2023 Lexus RX Review and Test Drive

Redesigned RX charged with maintaining success and attracting new customers to Lexus.

2023 Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance Copper Front QuarterChristian Wardlaw

Article QuickTakes:

What is the 2023 Lexus RX?

Lexus introduced the first-generation RX 300 25 years ago. A midsize, two-row, luxury crossover SUV sold elsewhere in the world as the Toyota Harrier, it combined the quality and durability of a Toyota with the refinement of a Lexus, all wrapped in an SUV package. Plus, it offered the ride, handling, performance, and efficiency of a conventional car rather than the truck-like driving dynamics of a traditional SUV. People dug it.

Now, the redesigned 2023 Lexus RX arrives to usher in the model's fifth generation. It remains a two-row, five-passenger crossover SUV, but there is far more riding on the model's success than when the first versions went on sale decades ago. Today, the RX is the best-selling vehicle in the Lexus lineup and the best-selling model in the luxury SUV segment (excluding electric vehicles). So the new Lexus RX must maintain those positions while attracting younger and more diverse customers who may be seeking something different than what the RX has traditionally offered.

What's New for the 2023 Lexus RX?

To help the 2023 RX to achieve its mission, Lexus has completely redesigned the SUV, moving the model to a new vehicle platform and architecture, equipping it with new drivetrains, and improving its infotainment system and safety features.

Compared to the outgoing model, the new RX is the same length but is wider, lower, and equipped with a longer wheelbase. Maximum cargo space improves, too, now measuring 46.2 cu-ft with the rear seat folded down. Lexus has canceled the seven-passenger RX L model, but a new three-row Lexus TX is rumored to be joining the lineup soon. That should go over exceptionally well in Texas.

The RX 350 ditches its former V6 engine for a standard turbocharged four-cylinder that offers less horsepower but more torque accessible at lower engine revs. The RX 350h is a gas-electric hybrid with standard all-wheel drive (AWD) and an estimated 36 mpg in combined driving. The RX 500h comes only with F Sport Performance trim and is a powerful gas-electric hybrid engineered for driving fun. Lexus also plans to offer an RX 450h+ plug-in hybrid model, which will arrive later in the model year.

New tech includes digital key technology through a smartphone app, Lexus Interface infotainment systems with a standard 9.8-inch and an available 14-inch touchscreen, and Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 with several new standard and available driving assistance systems.

2023 Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance Copper Side ViewChristian Wardlaw

2023 Lexus RX Trim Levels and Configurations

Here are the highlights from the standard equipment list.

Lexus RX — The base trim is available with the RX 350 and RX 350h. It equips the SUV with 19-inch alloy wheels, a power rear liftgate, digital door latches with a safe exit assist system, ambient interior lighting, and a triple-zone automatic climate control system. Comfort features include a power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel with paddle shifters, NuLuxe simulated leather upholstery, and power-adjustable heated front seats.

A 9.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system is standard, and it includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, integrated music streaming with Apple Music and Amazon Music, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a premium sound system with 12 speakers. Additionally, Lexus includes complimentary trial subscriptions to connected services, including Wi-Fi Connect, Safety Connect, Remote Connect, and Service Connect. You can also subscribe to Drive Connect, which equips the RX with cloud-based navigation and an Intelligent Assistant natural voice recognition system.

Safety features are bundled into the standard Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 (LSS+ 3.0). This package includes numerous driving assistance and collision avoidance systems while adding new items such as motorcycle detection, evasive steering assist, intersection traffic warning and turning assistance systems, and curve speed reduction when using the adaptive cruise control.

Lexus RX Premium — Upgrade to Premium trim for roof rails, a power sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, memory for the driver's settings, and a wireless charging pad. This trim also equips the RX with front and rear parking sensors, and an automatic rear braking system.

Lexus RX F Sport Handling — Lexus bases this sport-tuned model on the Premium trim. It includes F Sport exterior design, unique 21-inch wheels in a gloss black finish, upgraded brakes, and an adaptive damping suspension. Inside, the F Sport Handling model features aluminum interior trim, upgraded ambient lighting and climate control systems, sport-bolstered front seats, simulated suede door panel trim, and perforated leather on the steering wheel. This model also has unique F Sport instrumentation and a color head-up display (HUD).

Lexus RX Premium+ — With Premium+ trim, you get everything on the Premium plus a 14-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Drive Connect connected services. Drive Connect includes a complimentary three-year subscription to a cloud-based navigation system with Destination Assist technology and an Intelligent Assistant natural voice recognition system.

Additionally, the Premium+ includes upgraded ambient lighting and climate control systems, leather upholstery, and a wood-trimmed heated steering wheel.

Lexus RX Luxury — With Luxury trim, the new RX includes standard 21-inch alloy wheels, additional power adjustments for the front seats, premium semi-aniline leather upholstery, simulated suede interior door trim, and a color HUD.

Lexus RX F Sport Performance — This trim is standard and exclusively available on the RX 500h. It builds on F Sport Handling equipment with a powerful hybrid drivetrain and a more sophisticated Direct4 AWD system allowing up to 80% of power to flow to the rear wheels through an 80-kW electric motor. Lexus calls the RX 500h F Sport Performance "the quickest RX ever."

Additionally, this version is the only RX to offer Dynamic Rear Steering to enhance handling and maneuverability, and it comes with unique 21-inch wheels with a matte black finish. Exclusive styling details set this model apart, along with an Active Sound Control system that enhances the engine and exhaust note and seats wrapped in a mix of leather and simulated suede.

2023 Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance White Front Quarter LeftChristian Wardlaw

Lexus dared to be different with the previous-generation version of the RX. While its polarizing design and fussy technology caused a bit of a ruckus, it nevertheless remained the automaker's best-selling model and, for years, was the best-selling luxury vehicle in America. Thanks to those high sales, the fourth-generation RX is ubiquitous, and its wild styling is familiar instead of odd or unusual. Lexus also fixed the infotainment system that gave people fits, making the more recent examples of the SUV less frustrating to drive.

Time marches on, and now a redesigned fifth-generation Lexus RX attempts to avoid the critical stumbles made by its predecessor. Simultaneously, it must demonstrate enough of an upgrade in style, quality, performance, and technology to justify a price premium over the similar but smaller Lexus NX while leaving room for the automaker to add a new three-row 2024 Lexus TX that plugs a gaping hole in the company's model lineup. The mission demands a tightrope act the Lexus RX has never had to execute.

At the start of the model year, the 2023 RX is available as the RX 350 with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), the RX 350h with electronic AWD (E-Four), and the RX 500h with Direct4 AWD. Later in 2023, an RX 450h plug-in hybrid is planned for the lineup. Depending on the version, anywhere from one to five trim levels is available, and 2023 Lexus RX prices range from just under $50,000 to the mid-$60,000s, including the destination charge. Lexus builds the new RX in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, except for the RX 350 FWD with Premium or Premium Plus trim. Lexus assembles those versions in Kyushu, Japan.

So, who is the target market for the new RX? Lexus expects brand and RX loyalists to comprise a little more than 42% of buyers and expects another 43% of customers to be conquests from other brands and models. In addition, Lexus says RX buyers are highly educated, make more than $150,000 in annual household income, are new empty-nesters in their late 40s and early 50s, and are not "badge obsessed."

To assess the 2023 Lexus RX against these expectations, I test-drove the RX 350 Premium FWD, RX 350 F Sport Handling AWD, RX 350h Luxury, and RX 500h F Sport Performance on the same driving loop near Santa Maria, California. Each vehicle had various options, but prices were unavailable at testing time. Lexus provided the vehicles for this RX review and paid for lodging and meals during the evaluation period.

2023 Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance Copper Rear Quarter RightChristian Wardlaw

2023 Lexus RX Review: The Design

It's not as easy to immediately identify the new 2023 Lexus RX because the dramatic spindle grille that has characterized the company's products for years is better integrated with the upper part of the fascia and the hood. The blunt-nosed appearance remains an acquired taste, but objections should be easier to overcome with this redesign.

Viewed in profile, the RX has an upswept character line similar to a Lexus IS sedan, while the downswept rear roof pillar continues with a black panel like the one on the old RX. Around the back, a new light-blade taillight design and block lettering for the Lexus brand name give the RX a fresh look. Wheels range from 19 inches to 21 inches in diameter and come in various designs and finishes.

Inside, the new Lexus RX looks similar to the recently redesigned Lexus NX. Still, this larger SUV's available 14-inch touchscreen infotainment display seems the right size instead of oversized. Materials see improvement, too, with more soft-touch surfaces, numerous elegant details, and a variety of interior colors and trims, all adequately aligned with the RX's higher price. In addition, subtle ambient lighting adds an appropriately upscale look to the cabin.

2023 Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance Copper Interior Back SeatChristian Wardlaw

The overall design aims to minimize physical controls by housing them in the display, and the execution here is more sophisticated and refined than what you'll find in the smaller NX. Unfortunately, the RX carries over some of the frustrations associated with the NX's controls and doesn't have the driving mode knob you get in the NX. That omission makes it difficult to quickly switch from Eco or Normal into Sport or Custom mode when you hook a right onto a twisty road.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Automakers should provide well-marked and properly lit physical knobs, switches, and buttons for features that are commonly used while driving, and should never embed these things into a distracting screen that is safe to operate only when the vehicle is stopped or parked. Furthermore, these controls should have white markings on a matte-finish black background for easy legibility, and should be placed where they are easy to find, reference, and use.

Front seat comfort is excellent thanks to eight-way power adjustment (10-way in higher trims). Heated front seats and a power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel are standard, and you can get ventilated front seats, heated and ventilated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and two grades of genuine leather to replace the standard NuLuxe simulated leather.

The back seat is mounted high in the vehicle, providing outstanding leg support. There is plenty of legroom and foot room, too. Headroom might be tight for taller passengers, though, especially in models equipped with the somewhat underwhelming panoramic glass sunroof.

2023 Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance Copper Cargo SpaceChristian Wardlaw

Interior storage space is reasonably good, and Lexus promises that the new RX has more cargo space than the fourth-generation model. Unfortunately, the official measurements for the luggage room behind the back seat were unavailable as I wrote this review. Still, I think the target customers should find it roomy enough for a weeklong road trip. Fold the back seat down, and the new RX holds 46.2 cu-ft of cargo. That's better than what the old RX offered (32.6 cu-ft), but is still short of what you'll find in some competitors. Cargo space behind the new RX’s back seat amounts to 29.6 cu-ft

2023 Lexus RX Review: The Technology

The redesigned RX is the third vehicle to get Lexus Interface, an all-new infotainment system much more sophisticated than the automaker previously offered in this model. However, as I learned driving the smaller Lexus NX for a week, the critical thing to ensure the system's ease of use is to activate the complimentary three-year trial subscription to Drive Connect. Everything runs smoother when this connected services technology is ready to respond to voice commands and queries.

During this evaluation, Lexus Interface performed well but not flawlessly. For example, when asking for directions to Chipotle, the system directed me to Taco Bell. After requesting directions to the closest hospital, the system offered some medical facilities that were not hospitals. Otherwise, the technology accurately interpreted my commands and responded quickly with results.

Pairing to the system's Bluetooth was easy, and running the wireless Apple CarPlay proved unproblematic. In addition, the 21-speaker Mark Levinson high-end audio system in the test vehicles sounded good. Still, with all sound settings centered, the aural quality sometimes lacked depth and resonance, depending on the type of music I sampled.

Digital instrumentation is standard, offering several themes for data presentation. However, the display seems smaller and packed with more information than some rivals, making it harder to reference at a glance.

A color HUD is available, but it's hard to see on a bright, sunny day when you're wearing polarized sunglasses. Unfortunately, when you get the HUD, you also get dual-mode steering wheel controls that require the driver to reference the HUD to use them. As a result, I regularly looked down over the top of my prescription polarized sunglasses to correlate button functions with the active mode, which means I could neither see the road ahead nor was I focused on it.

Additional tech on the new RX includes a digital key, which transforms your smartphone into the RX's key for operating the locks and the engine start button. Digital Latch refers to the RX's electronic door latches, which include a Safe Exit Assist function to prevent anyone from stepping out of the SUV and into the line of traffic approaching from behind. A digital rearview mirror is also available, supplying a camera-based view of what's behind the RX on the rearview mirror glass.

2023 Lexus RX Steering Wheel ControlsChristian Wardlaw

If you struggle with parking, the new RX offers available features, including front and rear parking sensors, an automatic rear braking system, and Advanced Park. Advanced Park is a first for Lexus and provides autonomous parking as long as the driver remains in the driver's seat. I did not use Advanced Park, but I appreciated the surround-view camera system and parking sensors installed in the test vehicles.

Every 2023 RX has Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 (LSS+ 3.0), a robust collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). In addition to new intersection assistance features that warn about approaching cross-traffic and ensure safe turns, and steering assistance for when a driver takes sudden evasive action to avoid an object, LSS+ 3.0 comes with a Lexus-first Traffic Jam Assist system.

Traffic Jam Assist operates at lower speeds and combines adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability with lane-centering assist technology. In the Lexus, this system offers hands-free driving in low-speed traffic situations. However, you must pay attention for the system to work. The sophisticated driver monitoring system is constantly watching your eyes to ensure they're on the road and not your phone.

During the evaluation, LSS+ 3.0 worked as expected. Rarely did the lane-keeping systems emit false warnings or behave unbecomingly, but I assessed them in light traffic in a lightly populated region rather than on my usual testing loop in the suburbs, mountains, and coastal areas near Los Angeles.

The three most irritating issues related to the safety features were the audible warnings from the driver monitoring system (you can turn them off), the invisible notifications from the front cross-traffic alert (Intersection Assistance) tech, and the invisible adaptive cruise control functions. Why are they invisible? Because Lexus shows them on the HUD, which I couldn't see due to my polarized sunglasses.

The 2023 Lexus RX also comes with a technology called Proactive Driving Assist. Like many of the LSS+ 3.0 and other ADAS features, you can use the Lexus Interface display to access the menu that turns this on and off. I used it extensively, and the impressive tech reminds me of the one-pedal driving feature common in electric vehicles. When you release the accelerator pedal, such as when a car ahead of you is slowing down for a turn, Proactive Driving Assist can automatically brake the RX to maintain a safe following distance. In denser traffic, it can bring the RX nearly to a complete stop.

2023 Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance White Rear QuarterChristian Wardlaw

2023 Lexus RX Review: The Drive

During the testing day, I sampled four versions of the new RX. Each RX model I drove had 21-inch wheels and tires, and I evaluated them in their Normal driving mode. Every one of them demonstrated a unique driving character, so it matters which model you choose.

Driving the 2023 Lexus RX 350

The RX 350 comes with a turbocharged 2.4L four-cylinder engine making 275 hp at 6,000 rpm and 317 lb-ft of torque between 1,700 rpm and 3,600 rpm. It pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels, and AWD is optional. Lexus says the front driver scoots to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, while the RX 350 AWD gets to that speed in 7.2 seconds.

My RX 350 Premium test vehicle had front-wheel drive. Thanks to the torque down low, it felt spry and exhibited some minor torque steer, but the engine note is not as refined to the ear as the 3.5L V6 engine Lexus used in the previous-generation RX 350. Without an adaptive damping suspension, the RX 350 felt too soft and woozy on country roads, and I also thought there was too much wind and road noise making its way into the cabin. The steering was agreeable, though, and the brake pedal feel and response was excellent. My fuel economy result in this model was 22.5 mpg, coming up short of the 25 mpg estimate from Lexus.

Switching into the RX 350 F Sport Handling, the primary dynamic differences are an adaptive damping suspension, upgraded brakes, and sport-bolstered front seats. Based on the relatively short 20-mile driving loop, the F Sport Handling felt firmer in town and better controlled body motions on uneven pavement. The steering wheel is more pleasing to grip, too, and the seats are better at holding you in place when running the SUV through sets of S curves. However, had I elected to switch the RX 350 F Sport Handling into its Sport driving mode, I am confident it would have performed even better. Lexus says this model gets 24 mpg in combined driving, but my result was 21.8 mpg.

Driving the Lexus RX 350h

If fuel economy is essential to you, get the new Lexus RX 350h. It has a gas-electric hybrid powertrain and electronic AWD and should return 36 mpg, according to Lexus. I averaged 32 mpg while driving the RX 350h in Normal mode.

To create the RX 350h, Lexus pairs a 2.5L four-cylinder engine with electric motors and a battery pack that lives underneath the back seat. Together, these components produce a combined 246 hp at 6,000 rpm and a maximum of 233 lb-ft of torque between 4,300 rpm and 4,500 rpm. And yet, Lexus says the RX 350h should reach 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, on par with the more powerful RX 350 models.

What's the deal with that, you ask? The electric motors produce immediately available torque the moment you step on the accelerator pedal, and torque is what supplies the thrust you feel when you accelerate. As such, the RX hybrid is quick to launch and get up to speed.

Unfortunately, as engine revs climb, the 2.5L gas engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) can sound like they're straining. However, this dissatisfying aural accompaniment to the acceleration wasn't as loud or prolonged as I expected. Furthermore, the hybrid's regenerative braking system harms brake pedal feel and modulation, though it amounts to a minor annoyance more than anything.

On a positive note, the added weight of the battery pack and the electric motors, combined with the RX 350 h's unique suspension tuning, make the hybrid feel hunkered down to the road in a way that the RX 350 and RX 350 F Sport Handling don't. Of the trio of RX 350s, the hybrid with the optional 21-inch wheels was my favorite to drive on the winding back roads south of Santa Maria, California. Whether that would also prove true on my usual testing route is unclear. Just know that you can get the RX 350h and not feel like you're missing out on anything except more frequent stops at gas stations.

2023 Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance EngineChristian Wardlaw

Driving the Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance

Unsurprisingly, the RX 500h F Sport Performance was the most satisfying of this quartet of test vehicles, and not just because it was the fastest one in the group.

Like the RX 350 F Sport Handling model, the RX 500h has standard 21-inch wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport tires, and an adaptive damping suspension. However, Dynamic Rear Steering takes things to the next level, tightening the turning radius at lower speeds and adding stability at higher speeds. Additionally, an Active Sound Control system enhances the engine and exhaust note to elevate the model's performance feel.

The RX 500h F Sport Performance employs the same turbo 2.4L four-cylinder as the RX 350 but pairs it with an 80-kW electric motor, a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters that matches revs when downshifting, and a Direct4 AWD system that can put up to 80% of the drivetrain's power to the rear axle. Together, these components produce 366 hp at 6,000 rpm and 406 lb-ft of torque between 2,000 and 3,000 rpm. As a result, Lexus claims the RX 500h F Sport Performance zooms to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, making it the quickest RX in history.

I drove the RX 500h F Sport Performance on the same loop as the other versions of the RX, and it felt exceptionally buttoned down with a sense of solidity I didn't experience in the RX 350 models or the RX 350h.

In addition, I added a more challenging section of twisty country road to my route and engaged the SUV's Sport mode for this stretch of blacktop. While stickier tires, perhaps mounted to forged aluminum wheels, would have been nice to have, the fact is that the RX 500h F Sport Performance drives like no RX I've ever piloted. The only dissatisfaction here relates to the brake pedal response and feeling underfoot, which is a little heavy and grabby due to the regenerative braking system.

Also, I don't recommend driving the RX 500h too fast. I eked out 18.9 mpg, far less than the projected 27 mpg. But I sure did enjoy myself, and I don't recall ever saying that about a Lexus RX.

Is the 2023 Lexus RX a Good SUV?

Studies show that people typically don't buy vehicles unless they like the exterior styling. So if you like how the new Lexus RX looks, chances are excellent that you will like most other things about it. However, this is a tech-drenched vehicle. To prevent unnecessary frustration, you will want to understand what everything does, how to use it, and how to configure it to your preferences. Make sure to activate the connected services, too, as they contribute mightily to satisfaction with the new Lexus Interface infotainment system.

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Christian Wardlaw
My first word was “car.” That’s what I’m told, anyway. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with them. The design. The engineering. The performance. And the purpose. I’m a car enthusiast who loves to drive, but I’m also most interested in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that people actually buy. Anybody can tell you that a sports car is fast. What you need to know is whether or not you should buy that new SUV, and why. My life purpose is to help you make that decision.