Lexus RX Road Test

First Drive
2016 Redesigned Lexus RX
A makeover with a new look
Since 1997, the Lexus RX has set the tone for the luxury, midsized crossover category it pioneered. The RX has always delivered an appealing blend of refinement and practicality. It always stood out as a benchmark thanks to its supremely quiet, plush cabin with oodles of convenience features, along with a comfortable ride, smooth power delivery, and just the right amount of space for five people and their luggage. Throw in the famous Lexus reliability and customer service and it's easy to see why folks love it and why it Lexus's top selling model for years.

Instead of the RX's recognizable, sedate styling, the 2016 makeover may draw gasps instead. All angularity and sharp points, it could masquerade as an armored spacecraft, with a shockingly large and ferocious-looking grille. A blacked-out section of the rear roof pillars creates the similar "floating roof" illusion as the 2015 Nissan Murano, one of those coincidences that makes you wonder if half the world's car designers live in the same condo.

Power delivery from Toyota's nearly ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6, married here to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, comes on with creamy smoothness. And, this time around horsepower got nudged from last year's 270 to 295, and the resultant thrust is effortless. Fuel economy is estimated by the EPA to be 22 mpg overall and 30 mpg for the hybrid.

The ride remains very absorbent and plush whether you get the 18-inch tires or the optional 20-inch ones. But unlike what the newfangled styling may suggest, the RX is not sporty to drive. Body lean develops early and the steering is rather vague. An F-Sport version is available but other than making the ride stiffer and throwing in more bolstered seats, it's a lip service in an attempt to silence Lexus critics.

As so often with a Lexus, the cabin remains very quiet when you're under way. The switchgear gives good tactile feedback, and matte-finish plastic trim has a quality feel.

Wide door openings and high seats allow for easy access front and rear. Multi-adjustable power seats and a power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel make it simple to find a good driving position. The all-electronic gauge cluster is easily legible, with a big round dial in the center combining a digital speedometer readout with an analog rev counter. The left portion of the instrument binnacle presents page after page of vehicle and trip-computer information, scrollable with steering-wheel buttons. Unfortunately, no phone contacts can be accessed that way.

Safety gear includes the now usual suite of modern marvels, including lane-departure and blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning with autonomous braking, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Poised atop the center dash is a prominent 12.3-inch display pod for the navigation, rear camera, and infotainment system. Several other luxury brands have also positioned that display as a free-standing upright pod, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but the RX's is huge, coming across as a flat-screen TV. Somehow, the screen defaults to the map view, rather than, say, the audio system settings-an odd quirk. A deep dive in the menu settings can alter that, though.

Infotainment system functions themselves are managed with a unified control knob, sort of a joystick with a padded hat, that resides on the center console within easy reach of the driver's right hand. It can take a bit of familiarization, because every slight nudge of that controller sends the screen cursor skittering all over the display. Once you get the hang of it, though, it's no harder than riding a unicycle.

As happens way too often with hip-as-can-be car design, the new RX has coupe-like styling with a steeply raked back window and body lines that rise to meet it at the rear quarter. That sleek, modern look brings two penalties: the driver's view to the right rear is impaired, and cargo space is compromised. Thankfully, the cargo floor behind the second row is very deep, so it shouldn't be a problem loading decent quantities of luggage. The cargo bay is also attractively finished, plushly carpeted, and has handy tie-downs at the corners and bag hooks above.
CR's Take
On the whole, the new RX makes a fine pleasure craft. We bought an RX350 for $51,630 and its hybrid sibling, the RX450h, for $57,565.

Time will tell if Lexus's gamble with wild styling will alienate its conservative customer base or bring new converts to the flock, but the RX's long history of quality, comfort, and reliability may prove to be an unbeatable ace in the hole.

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All cars come with basic warranty coverage, also known as a bumper-to-bumper warranty. This protects consumers against unexpected problems with non-wear items. Powertrain warranty protects against engine and transmission troubles. Rust through, or corrosion warranty, covers rust to non-damaged components. Roadside aid provides on-location assistance in case of a breakdown and may include limited towing services.

Extended warranties provide peace of mind. Owners of models known to have worse-than-average predicted reliability can mitigate risks with an extended warranty. Generally, we recommend buying a model with better-than-average reliability and skipping this expensive add on. If you do buy an extended warranty, it is key to read the small print to understand what is covered and where you can bring the car for repairs.

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