge the battery.
Notable is how quiet the drive is, though if you put your right foot down, the V6 rumbles through its electric CVT in a steady note of max power.
In the F-Sport model, switch to S or S+ and you can have the relatively rare experience of tracking the gas-burner’s progress with a tachometer.
As a hybrid, it’s unlike a conventional car as the digital needle can drop to 0 rpm at low-load points in the drive, or you might see the revs artificially low in the teens with speeds close to highway velocity.
Eco mode is the most frugal, and also helping things is if you opt not to sample all the power. This is an either/or proposition, and 308 horses, even if they are a hybrid variety, can get thirsty.
As it is, we kept the horses tame most of the time, and netted between 26 and 29 mpg combined with minimal care. The EPA’s 30 mpg is also attainable, but that will be up to you, and your style of driving.
As for sporting potential, 0-60 is rated at an OK 7.7 seconds, but the hybrid feels torquey and never lacking thanks to the electric motor. Highway cruising and passing power is excellent. A sports car, however, it is not.
The weight is felt, and despite our F-Sport’s adaptive dampers, the S and S+ modes only marginally firm things up, though the ride is controlled, and extra-legal antics can be performed with aplomb.
In all, the RX does what its customers have said they want from a vehicle straddling multiple design requirements.
It looks like an SUV with respectable cargo and people space, but is more like a car in ride and handling. It has the power of a V8, but nets fuel economy like an average four-cylinder by EPA reckoning. The F-Sport adds to it by stylizing it like a sports ute, but just don’t go picking a fight with some of the healthier Mercedes AMGs and BMW M series out there.
The looks are subjective, and there have been mixed reviews. We personally are not put off by the aggressive posture, and think it is an improvement over the previous generation RX.
Before a $950 delivery fee, the base RX 450h front wheel drive starts at $52,235, and all-wheel drive is a relative deal at $53,635. The AWD-only F-Sport starts at $57,045 and ours stickered for $60,995.
The price difference between the RX 450h and the non-hybrid RX 350 is $10,335, which is not insignificant to save 8 mpg combined for an otherwise comparably powered and equipped sibling. By comparison the ES 300h hybrid sedan costs $2,920 more than the non-hybrid ES 300, and for this one gets a 16 mpg improvement.
But the RX 450h is undeniably an enjoyable vehicle, it is easier on the environment, and offers an optional electric AWD system distinguishing it from the non-hybrid. Further, within its class of luxury crossover SUVs, it is the most efficient in the U.S.
The plug-in Volvo XC90 AWD PHEV, BMW X5 XDrive40e, and Porsche Cayenne S e-Hybrid each specify traction batteries just big enough to improve CO2 test scores for these otherwise powerful vehicles, but not enough to go more than 14 miles in EV mode.
To be sure the choice any way you go could be a qualified one, but the 2016 RX 450 h is altogether improved. Couple that with a relatively high reputation for service and reliability, and it is worth a closer look.