Lexus made a big call back in 1997. They took a large, raised wagon, usually deployed as a family conveyance, and added luxuries otherwise reserved for traditional high-end luxury sedans. They called the RX the world’s first Luxury SUV, and it was.
Now, five generations and 26 years later, competition in this segment is bountiful. To make things more interesting, this isn’t just a review either, it’s a week-long test drive with intent to purchase.
This is because this writer is a Lexus tragic, owning not one, but two vehicles from the Japanese car maker. One is a third generation RX 350 F Sport, while the other is a low mileage, mint condition IS-F. That’s not going anywhere, but the family SUV is.
It’s time for an upgrade, which brings us to the 2023 RX 350h (AWD) Luxury variant, fitted with the Enhancement Pack 1 add-on package – our test vehicle. First glances revealed a svelte, long and low profile compared to prior generations.
If not for the sloping tailgate, rear-quarter glass treatment and the front-end paying homage to the past, it really could have been any other Japanese or Korean model – and it hurts to say that. It is generally handsome though and possesses good road presence.
That said, this writer takes exception to the beluga-whale nose cone and odd grille treatment. It’s as if it’s trying too hard to be EV-chique, if there is such a thing, without needing to be. It does look better from some angles, but it remained a real issue.
The biggest departure from prior generations though seems to be a more prolonged bonnet line, which isn’t a bad thing, but it makes it look more like a wagon than an SUV. Grabbing at the door handle for the first time reveals the new e-Latch.
Where your hand lands inside the grab handle sits a rubber coated button, much like what you feel for with a tailgate release. It pops the door open, then the handle itself takes over; much of a muchness really. The same concept carries on inside.
Here one needs to push a small handle which pops the door, then a push opens it completely. We would’ve liked to see the door be able to “suck” itself in, as the number of times this functionality saw the door popped and not fully closed was frustrating.
If you’re like this writer, you’d immediately be thinking about a flat battery. If that were to happen you can pull the same handle twice to open it. Weird doors aside, sliding into the leather accented driver seat feels unmistakeably plush and distinctly Lexus.
The adjustment is good, especially with the upward movement of the leading edge of the seat – one that those with long femurs will appreciate. A little more lateral support would be welcomed, but this is acceptable for the base grade.
To be honest, if you can’t get comfortable as a driver in this cabin we’d be really surprised. When you look up from getting cosy, you’ll also be struck by the enormous multimedia touchscreen sitting atop the centre binnacle.
Measuring 14.0-inches wide, it truly takes pride of place in the centre of the cabin. The positioning and display are fantastic, and it couples with the best resolution from an automotive camera system we’ve seen in some time.
A sea of unfortunate, boring grey is broken up by lustrous piano black inserts and faux timber look accents that are complemented by lighting elements on the dash. It’s bland, and the low output of the ambient luminescence seems wasted.
That big screen we mentioned also means the touchpad controller is gone (finally), replaced by menu items in the infotainment and some key buttons throughout the cabin. One thing did bother us though, and that’s the fact the driving modes are screen accessed.
Features and customisation options were aplenty though, with an impressive-for-base-model 12-speaker Panasonic stereo and wireless Apple CarPlay. Rear seating was great, as expected. The seats are supportive, with plenty of leg, head and shoulder space.
Three adults could sit in the back if needed, and second row passengers also get two USB-C ports and a separate zone for aircon controls. Storage throughout is good too, with boot space with the second row up at 612-litres.
Touch a couple of buttons and the rear row folds down electrically, extending the cargo space to 1,678-litres. The removal of the spare tyre is a slight disappointment, but it means more under boot-floor storage space.
The optional Enhancement Pack adds a fantastically large sunroof, ventilated front seats with leather accents, and driver seat memory function. It also includes touch sensitive steering wheel controls, a head-up display and a wireless phone charger.
We would exclude the touch sensitive steering wheel buttons if we could though. When I finally figured out why the HUD was going crazy, I realised my preferred driving position, where my right hand sits on the spoke of the steering wheel, was triggering these buttons.
It’s a clever way to do things, but just became an annoyance. That aside, let’s talk about the way the new RX drives. One of the good things about the old RX 350 F Sport in the driveway is its velvety 2GR-FE 3.5l V6, backed with a 6-speed torque convertor gearbox.
The combination provides adequate poke and makes the right sounds when pushed. The chassis feels heavy but planted, aided by sportier tuned dampers specific to the F Sport. It will never be picked for a mountain blast, but is nice to steer.
The modern version feels a little like Lexus have used a ride-share drivetrain in a luxury focused vehicle. Sure, the 2023 RX 350h Luxury gets away and moves quickly, up to 80km/h anyway.
It deploys the electric motor on the rear axle, giving it AWD confidence with minimal fuss. But, the sound of the engine still clumsily enters the cabin. That’s made worse by the fact the CVT will hold it at its most disagreeable tone and decibel level possible.
Yes this type of transmission suits a purpose, but it’s not right in this car. Thankfully the higher grades have a traditional gearbox. But where it fell in drivetrain, it makes up for it in dynamism.
It feels much smaller than it is when driving it, and is well balanced with no obvious understeer if you don’t ask too much of it. The steering feel is great, and is supplemented with excellent turn-in response and bite.
It has a chassis that is willing to follow without getting to upset, and “fat” rubber helps with bumps and undulations. It never felt disturbed over Sydney’s horribly pock-marked roads, nor did it affect the serenity of the cabin (when the engine wasn’t being pushed obviously).
As a potential buyer, I was impressed with safety tech, including autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, emergency steering assist, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert.
There are some added extras though, including a driver monitor camera and safe exit assist. The former can be annoying, if you accidentally cover the camera, while the latter proves itself handy at school drop-off time.
With a heavily city biased driving schedule, we managed 6.4-litres/100km in terms of fuel economy, which is ultimately an admirable figure. It’s not bad for $108,055 drive away. While that’s a lot of money, the RX is a worthy competitor.
All of which begs the question as to whether this writer would buy the 2023 Lexus RX 350h Luxury. The answer is simple, no – not this particular variant. The RX 500 F Sport Performance, that’s a different story. I may even be able to ignore the beluga whale nose.
Our test vehicle was provided by Lexus Australia. To find out more about the 2023 Lexus RX 350h Luxury, visit your local Lexus dealer.