Only a few things are certain in this world. Death, taxes, disappointing New York sports, and the Lexus RX outselling its competition. I’m not sure Lexus knew what it had on its hands when it made the first-generation RX but it’s been an absolute sales monster for over two decades and, after driving the new 2023 Lexus RX 350 F Sport, it isn’t hard to see why.
I must preface this by saying that I am most certainly not the RX’s target demographic. It’s too calm and relaxed for my tastes and it’s a bit too small for parents with kids that are still in car seats. If I were to choose an SUV, it’d certainly be something sportier, harder-edged, and more exciting than the RX. However, after spending a week with the RX 350, the most commonly bought model, I can’t see why the vast majority of premium buyers would buy anything else.
For 2023, the RX is new but when it comes to how it moves and feels, little has truly changed. Sure, it looks different, its interior is updated, it has a new engine, and its tech is far better than before. But its core ethos hasn’t changed one bit. And when you have a winning formula such as Lexus does with the RX, why would it?
2023 Lexus RX 350 Specs
For 2023, the Lexus RX enters its fifth generation and it’s a well-oiled machine at this point. Lexus knows exactly what its customers want and gives it to them. If you look at the new RX, you might mistake it for the old RX. Not because Lexus hasn’t changed its styling at all but because it has intentionally kept it familiar for its hundreds of thousands of repeat customers. That’s not to say this new car doesn’t have any meaningful improvements, though, because it does.
Let’s start with the familiar styling. The quickest of glances reveals its Lexus RX nature and that’s what customers like. But there’s one big elephant in the design room and it’s the front end. Lexus has long used massive spindle grilles for its luxury cars but its new grille design language—seen on both this new RX and the brand-new TX—is very different from what customers might be used to. Much of it is body colored and is part of one big front fascia, which looks odd and doesn’t seem right at first. Some will love it but some will find it strange. But the rest of the RX looks typically handsome. Nothing too stylish but nothing offensive, either.
Inside is where things get more interesting. Lexus has always made killer cabins, with gorgeous materials, bomb-proof build quality, and butt-cuddling seats that you can sit in for hours without fatigue. But Lexus has always lacked in the tech department. Its new touchscreen infotainment system, seen on most new Lexus models, is lightyears ahead of the old laptop-mousepad-style system. With the new touchscreen, I have absolutely zero complaints about the RX’s cabin. It isn’t the most thrilling thing to look at but everything you can touch feels great, the controls are in familiar spots, and—something Lexus low-key does better than most—it has a wonderful steering wheel. Perfect diameter, spot-on wheel thickness, and beautiful materials. The touch buttons are annoying, though, and my palms accidentally registered their inputs a few times during more spirited driving.
The performance car nerd in me wants to grunt at Lexus borrowing Toyota’s new 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, first introduced in the Highlander. It’s a direct carryover item, making 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, which does bother me a bit. Lexus should at least bump the power, so the more expensive car has a more expensive-feeling engine. But that’s just me (and every other car nerd). Most Lexus customers likely won’t mind. In fact, what’s the over/under on Lexus RX owners even knowing what engine they have in their car? 10%? It’s a fine engine that does the job, but I do wish it was more interesting.
Driving the Lexus RX 350 F Sport
If you’re hoping that the “F Sport” in this car’s name means this RX is more fun to drive than a normal one, you’ll be disappointed. On paper, it should be a touch spicier than a standard RX, what with its adaptive suspension and six-piston front brake calipers. On the road, though, the RX 350 F Sport feels … like a Lexus RX. It has well-weighted steering, though completely numb, that feels appropriate. Its brakes have good enough pedal feel, even if they’re a touch soft at the top. Its adaptive suspension is comfy in its comfort modes and ever-so-slightly sportier in its sporty modes. But it never feels like it wants to do anything interesting. It’s an isolating, relaxed experience, and that feels by design.
I do wish the engine was more refined, though. It has a gruff, less-than-premium feel that’s unbecoming of the Lexus badge. I know it’s the Highlander’s engine but Lexus should have added active engine mounts to make it feel less coarse. Aside from its lack of manners, the powertrain is potent enough and moves the RX along without issue. The eight-speed auto swaps gears quickly and smartly, without ever leaving you wanting for a shift. Lexus claims 7.2 seconds to 60 mph but it feels slightly quicker than that. Not that any RX owner will care.
The Highs and Lows
The Lexus RX is an incredibly well-rounded car, one that appeals to a vast group of customers, which is why it’s been selling so well for so long. As with most well-rounded cars, it’s hard to pick standout features—the jack-of-all-trades but master of none conundrum—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. For example, the materials, fit, and finish are outstanding and make the RX feel like an expensive, special car. Its seats are lovely and are up to the task of cushioning your backside for hours. And the 21-speaker Mark Levinson sound system is a treat. All of which add up to a car that’s incredibly pleasant to drive.
Again, being so well-rounded means that flaws are hard to find, which is no bad thing. But, as with its pros, there are of course a few cons. It’s too cramped inside, for one. With car seats in the backseat, front seat passengers lose a considerable amount of legroom. Its engine is also a snoozefest, though I’m not sure any customers will care. And the grille will certainly put people off, even though I am growing to like it. I’m inclined to say that it lacks character, because it does, but that would be missing the point. The RX isn’t supposed to have character, it’s just supposed to be nice, which it is.
Lexus RX 350 Features, Options, and Competition
Like most Lexus models, the RX comes pretty well-equipped from the factory. For $50,100 for the base model, the RX 350 comes with eight-way adjustable and heated front seats, 19-inch wheels, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a power tailgate, and the new 9.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. All of that is just icing on the very premium feeling cake that is the RX’s cabin.
It can always get more premium, though. Standard cars come with Lexus’ NuLuxe fake leather but real leather and nicer trim materials are available with higher models. Then, you also get the typical luxury car options, such as a panoramic sunroof, ventilated seats, and fancy tech like a head-up display.
The Lexus RX is actually a bit of an oddball when it comes to its competition, though, which might be why it’s been so successful. In terms of size, the Lexus RX competes with cars like the BMW X5, Audi Q7, and Mercedes GLE-Class, even if it undercuts them by a bit. That size/luxury combination must be the sweet spot that keeps RX customers coming back for more, year after year.
Since the Lexus RX now only comes with four-cylinder powertrains, it bests most of the luxury SUVs in its price point. Its 24 combined mpg is better than the six-cylinder BMW X5 and Acura MDX, while also beating out the four-cylinder Audi Q7. While 21 mpg city, 28 mph highway, and 24 mpg combined fuel economy isn’t amazing for a turbocharged four-cylinder, that’s the price you pay for having the RX’s hefty level of luxury. I consistently stayed in the low-20 mpg range during my mixed driving, which is slightly less than Lexus’ claimed combined figure, but I suspect that I drive a bit harder than the average RX customer.
Value and Verdict
I’m not really sure there’s a way to put an actual value grade on the 2023 Lexus RX. On paper, it isn’t the best value, considering you pay between $50,000-$60,000 for a four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive-based SUV with a Toyota Highlander’s engine. However, its combination of size, luxury, and technology seems to be such a sweet spot that countless customers are willing to pay its price every lease cycle. I hate the saying that things are only worth what people are willing to pay for them because you can objectively value things outside of their popularity. But customers love the RX so much, Lexus must be doing something right.
Lexus customers are going to line up to buy the new RX like Taylor Swift fans waiting for an autograph and it’s hard to blame them. The RX might be a snoozefest for car weirdos like you and I but it’s the perfect personal luxury SUV for the vast majority of SUV buyers and this new one should sell as well, if not better, than any other RX before it. If it ain’t broke…
Got tips? Send 'em to firstname.lastname@example.org