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2016 Lexus RX 350/450h — Looks great, drives even better

by Roy Choi | September 8, 2015September 8, 2015 12:00 pm PDT

The RX historically has been Lexus’ best selling automobile and with good reason. I’ve long described the RX as one of the most pleasant cars on the road to drive. It is hard to find a vehicle with as much comfort, versatility, and ease of drive than this series. It drives like a cloud. Though, for many drivers that driving ability puts the RX at a disadvantage. Lexus aims to change that perception with the launch of the 2016 RX. The new model is everything that the previous RX was and wasn’t. Meaning it improves on everything it has stood for while improving things it has fallen short on. It’s still is luxurious, a great value, and handles well, now the 2016 RX features more aggressive design, increased power and certainly a blast to drive.

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Design — The same but different, much different

Starting with design, the new RX receives the new, but familiar front fascia found on the newest lineup of Lexus cars. The more masculine grill gives the car a more aggressive look. Something Lexus openly admits previous RX designs have lacked. The intention was to expand the car’s marketability, as the previous RX’s designs tended to appeal to female drivers. Though from Lexus’ research it has found that males are more inclined to purchase the all new RX. I’m sure that the sales of the vehicle will obviously be the true test. Though, from my perspective, I do find this new RX more appealing than previous designs.

So how do you keep the most loyal customers in the industry happy while making the car appealing to new demographics? Tough challenge, one that obviously plagues all car companies not just Lexus. But for a model that leads the market in owner loyalty, that is a huge task. Partly, I think Lexus’ decision to refresh the RX last (or near last) in its design changes plays in to the strategy of the cars. Obviously the RC/RC F plays to a different audience than the more family friendly RX, but the design cues from that car, the NX, the IS, GS, and well pretty much any other Lexus has these design cues already in place for more than a year. Drivers should be less “shocked” by its design now, especially with the NX already sporting similar design cues. 

Exterior Dimensions:

  • Wheelbase 109.8 in.
  • Overall Length 192.5 in.
  • Overall Width 74.6 in.
  • Overall Height (unloaded) 67.7 in. (without roof rack)
  • Tread Width — Front 64.4 in. — Rear 64.0 in.
  • Ground Clearance 8.2 in.
  • Approach Angle 17.0 deg.
  • Departure Angle 24.9 deg.
  • Breakover Angle 16.8 deg.

That being said, Lexus towed the line here of making the designs fresh while sticking to what has worked for it. A tough challenge, how do you make something new without changing everything that customers love? A challenge that Chief Engineer Takayuki Katsude takes to heart, who was also responsible for the previous generation RX. A humbling experience as he likes to describe it, to hear what people hated about the previous generation car, and to make it better while still being familiar to buyers.

The exterior receives all the familiar pieces of Lexus LED headlights, featuring arrowhead designs, the “L” shaped lights front and back. The overall look of the exterior should be familiar with most drivers, though one big change is the focus on sharp, heavy lines, something that is not what Lexus has been known for. This shift is deliberate and obvious. It starts with the grill, where you’ll notice a sharper focal point than in the past, and the lines become bolder and wider as it goes further down the side of the car. And that floating pillar that Lexus has opted for. All these changes make for a more aggressive and sleeker design while growing: 4.7-inches longer wheelbase and .4 inches wider than the previous model. The new 20-inch optional wheels are definitely head turners and Lexus has added a bunch more color wheel options this time around. Though one of my favorite features is the new Jedi-like powers you gain when you go to open the trunk, which allow you to wave your hands (or elbows) behind the Lexus ” L” emblem to pop it open. 

Interior Dimensions:

  • Seating Capacity 5
  • Headroom:
    — Front (with moonroof) 39.4 in.
    — Rear 39.1 in. (38.2 450h)
  • Legroom — Front 44.1 in. — Rear 38.0 in.
  • Shoulder Room — Front 57.8.in. — Rear 57.6 in.
  • Hip Room:
    — Front 56.6 in.
    — Rear 56.1 in. (56.0 450h)
  • Total Interior Volume 139.7 cu. ft.
  • Cargo Volume
    — Cargo area 18.4 cu. ft. (18.0 cu. ft 450h)
    — Rear seats folded down 56.3 cu. ft. (55.9 cu. ft. 450h)

The interior is more luxurious than ever and has the option of a beautiful 12-inch (standard 8-inch) display. All the modern, luxurious features you would expect (lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, heads-up display) are available. I will say though the new technology is as good if not better than any I’ve had the pleasure of using. The interior feels great, clean, and all around roomy, especially for your everyday driver. Passengers will notice the car feels much larger inside, that isn’t just because the car is larger than previously, but also additional engineering advances have lead to better use of materials and design. There is additional legroom, hip room, shoulder room in every aspect of the car. Some European Luxury carmakers neglect the fact that the SUVs probably are built for more than just the driver, neglecting rear legroom and headroom all in the name of “design” and driver comfort. It is an SUV for goodness sakes!

Albeit minus a third a row the interior has everything you could want, but then again that is an entirely different category of car. Maybe Lexus adds that as a possible option down the road but for now it isn’t. Lexus has that in the GX and LX if that is what you truly desire. 

Under the Hood

The new RX is available in two primary trims, the RX 350 and the RX 450h, the latter being the hybrid variant. While both perform remarkably well the RX 450h has a bit more pep due to Lexus’s hybrid output.

The RX350 is by no means a slouch with its 3.5 liter, 295 hp V6 engine, but with the RX 450h’s increased performance and its fuel economy, the 450h stands above as my favorite.

Our drive included a leisurely route outside of Portland and a more rigorous uphill challenge around some pretty tight curves that certainly gave us an idea of what the new RX can handle. At no point through the drive did I ever feel the car was being pushed to its max. It handled every hill and curve with ease and it was absolutely a blast to drive.

On the hilly course I took the RX 350 AWD model for a spin and it performed great, and with Lexus’ dynamic torque control technology, the RX will convert the car back and forth between AWD and FWD to keep fuel economy in check. Why pay for loss economy by driving in AWD all the time?

With the upgraded engine power and torque, you definitely feel the power in the car. Mind you the RX was never a slouch in the performance category. It always drove nicely. Though the new RX brings in to mind a much more sporty experience. More pep if you will, partly from the increased power, and additionally from the tuning the engineers have focused on in this round. The knocks of RX driving “too smoothly” and “not fun” are nonexistent in this iteration. I always find it hilarious when drivers describe a car’s driving capability as too smooth. But I get it. sometimes you just want to hear and feel the revving of an engine and feel more in tuned with the road. The RX gives you a nice balance of both, add in the simulated engine noise and you’re set on the fun “noise” part of the drive.

Speaking of noise, Lexus put in a lot of R&D on the body and suspension of the new RX to increase rigidity and minimizing engine noise. In the end you get the new RX, a car that drives smoother (less vibration and harshness) yet sportier.

From top to bottom, side to side, this car is set for everything.

RX 350

  • 0-60 mph Acceleration (mfg. results) 7.9 sec. (AWD) 7.7 sec. (FWD)
  • Top Track Speed 124 mph — electronically limited
  • Est. Fuel Economy* 19/26/22 (AWD) 20/28/23 (FWD)
  • V6, aluminum block and heads
  • 3.5 liter
  • Compression Ratio 11.8:1
  • Horsepower 295 hp @ 6,300 rpm
  • Torque 267 lb.-ft. @ 4,700 rpm
  • Maximum Engine Speed (redline) 6,300 rpm

RX 450h

  • 0-60 mph Acceleration (mfg. results) FWD — 7.7 seconds AWD — 7.9 seconds
  • Top Track Speed 112 mph — electronically limited
  • Est. Fuel Economy* FWD — 31/30/30 AWD — 30/28/30
  • V6, aluminum block and heads 2GR-FXS
  • 3.5 liter
  • Compression Ratio 13.0:1
  • 259 hp @ 6,000 rpm (not including hybrid drive)
  • 247 lb.-ft. @ 4,800 rpm (not including hybrid drive)
  • 6,200 rpm
  • Port Fuel Injection (EFI, D-4S)

ELECTRIC MOTORS (AC 650V)

  • Drives front wheels, regenerative braking Permanent magnet motor
    — 165 hp (123 kW)
  • Drives rear wheels, regenerative braking Permanent magnet motor
    — 67 hp (50 kW)
  • Sealed Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH): 288V 37 kW

At the end of the day the RX is without a doubt a complete vehicle. The new sporty suspension, increased power and bolder design cues just makes the new RX a more refined car than its predecessor. From top to bottom, side to side, this car is set for everything. It has comfort, cargo capacity, luxury and driving ability down and all still while being a great value.


Roy Choi

Roy Choi is a Southern California native. He has been infatuated with technology reviews ever since he bought his first crummy laptop in the summer...

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