The Lexus RX, which has reigned as the best-selling Lexus model and the top seller among all luxury crossovers and SUVs for nearly two decades, went under the knife for some major work in 2016. It kept the passenger-car mechanicals, raised seating position, posh interior, and cargo-friendly five-passenger SUV body style but cranked the styling volume up to new heights with an outsize snout, a floating roof, and a riotous surface treatment. Voting with their wallets, the car-buying public seems to prefer this new RX, as sales have increased versus the more sedate-looking previous version.
Compared with the exterior, a steadier hand crafted the RX’s cabin, which was all-new in 2016. It retains the sumptuous materials, bank-vault quietness, and lengthy list of standard amenities for which Lexus is known. The redesigned model also received tweaks to its structure, suspension, and steering but not to the extent that one would now seek out twisty pavement. Aside from the excellent isolation and cocooning, there really isn’t much about the RX350’s driving experience that might distinguish it from more plebeian Toyotas.
For 2017, the RX350 is available in well-equipped base or sporty F Sport trim, the latter boasting 20-inch wheels, adaptive damping, an engine-sound enhancer, quilted sport seats with more bolstering, and an even more expansive grille. Also offered is the RX450h gas-electric hybrid. All are available with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
What’s New: After the major redo last year, the fourth-generation RX350 rolls into 2017 with minor tweaks to its standard and optional equipment. Optional last year, rain-sensing wipers and the Lexus Safety System+ now are standard fare, the latter adding a pre-collision warning system, automatic high-beams, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert, and lane-keeping assist to the RX’s already lengthy list of safety gear. The RX450h hybrid brings standard blind-spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic alert system with automated emergency braking. Also, the F Sport trim is now available with front-wheel drive, not just all-wheel drive as before.
What We Like: The RX350’s structure is solid, and its quiet, sumptuous cabin is an island of tranquility. Fit and finish are superb, as are material choices and presentation. The standard seats are all-day comfortable, and the available 12.3-inch infotainment display is among the industry’s largest. To front-seat passengers at least, the cabin is fairly airy thanks to slimmer A-pillars and a lowered dashtop. The rear seat is roomy, and Lexus didn’t try to cram a kids-only third-row seat into the cargo hold. We like the polish of the RX’s 295-hp 3.5-liter V-6 and the responsiveness of the eight-speed automatic transmission. The F Sport overpromises some with its amped-up body work and aggressive 20-inch wheels, but its sport seats are encapsulating, and the adaptive damping modulates body movement without unduly affecting ride quality.
What We Don’t Like: The RX350’s unbalanced, overwrought exterior may stand apart from the crowd, but more recent entries such as the Jaguar F-Pace and the Cadillac XT5 do a better job of catching the eye without being polarizing. The RX350 also still suffers from a driver-engagement deficit. The base RX350 has insular dynamics with a floaty ride and plenty of body lean in corners. Its relatively quick-ratio but imprecise steering doesn’t impart confidence. Not that most current RX owners would complain, but it could use more power to keep up with its competitors. The mouselike Remote Touch controller for RXs equipped with navigation is fiddly and annoying. And the standard 18-inch wheels get lost next to the huge grille.