The 2023 Lexus RX 350 has been totally redesigned, RX 350h is new.
Sporty new looks, good fuel economy, greatly improved infotainment system.
Fat front pillars reduce visibility, fussy steering wheel buttons, RX 350h not that exhilarating.
The 2023 Lexus RX ushers in an all-new generation of the wildly popular midsize crossover, and yet, the outgoing RX 350 and RX 450h are still selling extremely well, despite their age. Does that worry the brand at all, in the sense that it might be spoiling a winning recipe? Not at all.
Truthfully, these days, even a less-than-perfect product would sell, given extremely low dealer inventory caused by parts and labour shortages across the globe. Lexus’ biggest concern right now is likely figuring out how they’re going to build enough units to satisfy demand. And that demand may be higher, given the new RX boasts a bold new design, four powertrain choices instead of two, and technological updates as well, in order to keep on giving headaches to the Acura MDX, the Infiniti QX60, the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lincoln Nautilus, the Volvo XC90, the Genesis GV80 and the Cadillac XT5, but also the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and Audi Q7. By the way, the longer seven-passenger RX L has been dumped, as an all-new three-row crossover, possibly called the Lexus TX, is rumoured to be on its way.
We headed down to Santa Barbara, California to check out the new 2023 Lexus RX. It starts with a clean-sheet exterior design, boasting a hunkered-down profile, a larger rear track and a more prominent nose, under which the brand’s spindle grille has evolved more into a mesh-covered trapezoid. The rear pillar black trim, giving the impression of a floating roof, is reminiscent of the previous-gen RX, but overall, the new shape is rounder and definitely sportier. The crossover’s wheelbase has been stretched by 2.4 inches or 60 millimetres, while overall length and roofline height are exactly the same.
The 2023 Lexus RX’s cabin has been totally reworked as well, with a layout that’s less cluttered by buttons and switches, which obviously means some controls have been moved to the infotainment system screen. Said screen has a size of 9.8 or 14.0 inches in the RX 350 and RX 350h, depending on the chosen option package. Gone is the dreaded console-mounted touchpad, utterly distracting to use while driving, while the new on-screen interface is easier to manipulate than before.
As expected, interior fit and finish is beyond reproach, with even some more detail in the seat stitching, suede-like accenting surrounding the door-mounted speakers as well as padded surfaces here and there. We’re not big fans of the wood trim as its graining looks fake, but the textured aluminum-coloured trim is much better. The steering wheel gets perforated leather patches where are hands are supposed to be, a reminder that if we drive like a farmer with one hand grasping the top of the wheel, the driver distraction system’s camera will be blocked and the vehicle will keep emitting audible alerts. The fat front pillars reduce outward visibility, though, which is a shame.
The steering wheel also has two spoke-mounted touchpads with unmarked arrows, whose functionality varies according to the previously chosen digital driver instrument cluster menu. How do we figure out what the buttons do? Rest your thumb on one of the arrows without pressing on it, and read the indications on the head-up display. Clearly overkill, and although technophiles will find this feature neat, it’s unnecessarily complex.
The 2023 Lexus RX now features LSS 3.0 as standard, which is the brand’s latest and most comprehensive suite of active safety features. It integrated front lateral side radar to expand the pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist detection abilities, in addition to autonomous braking, adaptive cruise, adaptive high beams and lane keep assist systems. The RX also gets electric door latches as part of the new Safe Exit Assist system—blocking the opening of a door if a cyclist or another vehicle is quickly approaching.
On the powertrain front, the big news is that the 2023 Lexus RX no longer offers six-cylinder engines. The base RX 350 is equipped with a new turbocharged 2.4L inline-four that develops 275 horsepower as well as 317 pound-feet of torque between 1,700 and 3,600 rpm, matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard in the U.S., while AWD is optional, though standard in Canada. The outgoing RX 350’s 3.5L V6 developed 295 horsepower and 267 pound-feet, and although it was more powerful, its lower torque peak was achieved at 4,700 rpm. What this means is that the turbocharged four in the new RX 350 flexes its muscles at a lower rev range, meaning acceleration has improved slightly. It’s also a very refined four-cylinder engine, so most buyers trading in their old RX likely won’t miss the old six. According to Lexus, the 0-to-60 mph dash now takes 7.2 seconds with the all-wheel drivetrain, down from the previous gen’s 7.9-second standing.
What those buyers gain is lower fuel consumption. Lexus estimates that the RX 350 AWD will deliver city/highway/combined ratings of 21/28/24 mpg or 11.2/8.4/9.8 L/100 km, an improvement from the 2022 model’s 22 mpg or 10.8 L/100 km combined rating. Unfortunately, the old V6 could run on regular fuel while the turbo four requires premium, so the new RX ultimately won’t cost less at the pump. But at least its emissions are lower, if that’s any consolation.
Next up is the 2023 Lexus RX 350h, which relies on a naturally aspirated 2.5L four, two motor/generators, a rear-mounted electric motor and an electronically controlled, continuously variable automatic transmission, creating an all-wheel drivetrain and producing a combined 246 horsepower and 233 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy ratings are estimated at 37/34/36 mpg or 6.3/6.9/6.5 L/100 km, way better than the 2022 RX 450h’s 31/28/30 mpg or 7.5/8.4/7.9 L/100 km numbers. No rival can come close.
On the other hand, the old RX 450h served up 308 horsepower, and accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, according to Lexus. The new RX 350h is said to reach the same speed in 7.4 seconds, which sounds optimistic.
While the 2023 Lexus RX 350 felt energetic on the road, offering enough performance for drivers who are always in a hurry, the RX 350h wasn’t as lively. It’s fine for the daily drive, and fuel economy is stellar, but it’s the least satisfying powertrain among the four available in the new RX, and its four-cylinder engine moans under acceleration.
The RX 500h F SPORT Performance is the new range-topping variant, the sportiest of the bunch, which we’ve covered in a separate review. It’s no BMW M or Mercedes-AMG killer, but it gives the RX something it lacked throughout its four previous generations, and that’s character.
There’s also the new RX 450h+ that introduces a plug-in hybrid powertrain for the midsize luxury crossover, which we also covered in a separate story. Final specs aren’t yet available, but the RX 450h+ is more powerful than the RX 350h, thanks to a more muscular rear-mounted electric motor. It will also offer an EV-only driving range of approximately 38 miles or 62 kilometres, from what we saw in the vehicle when we drove it. The plug-in RX will arrive later in the model year.
The 2023 Lexus RX 350 and RX 350h are offered with a multitude of packages, with incremental levels of features, while the RX 350 can also be fitted with flashy F SPORT packages. Pricing is not yet available in either the U.S. or Canada, but should obviously start north of the 2022 model’s $47K USD or $60K CAN MSRPs.
The new RX has improved in many ways, and although there are still some ergonomic flaws to deal with, the redesigned infotainment system is a vast improvement. The crossover boasts a more striking design, a great level of comfort and a luxurious cabin, while boasting a little more character than before. Messing with a winning recipe can be risky, but Lexus seems to have succeeded in creating a tastier RX. In fact, the brand even expects to increase its sales by 20% in Canada, while the crossover will continue to be built.