The new 2016 Lexus RX is edgier and more focused than before—more of a style-conscious statement of indulgence—when your luxury car also has to be a very practical everyday driver.
The Lexus RX is the luxury brand’s best-selling model; and for 2016, it enters its fourth generation with more interior space, a more lavish look and feel, and a suite of new safety-tech features.
The look of the 2016 Lexus RX is described as bolder—a bit of a cliche in today’s automotive-design terms, perhaps. Yet here—especially considering the precedent of previous "jellybean" RX designs—it’s the most adventurous Lexus crossover design to date. Factor in the edgier F Sport versions that are now offered for both standard and hybrid versions of the RX, plus some noteworthy tech and performance upgrades, and it’s far more driver-centric yet still in check with all the comfort, quiet, and versatility than shoppers of this five-passenger luxury crossover expect.
The new RX starts with some familiar details, with an especially dramatic version of the spindle grille in front, with a so-called "triple-L" headlamps, LED fog lamps, and LED daytime running lamps. With its floating roof design that tapers near the back, teasing a C-pillar that isn’t quite continuous, some swoopy, flared rear fenders, and a relatively level, flowing beltline, coupe-like wouldn’t be an exaggeration based on what we see there, and the Nissan Murano might have a rival with nearly the head-turning design.
More than any other design from recent years—excluding sports cars and exotics—this is a design that really plays with surfacing, and based on the responses to the RX we’ve seen so far, you’re either happy that Lexus has made a brave move and gone bold, or you’re left wondering
That said, the 2016 RX doesn’t sacrifice interior space or versatility for its racier form. It’s actually nearly 5 inches longer, with about a 2-inch longer wheelbase, than its predecessor. It remains a five-passenger model, with two rows of seating, and width and height are essentially unchanged. The layout in front has been reconfigured for an airier, more open feel, with the shifter moved away from the instrument-panel area, a streamlined series of controls, and a new head-up display. Atop the center stack there’s now an available 12.3-inch infotainment screen with full-size map. The driving position has been lowered slightly, while the rear seat can be split 60/40 and is now power-folding.
There’s also a new rear-seat entertainment system available, with 11.6-inch screens at the back of the front headrests, and a huge panorama moonroof for skylight above front and rear passengers.
There are again two primary models of the RX. The RX 350—all versions now, not just the F Sport—is powered by a 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter direct-injection V-6, with a new 8-speed automatic transmission for all models. RX 450h models include a special Atkinson-cycle version of the V-6 tuned for reduced emissions and better fuel economy, but with an electric motor-generator system—a version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. The hybrid RX makes 308 hp altogether. The F Sport is all-wheel-drive-only, but for the first time it’s offered on 450h models in addition to the RX 350.
The RX rides on MacPherson struts in front and a double-wishbone setup in back, and it’s been tuned for better responsiveness—though at no reduction in ride comfort. The Adaptive Variable Suspension system that’s newly offered on the RX will adapt both damper firmness and steering behavior for better responsiveness or improved comfort. And the RX now runs on special tires that have a so-called EverGrip technology that doesn’t lose grip as the tread wears. The emphasis—as it has always been for the RX—is toward performance on the road, not at all off-road.
The AVS system is standard on F Sport models, which get a special Sport S+ mode with more aggressive settings. Otherwise the F Sport gets a special mesh grille design (as opposed to horizontal slats on standard models), new graphite-finish 20-inch wheels, a sport steering wheel with perforated leather trim, and steering-wheel paddle-shifters, plus an F Sport instrument cluster with a multi-function TFT display.
Trims and materials in the RX family are especially inviting and warmer-looking than what you see, for the most part, in German alternatives. But technology, and safety tech, are an important part of this model’s appeal. The available head-up display is now colorful and larger, while Mark Levinson surround sound, a rear HDMI entertainment system, and a whole suite of available active-safety features—called the Lexus Safety System+—can help keep accidents from happening, or reduce their severity.
The car takes a big step forward in technology too. Through the Navigation Package you get an expanded app suite with which you can also take advantage of Bing search; Pandora, iHeart Radio, or Pandora streaming audio; or Yelp, among others. We still aren’t in love with Remote Touch controller, but Lexus has improved the RX’s voice controls. The Lexus telematics suite and apps-based services—some of them subscription-based—has been expanded for 2016, with offerings now including automatic collision notification or stolen vehicle location, as well as new remote functions like remote start, locking and unlocking, and climate pre-conditioning (all through an app).
The RX 350 is rated at 20 mpg city, 28 highway, 23 combined with front-wheel drive, or 19/26/22 mpg with all-wheel drive, according to the EPA. Meanwhile, RX 450h hybrid models achieve 31/30/30 mpg with front-wheel drive or 30/28/30 mpg with all-wheel drive.