Is Lexus genuinely building more exciting products these days, or has it simply mistaken passion for outlandish styling? At first glance, the 2016 RX 450h looks like the victim of too much angst in the design department .
Folks at Lexus have been working overtime to transform this platinum-grade Toyota division into something more than just a purveyor of dependable but drowsy vehicles. One look at products like the GS F sedan, its new NX compact utility vehicle and the RC coupe range clearly illustrate how it is trying to up the style factor. But it may have taken things too far with the new RX crossover.
Will orthodontists and cul-de-sac parents still flock to this premium vehicle now that it’s traded in gentle curves for more creases than a piece of origami? The RX was Lexus’ top-seller in the U.S. last year, with nearly 101,000 sold, making it a keystone product in the brand’s range and this redesign an unexpectedly risky move.
In one generation, this crossover’s styling has gone from ordinary to outrageous. Grafted on is the brand’s signature “spindle grille,” along with more hard lines than a blueprint.
The RX has been comprehensively reworked for 2016 and, as you can see, styling is the big news. Even though it shares the same platform as its predecessor you’d nevevr know it; they look like they’re from completely different brands, no, scratch that, like they hail from separate star systems on opposite sides of the galaxy.
Models dressed in the available F Sport package further this vehicle’s aggressive looks. Up front, RX models so-equipped gain a black-mesh grille with satin-chrome accents. Multi-spoke 20-inch wheels are standard as well.
Inside, passengers are treated to seating accommodations covered in special (and buttery soft) quilted leather. There’s also a special shift lever along with unique badging and trim.
The F Sport-upgrade is available on both hybrid and regular versions of the RX. Mainline models gain an engine intake resonator for sporty sounds, but every version features Lexus’ Adaptive Variable Suspension, which allows you to adjust the ride firmness to suit your taste.
Hybrid vehicles are usually known for their relentless focus on efficiency, not road-holding, braking performance or blunt-force-trauma-inducing acceleration. So, can a hybrid actually be sporty? Sure.
The Acura NSX, for instance, features an electrified drivetrain. But it’s a supercar, and it’s turbocharged, plus it sits closer to the ground than mulch in a garden. Oh, and it’s not a crossover …
Anyway, behind the RX 450h’s garish grille we find a 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V6, which doesn’t promise much performance. But it’s augmented by a 37 kW nickel-metal hydride battery pack and three separate electric motors, two up front and one ‘round back that’s part of the all-wheel-drive system. Total output measures 308 horses and 247 lb-ft of torque. Based on these specs, F Sport is more about look and feel than speed and handling.
The MKX I tested a couple months ago had a twin-turbo V6 with a walloping 380 lb-ft of torque on tap. It was a rocket in comparison. While plenty quick, the Lexus hybrid gets left choking on that hot-rod Lincoln’s dust.
The RX450h may lack brute force, but the tradeoff for this is striking efficiency. It can stretch a gallon of dinosaur juice 30 miles in urban driving. Take it on a road trip and you can expect 28, a figure I beat by a few tenths without even trying, which is damn impressive. Combined it should average 30 mpg.
I’ve been critical of some Lexus cabins in the past, notably the RC range, which just looks too busy. However, the RX’s interior strikes a nice balance, blending Japanese futurism with more traditional cues. It’s fashion forward, yet approachable at the same time.
Still, I prefer the Lincoln MKX’s interior design, with its simpler shapes and gentle curves, but this feels sturdier and the switchgear is of noticeably higher quality, ditto for some of its materials.
The leather, for instance, is absolutely sumptuous and assembly quality is faultless; even the back seat is plenty spacious for life-sized adults, with ample legroom and reclining backrests.
Regrettably, the front buckets aren’t terribly comfortable. On a two-hour drive the other day, I was squirming around less than halfway to my destination. The lower cushion is oddly shaped and a little too frim for my boney backside. Give me some padding!
A colorful 12.3-inch screen dominates the cabin of this test model, perched atop the dashboard like a digital macaw. It’s controlled by Lexus’ latest Remote Touch interface, which is kind of like a computer mouse grafted onto the center console, which sounds like a distracted-driving lawsuit waiting to happen.
But, for the most part, this interface is fine. It feels a little odd to use a pointing device while driving, but strong haptic feedback helps guide the cursor where you need it to go. Still, this interface is pretty cluttered and its pointer can move unexpectedly at times. Audi’s latest MMI system seems to have an edge over this.
Underway, what’s immediately obvious about the Lexus RX 450h is its overwhelming silence. The interior is hushed at all times, something that helps make long drives a relaxing experience.
In keeping with its refinement, the vehicle’s ride is always soft. On the center console there’s a drive-mode selector that changes things like the throttle response and suspension stiffness, yet in Sport S and Sport S+, the starchiest settings, this crossover still glides over poor-quality pavement.
For the majority of my week with the new RX 450h, I just left everything in Normal mode, which is fine since the difference between the various settings is not very noticeable, unless you put it in Eco, which totally neuters the vehicle’s desire to move.
On the subject of acceleration, the RX hybrid’s drivetrain is more than adequate. It’ll scoot right along when pushed hard, probably thanks to its abundant electric torque. More oomph is really not needed, but it might be fun.
As for the steering, it feels unremarkable, light and quite insulated from the road, but this Lexus’ binders are another story. The pedal is firm and reassuring underfoot, plus the transition from regenerative to friction braking is totally seamless, which is a major victory for this vehicle’s engineering team. Normally this is quite challenging to achieve.
Like life, the 2016 Lexus RX 450h has its ups and downs. Plusses include a quiet, high-quality interior that’s worthy of praise, a spacious back bench, impressive fuel economy and a reputation for long-haul quality. However, its Remote Touch user interface has a few issues and the front seats left a lot to be desired.
And then there’s the styling. What do you think of it? Has Lexus gone too far? After a week with the RX, I actually don’t mind how it looks; the styling has really grown on me, even if it is just a touch too aggressive.
But now for the all-important issue of pricing. You can get an entry-level, front-wheel-drive hybrid model for less than $54,000. But if you add the F Sport package, navigation and some of its available driver-assistance features, all things our test model brandished, you can pay a lot more. Out the door it cost $60,215, including $940 in delivery fees.
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