I was about to start this story by saying there has never been a more successful luxury SUV created than the Lexus RX, but after a little research I’m finding out that’s an old, outdated statistic.
The RX, which was the first car-based luxury crossover SUV ever produced, has been amazingly successful here in North America where it remains number one by a long shot, but globally it gets beaten badly by Buick’s number-one selling Envision that found 123,397 buyers worldwide during the first five months of 2017 (you can thank China for that), as well as Mercedes-Benz’ GLC runner up that sold 117,856 global units over the same period. I don’t have exact numbers for the RX in all the countries it’s sold in because it didn’t make the top 100 vehicles list. So much for starting out this review with a bang.
Of course, with 109,435 total U.S. sales last year, plus 75,880 over the first three quarters of 2017, Lexus and its RX have nothing to be ashamed of. Toyota’s luxury division is really only getting its feet wet in China after breaking through the six-figure threshold for the first time last year with 109,151 total sales brand-wide, while Lexus International reported 677,615 global deliveries in 2016, which is a four-percent improvement over 2015 and its fourth consecutive record year of sales growth. Yup, it’s tough to complain with numbers like these.
It’s difficult to complain about spending a week with Lexus’ latest 2017 RX 350 either. The five-passenger SUV was redesigned for the 2016 model year and still looks very sharp, literally. There isn’t an edgier sport utility available anywhere, now that Lexus’ ultra-wide spindle grille is front and center, made even bigger and bolder in our tester’s F Sport trim. It flows into a deeply sculpted hood up top, while yet more jagged edges outline each of its triple-stacked LED light cluster elements to each side, these finished off with checkmark LED DRLs at bottom. Even more radically shaped fog lamp bezels are immediately surrounded in chrome before getting finished off with apostrophe-style vertical vents at each corner, all sitting atop razor-thin lower valance detailing.
The RX 350 F Sport’s flanks are almost as chiselled, each fender shaved flat ahead of gloss black, chrome and LED-infused side mirror housings on the beltline and deeply gorged, upward sweeping rocker panel sculpting across the lower doors, the former foreshadowing a glossy black D-pillar depicting a floating roof while the latter visually melds into a chunky rear bumper encasing a sporty rear diffuser and two angularly shaped exhaust ports. By comparison the LED taillights are almost conservative, although a nice fit just the same, while plenty of satin-finish metal brightwork combine with fabulous looking 20-inch dark graphite multi-spoke alloys on 235/55R20 rolling stock. Lexus is hardly a boring brand anymore, and the once conservative RX is now one of the more avant-garde in its class.
The RX 350 F Sport’s cabin is almost as creased and creviced as its origami-folded exterior sheetmetal, but the majority of surfaces not covered in metallic trim or hardwood are soft to the touch. Lexus uses a combination of pliable plastics and padded, stitched leatherette for the dash, upper instrument and door panels, armrests, center stack, etcetera, and while most surfaces measure up to expected premium levels, more hard plastics are used than with the Germans, per se. You’ll find lower quality composites to the left of the driver, on the lower instrument and door panels, along the lower edges of the center console, and elsewhere, these corners cut to keep the RX’ base price in the mid-$50k range.
Lexus made a few changes to this 2017 model, including the addition of a new Safety Sense suite of advanced driver-assistance systems, now standard. On the list is millimeter-wave radar sensing pre-collision warning, lane departure alert, dynamic cruise control, and auto high beams, all items that were previously bundled in with expensive option groups yet are now standard across the entire model range. This allows for an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating when optioned out with its top-line triple-beam LED headlights with dynamic auto-leveling and LED cornering lamps.
Other standard safety features include slightly less advanced auto on/off full LED headlamps, LED DRLs, LED fog lamps, LED brake lights, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a backup camera with dynamic guidelines that’s projected onto a large 8.0-inch infotainment display, active front headrests with whiplash protection, front and rear outboard seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), plus more.
On the options list is new Intelligent Clearance Sonar, which is collision mitigation for low-speed situations such as parking, while additional active safety options include a wide-view front, rear and side parking monitor that displays on a stunning 12.3-inch Electro Multi Vision (EMV) screen, plus a head-up display that projects onto the windshield ahead of the driver. As advanced as some of these systems are, Lexus has yet to adapt much in the way of autonomous mitigation systems to the RX 350, such as automatic corrective steering, but its aforementioned pre-collision system is designed to apply emergency auto braking after an initial warning.
The RX 350’s numeric designation actually refers to its 3.5-liter V6 engine, unlike so many other models that have deviated from this sensible practice (the RX 450h hybrid being one), its output a commendable 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque thanks in part to D4-S fuel injection that combines direct-injection with conventional port-injection in order to best balance performance and efficiency. Aiding both objectives is an eight-speed automatic gearbox, while optional all-wheel drive is available for colder climates. Lastly, Lexus’ standard Drive Mode Select adds Sport, Eco and Normal modes to either enhance the driving experience or minimize fuel usage and emissions, the RX 350 good for a claimed 20 mpg city, 27 highway and 23 combined in base FWD trim or 19 mpg city, 26 highway and 22 combined with AWD.
A few minutes behind the wheel of the RX 350 F Sport immediately reminded me how much better this new generation drives than anything in Lexus’ RX history. It moves off the line with much more alacrity, its eight-speed automatic combining with the formidable V6 for a more instantaneous launch and quicker more assertive shifts. The engine even sounds good, as it should. What I mean is I’ve driven mid-engine Lotus’ sports cars with this engine behind their rear firewall, and trust me it can be made to sound exotic and seriously perform. In other words, there’s nothing at all lacking in this well-proven powertrain, even with the engine up front and five seats behind.
I suppose the biggest change when compared to older RX models is the way this newer version takes to corners, the F Sport’s 235/55R20 Bridgestone Blizzaks doing their best impersonation of summer performance tires, at least visually from profile. At first glance they certainly look the part, as do the gorgeous multi-spoke gray-painted 20-inch alloys they encircle, but of course the all-seasons that come standard add significantly more grip at the limit, unless in snow. Still, my RX 350 F Sport tester handled everything thrown at it with aplomb, the new RX feeling more akin to a Mercedes or BMW than previous iterations. It manages fast-paced twisting turns with confidence inspiring ease, even tackling tight twisties with more of a German style flare than any previous generation, while it remains ever-confident at fast highway speeds. All the while the RX never forgets it’s a Lexus, delivering a level of comfort and composure most expect from the Japanese brand, especially in this mid-size class.
The $43,220 base RX 350 receives a pretty impressive list of standard features including 18-inch alloys, proximity keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel, a powered tilt and telescopic steering column, a color TFT multi-information display, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, dual-zone auto climate control with a dust, pollen and deodorizing air filter, nine-speaker audio, Bluetooth phone connectivity with streaming audio, HD radio, Siri Eyes Free, eight-way powered front seats with two-way powered lumbar support, perforated NuLuxe breathable leatherette upholstery, a powered rear liftgate, a reasonably large nicely finished 18.4 cubic-foot cargo hold that expands to 56.3 cubic feet via handy 40/20/40-split folding rear seatbacks (with an available powered second row), a tonneau cover to hide valuables, and more.
As with most vehicles in this class there’s no shortage of available options, the 2017 RX 350 making eight packages available. The first is the $960 Premium package that features aluminum roof rails, auto-dimming and power-folding side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, driver-side memory, leather upholstery, a rear armrest storage compartment, and the choice of Espresso Walnut, Matte Bamboo or Matte Linear Dark Mocha wood interior trim.
If that’s not enough, the $4,485 Luxury package adds 20-in twinned five-spoke alloys, illuminated doorsills, ambient interior illumination, a heatable wood and leather steering wheel rim, a driver’s seat power cushion extender and front seat four-way power lumbar support, semi-aniline leather upholstery, Gray Sapele wood with aluminum trim, and rear side window sunshades.
Additionally, Lexus offers a $1,690 Navigation package (standard with the 8.0-inch display or $2,120 with the 12.3-inch widescreen monitor) with GPS route guidance and detailed mapping, a Remote Touch controller, 12-speaker premium audio, smog-sensing auto-recirculation mode for the dual-zone auto HVAC system, Lexus’ Enform App Suite, and more. You can upgrade the Navigation package with a 15-speaker, 835-watt Mark Levinson audio system as well, the combination costing $3,200.
Depending where you live, a $315 Cold Weather package might be a good idea thanks to a heatable windshield, rain-sensing wipers, auto-leveling headlamps, headlamp washers, and a quick-responding cabin heater, while the $2,095 Rear-Seat Entertainment System package might also be a good choice if you’ve got kids or grandkids, this system fitting an 11.6-inch high-resolution monitor into the backside of each front headrest, plus including the usual headphones, DVD/CD player and HDMI input. Lastly, a Towing Prep package adds a heavy-duty radiator and cooling fan plus engine and transmission oil coolers for $265.
You might’ve wondered when I would get to the F Sport package, but in reality it’s more of a separate trim level that starts at $49,120 with FWD or $50,520 with as-tested AWD. It makes a difference visually thanks to a unique black mesh grille insert, sportier lower fascia detailing, 20-inch dark-gray painted F Sport multi-sport alloys, an adaptive variable air suspension, upgraded LED combination taillights, and F Sport exterior badging, while that F Sport branding also enhances a unique set of treadplates, an upgraded gauge cluster, a three-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, a special leather-wrapped shift knob, aluminum foot pedals with rubber inserts, and a different set of sport seats.
Lastly, Lexus offers a long list of standalone features including those triple-beam LED headlights with dynamic auto-leveling and LED cornering lamps noted before, heated and ventilated front seats, heatable rear outboard seats, a powered panoramic moonroof, a gesture access powered rear liftgate, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, intuitive parking assist with auto braking, the head-up display and power-folding rear seats mentioned earlier, and more.
So, why should you join the throngs of RX owners instead of going with one of the less popular Europeans, Japanese or domestic-market crossover luxury SUVs? If its edgy styling works for you, interior refinement satisfactory, and performance up to snuff, then the brand’s diehard reliability is certainly a worthy motivator, Lexus once again atop J.D. Power and Associate’s 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study, albeit tied with Porsche this year, although the top ranked “Midsize Premium SUV” is this very RX, the Porsche Cayenne coming in third, split by Lexus’ own seven-passenger GX.
This rock solid reputation aids resale values too, with the ALG’s 2017 Residual Value Award placing the RX in second behind the Land Rover Range Rover Sport and ahead of the Maserati Levante in the “Premium Midsize Utility Vehicle – 2 Row Segment”.
The 2017 RX 350 also represents good value for money, my near fully loaded tester ringing in at $53,950 plus freight and fees, which is where some of its German peers begin. No wonder it sells so well.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press