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2023 Lexus RX 500h Analysis: An Ideal Crossover With Strong Engine

The overhauled 2023 Lexus RX currently offers more powerful power plants and a more effective hybrid. The revamped RX is a mid-size crossover SUV that sits between the premium and luxury categories, akin to the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX60, and Volvo XC60. Featuring four powertrains, including three hybrids, and six trim levels, the mid-size SUV aims to attract a younger demographic without isolating its core market. It remains closest to the middle, but its appealing shape, spacious interior, and outstanding standard features make it a convincing proposition.

Fresh for 2023, Lexus refreshes its top-selling model with a new appearance, new powertrains, and a more streamlined look inside. The fifth-generation SUV operates on a new global platform that is both sturdier and lighter, and the RX offers two new trims as well as a new performance hybrid and a debut plug-in hybrid. V-6 options are no longer available.

The new RX strikes a balance between its original curved shape and recent sharp angles. The toned-down front grille and sleek body panels give it a more subdued appearance, exuding confidence in its character. The most noticeable changes occur on the front end. The extended nose, due to the windshield and A-pillar being pulled back, is prominent. Lexus tames its large trapezoidal grille with a new hood that extends down into the Lexus badge. The grille’s diamond pattern now extends around the sides instead of being enclosed by chrome, lending it a sense of movement.

Vertical air intakes complement a slimmer headlight design, and the sporty vibe continues on the sides, where Lexus has softened some of the creases for a more flowing profile that rises up to the rear fender similar to the Toyota Highlander. The floating roof retains its original design and tapers at a rear end that has been trimmed by 2.4 inches. Lexus places its name on the tailgate instead of a logo, and the RX captures attention in colors such as Copper Crest and Nori Green Pearl.

The 2023 Lexus RX diversifies its character through four powertrains, three hybrids, two suspension upgrades, and one crossover SUV: resulting in a pleasurable driving experience with its relative speed and all-around stability. The base RX 350 is equipped with a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine generating 275 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque. Despite some turbo lag, the 350 responds sharply and the 8-speed automatic transmission efficiently shifts through gears, allowing the engine to reach the 6,000-rpm range. It delivers ample power for passing. The available AWD comes with paddle shifters for enhanced driver control and achieves a 0-60 mph time of 7.2 seconds, compared to 7.6 seconds with FWD.

It is both more robust and smoother than the RX 350h. In the base hybrid, a 2.5-liter inline-4 is paired with a motor powered by a nickel metal hydride battery to produce 246 hp and 233 lb-ft of torque, but the CVT maintains high engine revs even under partial throttle, resulting in increased cabin noise that disrupts the usual tranquil ambiance of the RX. Intended for efficiency rather than performance, the RX 350h utilizes a more conventional and less advanced planetary gearset system compared to the range-topping RX 500h F Sport Performance.

The performance hybrid utilizes the same 2.4-liter turbo-4 as the RX 350, but is augmented by a front motor generator and a rear motor that powers the rear axle, resulting in a total system output of 366 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. With the rear motor, the full-time AWD system is capable of distributing torque from front-wheel drive to a 40/60 ratio at launch, enabling it to reach 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. However, transitioning out of first gear in the 6-speed automatic can take slightly longer than anticipated.

Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom modes adjust the throttle response, with Eco mode providing a soft pedal feel, and the lightweight electronic steering defaulting to ease. A Trail mode on AWD models uses brake-based vectoring to manage wheel slip and distribute torque to the rear wheels. Nevertheless, the Lexus RX is not designed for extensive off-road excursions, with a ground clearance of just 8.1 to 8.2 inches and soft, road-oriented tires.

The RX 450h+ shares an 18.1-kwh battery and plug-in hybrid powertrain with the smaller NX450h+ and the Toyota RAV4 Prime. It is equipped with a 2.5-liter inline-4 and two-motor system that powers the front wheels, with a dedicated motor at the rear axle for AWD. Initial driving impressions suggest that the EV mode does not accelerate as quickly as other PHEVs, but it seamlessly transitions between gas and electric power. It operates very quietly. Its availability in the U.S. is expected at a later date.

All hybrid models come as standard with AWD, albeit with different systems. The RX 350 is available with front-wheel drive, but AWD is an option. The RX 350 F Sport Handling is equipped with standard on-demand AWD, as well as adaptive dampers on its fully independent suspension comprising front struts and a multi-link rear setup. The F Sport trims handle corners with smooth weight transfer, and the vehicle’s movements remain predictable, allowing for more spirited handling compared to models without adaptive dampers. Despite a 198-lb weight reduction, the RX finds it challenging to overcome its elevated ride height, which may limit its sportiness, but it remains composed while cruising on the highway.

The RX 500h utilizes the brand’s latest AWD system, which continuously considers wheel speed, acceleration, and steering angle to distribute torque to the front and rear axles. In contrast to the brake-based torque vectoring on the 350h, the Direct4 AWD system initially splits available power to a 70/30 front/rear ratio at the start of a turn, followed by a 20/80 split when exiting a turn. Although it is unable to entirely shed its 4,751-lb weight or its height, it is significantly more athletic than any previous RX, and the four-degree rear axle steering noticeably aids the RX500h in cornering. This makes it a compelling rival to the Acura MDX Type S and it boasts a more athletic demeanor compared to any crossover SUV from Infiniti, Lincoln, or Cadillac.

With three distinct hybrid options, the Lexus RX goes the extra mile. Lexus aims for a mileage of 22 mpg city, 29 highway, and 25 combined for the RX 350 with front-wheel drive. AWD results in a 1 mpg decrease. No specifications are available for the RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid as of now, hence the most efficient model at present is the RX 350h, targeting a impressive 37 mpg city/34 mpg highway /36 mpg combined, particularly noteworthy for its city rating. The outgoing hybrid achieved a maximum of 30 mpg combined. The performance-focused hybrid AWD system in the 500h achieves 27 mpg city and combined, and 28 mpg on the highway.

The 2023 Lexus RX is equipped with superior standard driver-assist technology compared to most luxury competitors. The NHTSA and the IIHS have not compromised its structure in the pursuit of safety, and the 2023 Lexus RX features standard driver-assist functions that are intended to prevent or mitigate collisions. Every model is equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. Several luxury automakers charge extra for some of these features. Options available across all trims include a limited hands-free driving system at speeds below 25 mph on mapped interstates, and an automatic lane change feature when the driver activates the turn signal. A surround-view camera system is also offered.

The interior revolves around a curved panel of screens, ranging from a 7.0-inch instrument cluster with a 9.8-inch touchscreen to a 14.0-inch touchscreen flanked by climate dials. The dashboard arches behind the screen in a unique manner, perfectly accommodating items such as gloves or printed materials, a significant improvement over the predecessor’s screen that protruded from the dashboard. Fewer dashboard layers and a cleaner center console with an electronic gear shifter lend it a more relaxed ambiance. The absence of a trackpad and analog clock is not felt. The inclusion of more metallic trim elements and attention to detail, including push-button door handles that take some getting used to but add a level of simplicity.

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