Lexus loyalists anxiously awaited the arrival of the fully-redesigned, fifth-generation RX 350.
It had been seven years since the last full-scale remake of the premium crossover.
So what’s new and exciting in the 2023 edition of this Lexus flagship?
Well, there’s plenty new for the RX 350, the top seller in the Lexus family as well as the leader of the midsize luxury-crossover class. From its new platform and beak-like nose to its fully digital dashboard and infotainment setup, the RX 350 is brimming with new. In fact, Lexus says it is 95% new.
But exciting? The RX 350 doesn’t really do exciting. It’s not even especially fun to drive (try the brand’s RX 500h F-Sport for that). It does do comfort, luxurious details, quality, reliability and subtle but sure-footed performance in outstanding fashion. There are also some positive tweaks and a couple of eyebrow raisers.
The new hybrid RX 350h promises to be a popular choice as it shrinks the carbon footprint by adding an extra 10 mpg over the gas-engine RX. (It’s also more affordable!)
For those keeping score, the 350h replaces last year’s 450h, which became the 450h+ and now is a plug-in hybrid. There will be a pop quiz later.
The most obvious change to the RX this year is its longer, bulbous nose. The hood plunges over like an eagle’s beak to meet the spindle grille. Especially noticeable on a profile, it’s one of those design elements some will love, others not so much, but it does improve visibility.
The RX is slightly wider, lower and has a wheelbase two inches longer – yet the third row is gone, possibly reserved for the larger TX crossover down the road. Narrow headlights and full-width rear light bar complete a modern look, along with the so-called “floating roof” design.
Of the RX family, the 350h is the efficient and practical child. Power emanates from a non-turbo 2.5-liter inline four, rather than the V-6 from last year (no V-6 with any RX models), and it’s assisted by dual electric motors – one up front and one in the rear. It’s all connected to a smooth, quiet CVT (continuously variable transmission) that doesn’t whine like many of them.
Total output amounts to 246 horsepower and 233 pound-feet of torque. Now be patient on your way to 60 mph because it takes 7.6 seconds – with your foot on the floor. Those numbers are comparable to the RX 350, but it’s less peppy than the 450h it replaced.
The all-wheel-drive 350h rewards light-footed drivers with fuel economy figures in the mid-30s: 37 city, 34 highway, 36 combined. Helping delay a fuel stop is 600 miles of range.
While it may not be particularly quick or fun, the hybrid never feels underpowered. It gets up to speed satisfactorily around town and down the on-ramps. Steering is nicely weighted, brakes are firm and linear, and it stays well composed on corners.
Most important for Lexus enthusiasts, it is a smooth, comfortable and quiet ride, with much credit going to the new and lighter GAK global platform. Dips and bumps are absorbed nicely and an optional air suspension system gives it an even more refined ride. Wind and road noise are negligible.
The 300h offers four drive modes: Normal, Eco, Sport, EV and Custom. Lexus did away with the rotary dial on the console and buried the modes on a touchscreen menu. Not cool while driving.
Getting inside the RX cabin is different with electric door latches: Reach behind the door handle and pull the switch with your fingers. To exit the vehicle, grab the door handle, press a pad with your thumb, and push out. Not sure what the point of all this is; perhaps it’s a bit easier. It does have a safe-exit feature, preventing the door from opening if a vehicle is approaching.
The cabin is much improved and more opulent, spacious and built with quality materials, save for the faux wood-grain accents. Panels have a neat and clean fit, in typical Lexus fashion, and door panels are trimmed in suede.
Front seats are heated, ventilated and trimmed in semi-aniline leather with a softer, more natural feel. Front seats have 10-way power adjustment but, sorry, no massage functions. Rear seats also have power adjustments and can tilt back slightly. Both rows have ample head, shoulder and leg room.
The digital dashboard is a giant leap forward from last year. Lexus canned the infotainment system’s old and cumbersome touchpad controller in favor of a bright and responsive 14-inch touchscreen. It’s angled more toward the driver now and easier to reach. The 300h has a hybrid-specific instrument cluster, too.
The system includes navigation and a superb 1800-watt Mark Levinson audio system that sends tunes over 21 speakers. A convenient knob controls audio volume, and another manages temp controls so no need to dive into the touchscreen for those.
Cargo space is nearly twice that of the previous generation, yet shy of some three-row rivals when the last row is folded. Behind the 60/40 split-folding rear seats is an impressive 29.6 cubic feet of space, and 46 cubes with the rear seats folded. Power lift gate is standard.
Safety gets a huge boost with the Lexus Safety System-Plus 3.0, featuring enhanced adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking and speed reduction on curves. A forward-collision system adds intersection-turn assistance and improved pedestrian detection with brake intervention. Optional traffic-jam assist handles acceleration, braking and even virtual hands-free driving.
The RX 350h adds practicality to a new RX look, refined cabin, and improved infotainment and safety package. Since RX buyers tend to be a loyal lot, that’s likely to be just the kind of excitement they’re looking for this year.
Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald.
Base Price: $52,150 (Includes heated/ventilated seats, wireless charging pad, power moonroof and lift gate, memory seats)
What’s all the excitement about? New platform and front end, digital dashboard, new infotainment system, enhanced safety package.
Powertrain: 2.5-liter inline four assisted by dual electric motors, and mated to a CVT
How’s the performance? Lexus-typical: Smooth ride, quiet and comfortable. Leisurely 0-60 mph in 7.6 seconds, but well composed on corners.
Fuel economy: EPA-estimated 37 mpg city, 34 highway, 36 mpg combined