Review: 2023 Lexus RX 350h brings a fifth generation of hybrid luxury
Lexus completely redesigned the RX hybrid for 2023, marking the fifth generation for the luxury utility. Changes include a new powertrain, lots of convenience and driver assistance technologies, and (finally) new infotainment.
At a glance
- New powertrain drops the V6 for an inline-4
- Improved performance and efficiency
- Interior gets materials upgrades, but retains Lexus luxury
- Driver-assist and safety systems are less twitchy
- Infotainment finally leaves the old Atari-like interface behind
The RX is the most popular Lexus model sold in the US, so making changes to it is something that Toyota’s luxury brand has to be careful about. This fifth-generation of the RX hybrid blends the elements that have always made the RX popular amongst buyers with newer tech and design, for a better-looking, better-performing vehicle.
Style-wise, Lexus dropped the huge front maw of an intake that marked the RX before and went with a huge front end in its entirety instead. The flat face retains the trapezoidal half-hourglass the Lexus brand is noted for, but managed to make the RX hybrid look somehow sleeker and more outstanding than before ... without getting crazy with extra body lines or bulbous edges and lighting.
Instead, Lexus managed to fuse a quasi-futuristic design with the classic simplicity that marks most luxury models today. "Beautiful austerity" was a way I once heard this kind of theme described when referencing a similar luxury vehicle.
Big changes under the hood also happened for this new generation of the RX. Lexus dropped the six-cylinder engine that had been powering this hybrid model for the last several years in favor of a four-cylinder instead. The V6 was there before to lower production costs, as that engine was also found in the RX’s non-hybrid model as well.
In this generation, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine takes its place. The same engine, but with a turbocharger, is on the gasoline model of the RX 350, keeping those production overheads low. This non-turbo version in the RX 350h uses the electric motors as a boost instead. That means a reduction in power output from 275 horsepower (205 kW) to 246 (183.5 kW).
The hybrid takes a big hit in torque output as well, dropping from 317 pound-feet (430 Nm) to 233 lbs (316 Nm). The standard gasoline model’s eight-speed automatic is replaced with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the hybrid RX, but the hybrid model has all-wheel drive by default (thanks to an electric motor on the rear axle) while that’s an option with added mechanics for the gasoline-only version.
The point of a hybrid is fuel economy, though, and the 2023 RX 350h gains about 10 mpg on the highway over the standard RX. That’s 39 mpg (6.0 l/100km) versus 29 mpg (8.1 l/100km). A pretty good bump, all without hassling with or worrying about plugs or chargers. And, as with most Toyota-made hybrids, the Lexus RX 350h has better steering and ride balance than does its gas-only counterpart.
That isn’t to say that the RX 350h is sporty or fun. It’s a good drive, with simple dynamics and engagement. But it’s not sport-driven or punchy, just smooth and comfortable – which is what the Lexus lineup is mostly known for. Posh luxury with Lexus means a gliding ride and a plush interior.
On that front, the Lexus RX delivers the goods. Interior materials do see a few upgrades, with the faux leather feeling more authentic and the plastics looking a little more upscale than the already great stuff used before. Seating is typical of Lexus, with good bolsters and a solid but not hard base.
The back row of the 2023 RX 350h seats two passengers comfortably, with plenty of headroom and legroom. A third can be placed between, when needed, but that person won’t be as accommodated. Cargo space is good as well, with enough that most drivers will be unlikely to wish for more unless regular visits to big box stores for bulky items is a thing.
One huge improvement in this new-generation Lexus is the infotainment. Gone is the Atari-like horribleness of the clunky and nearly unusable "mouse pad" that was there before. Instead, that control is more smooth and usable. That said, it can be ignored because the newer, slightly taller screen is a touchscreen. All the time. And its interface is a more modern-looking, crisp display with better buttons and menu options. It’s still a bit behind what most other luxury automakers have on offer, but it’s a Godzilla-sized improvement over what Lexus was offering just last year.
Most of the driver assistance and advanced safety gear that’s become the norm for today’s models are found in this Lexus RX as well. The Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 setup has collision avoidance systems while driving, including lane departure warning and crash mitigation, and a lane-keeping system. Adaptive cruise control and automated headlights are also standard, as are blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alerts. Lexus’ well-done rear passenger safe-exit system, which locks the door if an oncoming vehicle is detected, is another technology that isn’t seen on most other luxury makes.
What’s more, though, Lexus has listened to our complaints about the touchiness and jumpiness of those crash mitigation systems, and has toned them down so they aren’t crying wolf on the regular. That makes driving less stressful. Another nice improvement to this new RX.
Overall, the 2023 RX 350h is a nicely-done, well-balanced small luxury crossover. Its pricing and accommodation are a good mixture, and keep it a top choice in the segment.
Pricing for the 2023 Lexus RX 350h starts at US$49,000, with destination. Most buyers can expect to be in the $56,000 range after adding amenities.
Product Page: 2023 Lexus RX 350h
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