The RX has consistently been the best-selling SUV in the Lexus model range, and was among the first in this market segment. Lexus has expanded the current RX lineup into six different models, split evenly between the RX 350 and RX 450h Hybrid variants. Both the standard RX and the longer RX L are available as Hybrids. The RX Hybrids are positioned as upper tier models, and priced accordingly: RX 450h AWD ($47,920), RX 450h F Sport AWD ($51,400), and RX 450hL ($51,310). All non-hybrid RX models are available in FWD or AWD variants, but the RX Hybrids are AWD only.
We tested a RX 450h AWD F Sport ($51,200) loaded with options: wireless charger ($200), color head-up display ($600), heated and ventilated front seats ($640), 12.3-in. navigation display & 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system ($3,365) touch-free power rear door ($150), parking assist with panoramic view ($1,365), Black Line special edition ($685), heated F Sport steering wheel ($150). The F Sport gets a unique front grille, bumpers, seats, LED ambient lighting, aluminum trim, performance dampers, and a few other minor items. Opting for the Black Line package adds black 20-in. dia. wheels, black grille, blue interior stitching and a 2-piece Zero Halliburton luggage set. Including the $1,025 delivery fee totaled up the sticker price to $59,380. Note that current base pricing is $200 higher than the MSRP of the test vehicle.
Other standard or optional equipment in the test vehicle included: Bi-LED headlamps, NuLuxe (simulated leather) trimmed seats, 10-way heated/ventilated power front seats, moonroof, Google Android Auto (TM), and Apple CarPlay(R). Safety technologies consist of panoramic view monitor, lane tracing assist, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert, rear cross-traffic braking, and parking assist. Our test vehicle was not equipped with the optional F Sport Handling Package ($970) that adds an adaptive variable suspension, heated steering wheel, F-Sport-tuned power steering and a Sport S+ drivetrain mode.
All RX models are powered by an all-aluminum 3.5L V-6 topped by dual overhead cam heads and variable valve-timing (VVT-i). The hybrid drive system consists of three 650V AC motor generators and a 288V nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack. One motor generator functions as an engine starter and transmission ratio controller. The other two motor generators drive the front and rear axles independently; unlike the non-hybrid RX there is no rear driveshaft. Lexus specifies the combined output of the V-6 & electric motor drive system as 308-hp @ 6,000 RPM. Torque output of the V-6 is 247 lb.-ft. @ 4,800 RPM. Lexus does not list the motor power and torque specifications. The hybrid powertrain drives the front wheels via an electronically-controlled CVT. EPA fuel consumption estimates are 31/28 MPG (city/hwy.) for the RX 450h. We averaged 19-20 MPG in mixed city and highway driving during our test in subfreezing winter weather. Low temperatures reduce battery performance, so we would expect improved fuel efficiency in milder temperatures. Lexus claims 0-60 MPH acceleration in 7.9 seconds (same as the RX 350 AWD) and electronically limits top speed to 112 MPH.
Like other SUVs, the RX front suspension consists of MacPherson struts and stabilizer bar. At the rear is a double wishbone setup with coil springs, dampers and stabilizer bar. Brakes are all vented discs: 12.9 in. dia. front rotors and 13.3 in. dia. rear rotors. F Sport models get larger 20 in. dia. alloy wheels shod with 235/55R20 Michelin Premier LTX tires. Steering is an electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion setup geared for 2.7 turns lock-to-lock. The RX 450h weighs in at 4,740 lbs., compared to the 4,387 lbs. for the RX 350 AWD; the added weight in the RX 450h comes from the electric motors and battery pack. Maximum towing capacity is 3,500 lbs. with the optional towing package.
As expected from Lexus, interior materials and build quality is superb. Aluminum accents line the doors and dashboard. The test vehicle's seats were trimmed in black and parchment NuLuxe upholstery. Front seat comfort and support is superb, and the 10-way power adjustability enables front seat occupants to find their preferred setting. Lacking the optional moonroof, this RX had ample front headroom, easily accommodating passengers over 6 ft. tall. The rear seats provide excellent comfort and decent legroom; headroom is acceptable for occupants over 6 ft. tall.
Lexus adopted a digital instrument cluster for the F Sport with a center speedometer flanked by a vehicle status display, along with smaller coolant temperature and fuel level gauges. The F Sport leather-wrapped steering wheel has integrated controls for audio, phone, cruise and other vehicle settings. Paddles mounted on the steering wheel enable manual "shifting" of the CVT. A new 12.3" touchscreen infotainment display is also controllable via a touchpad on the center console. We found the touchpad to be overly sensitive, often sliding the on-screen cursor past the intended menu selection. The premium Mark Levinson audio system also has an increasingly rare CD player. Dual knobs and pushbuttons enable direct adjustment of commonly used audio settings. Likewise, the climate control system settings are readily accessible via pushbuttons on the center stack. Dual USB ports and a 12V power outlet on the center console can connect and charge mobile devices. Additional 12V outlets are in the center console compartment and in the cargo area. Cupholders on the center console are located next to the gated transmission shift lever. Rear passengers get separate climate control vents and dual USB ports.
The hybrid powertrain delivers strong acceleration in city driving, and excellent midrange response at highway speeds. Throughout the rev range, the V-6 is barely audible, even at full throttle. Powertrain integration between the electric motors and the gas engine is seamless; it is nearly impossible to sense the transition from electric to gas power and vice versa. Three powertrain modes are available: Eco, Normal and Power. Eco mode damps throttle response, so is best suited for relaxed cruising on urban roads. We drove mostly in Normal mode for its balance of performance and fuel efficiency. Shift to Power mode and the gauge cluster replaces the charge status meter with an electronic tachometer. Although we used Power mode occasionally, the chilly winter weather limited testing in the damp and snowy driving conditions. In Manual mode, the CVT simulates a 6-speed automatic, shifted via the steering wheel paddles or console shift lever. Switching to Sport mode alters the transmission programming to hold a constant RPM at full throttle. We usually left the CVT in Normal mode as we saw minimal value in manual shifting.
Although the standard RX suspension is tuned for an absorbent ride, the F Sport suspension seems to have firmer spring and damper settings than the 2020 RX 350L we drove last year. Lexus refers to design updates in 2020 including larger diameter tubular stabilizer bars and revised damper settings to stiffen the suspension. Lexus also appears to have retuned the F Sport steering for greater feedback and higher effort. All these welcome changes don't transform the RX into a sport sedan, but they do translate into reduced body roll and understeer. Equipped with all-vented discs, the brakes provide excellent stopping power and progressive pedal actuation; the transition from friction to regenerative braking is seamless. Living up to the Lexus reputation, the RX is exceptionally quiet: at 80 MPH highway cruising, wind and tire noise are subdued. The dynamic enhancements to the suspension also improve tracking on the highway, as the RX is less affected by crosswinds than we expected. Driving on light snow in subfreezing temperatures, the Michelins did not have much grip, especially when braking below 20 MPH. Most all-season tires typically lack adequate traction in these conditions, so the Michelins performed like other brands.
Lexus recognized that to widen its prospective customer base, a sportier RX was needed. Combining the F Sport package with a hybrid powertrain seems unintuitive, but Lexus product planners must have discovered an unmet need. The F Sport Hybrid only commands a $1,300 premium over the standard F Sport, so this is a rare case when opting for the Hybrid might actually make financial sense, especially if most of your driving is on city streets and in mild climates.