Pop quiz: What’s the best selling Lexus of all time?
Engines: 3.5 L V6, 295 hp, 267 lb-ft. 3.5 L V6 + 3 electric motors, 308 hp
Transmissions: Eight-speed automatic, eCVT
RX 350 Fuel Economy: RX 350:19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
RX 450h Fuel Economy: 30 mpg city, 28 mpg hwy
US Pricing: TBD
It’s not the ES, the IS or even the original LS. It’s the brand’s mid-size luxury crossover, the RX. Selling like hot cakes before the world went crossover crazy, the RX has now surpassed 2.1 million sales worldwide.
That’s a lot of premium soft-roaders, and to say this vehicle is important to Lexus would be an understatement. This is why not taking a lot of risks with the 2016 overhaul makes sense, because the last thing Lexus wants to do is alienate the manufacturer’s current customer base. But has Toyota’s luxury division done enough with the 2016 Lexus RX to attract some new blood while satisfying the old guard?
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Looks Different, Looks Like a Lexus
The RX has spent most of its history on the conservative side when it comes to styling. But for 2016, it has traded in its off-the-shelf black suit for a lime green tuxedo. With one of the largest grilles ever seen, the RX redefines aggressive when it comes to luxury crossovers.
But more importantly, the 2016 RX looks like a modern Lexus. As a luxury automaker, it’s important to have a corporate identity that is shared across an entire vehicle lineup. Everyone knows what a BMW looks like, an Audi is easy to spot a mile away, and Mercedes has its own distinct look.
SEE ALSO: 7-Seat Lexus RX Prototype Spied Testing
Love it or leave, Lexus is applying the brand’s own distinct style to all of its vehicles. With a large spindle grille, L-shaped LED headlights and pronounced fender flares, there’s no mistaking the 2016 RX for anything else on the road, except for maybe another Lexus. And to add a little more visual flair, there’s a new styling element that sees a portion of the C-pillars blacked out to give the illusion of a floating roof.
Pampered with Technology
As always, the RX’s main mission is to pamper passengers. With 4.7 inches added to the vehicle’s overall length, some of the vehicle’s newfound size can be felt on the inside. Back seat passengers will enjoy more than an inch of additional legroom compared to last year’s model, now measuring 38 inches in total. And to keep them amused back there, optional dual 11.6-inch video screens can be fitted to the front seat headrests.
To make loading and unloading items into the rear cargo area easier, there’s a new optional rear hatch that can open by holding a hand in front of the Lexus logo for a few seconds. And, if 18.4 cubic feet of storage space is not enough, there’s the also the option to have the rear seats fold down electronically.
Massive Screen, No Touchpad
The technological wonderland continues up front where options like a color head-up display, panoramic moonroof and a massive 12.3-inch display screen can be equipped. Best of all though, Lexus’ joystick control pad has been equipped instead of the frustrating touchpad found in other new Lexus models. The joystick control isn’t the best way to control an infotainment system, but at least it’s better than the touchpad.
Front seat comfort in the new RX is quite good, as there is ample headroom even for tall passengers. After several hours of driving, the seat cushions provided ample support in the right areas to avoid any cramping or undue fatigue. Adding to the level of comfort are soft armrests on both the doors and the center console lid.
But a luxury crossover can’t survive on just a nice interior and unique look alone; it needs the proper mechanics to complete the package. Under the hood, the RX 350 continues to use a 3.5-liter V6 that now features direct injection to produce 295 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. That’s an increase of 25 hp and 19 lb-ft over last year’s model.
With extra power and a few extra gears, the 2016 RX should be faster, right? Well, not really. With a claimed zero to 60 mph time of 7.9 seconds for all-wheel drive versions, the RX 350 has enough power for daily use, but no more than that.
A Better Hybrid Option
If saving gas is more your thing, there is still the hybrid RX 450h. Utilizing a 3.5-liter V6 running the Atkinson cycle, the 450h adds three electric motors to make a total of 308 hp. That’s not much more power than the 350’s V6 engine makes, but the big difference is in fuel economy. The all-wheel-drive RX 450h is rated to average 30 mpg city and 28 highway, while the gasoline-only RX 350 is rated at 19 city and 26 highway.
And despite a near 400-lb weight increase, the hybrid is expected to reach 60 mph just as fast as the pure gasoline model 350, thanks to all that electric motor torque. It can also go about 20 miles on electric only power, but only if you keep it under 25 mph, which will really only come in handy during total gridlock traffic.
Improved Handling, Still Not Sporty
The RX has never really been one of the sportier luxury crossovers and Lexus worked hard with the redesign to improve agility and response without sacrificing ride quality. Response and handling have improved over the old model at least, starting with a reinforced chassis and strengthened body structure.
Also available are adaptive dampers that can be controlled through Lexus’ Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management, a system that can alter other functions like engine response and transmission mapping. The differences between normal and sport mode felt very minor from behind the wheel, though.
Despite the manufacturer’s best efforts though, the RX still isn’t all that engaging to drive. But that’s why it sells so well. While some luxury manufacturers try to differentiate their brand’s crossovers and SUVs from mainstream models through enhanced power and handling, Lexus has always focused on passenger comfort and cabin refinement. The RX is simple to drive and features soft steering, a smooth, non-peaky engine and transparent transmission. Basically, the RX is a bland drive, but in the best way possible for those more concerned about a quiet, comfortable cabin than scaring passengers on local on-ramps.
SEE ALSO: 2016 Lexus RX Video, First Look
If more performance and a flashier look is wanted, there is the F SPORT package that can now be had on both the 350 and the 450h hybrid. On the 2016 RX, the F Sport adds revised front and rear styling, unique 20-inch wheels, custom F SPORT gauges, a sportier steering wheel, paddle shifters, an intake sound generator and more. As far as actual performance upgrades, not much is included, but there is a Sport S+ mode for the adaptive suspension to improve handling.
But enough about performance, this is a family-orientated crossover and one of its main jobs is to keep your family safe. To achieve this, Lexus crams a ton of safety tech into what the brand refers to as Lexus Safety+. Items like a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert can all be had. And there is even a sway alert that detects if the RX begins to wander a bit within its lane because the driver is getting too drowsy behind the wheel.
The Verdict: 2016 Lexus RX Review
Pricing is yet to be set, but expect it to remain class competitive, starting well under $45,000, according to Lexus.
With a far more aggressive exterior, technology packed interior and better mechanics, the 2016 Lexus RX has been upgraded enough to remain relevant while not deviating from its winning formula. More importantly, it looks poised to continue its sales-dominating ways.
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