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First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

When the Lexus RX was introduced for the 1998 model year, there was nothing like it on American roads. This was the first luxury crossover, and more proof that the Japanese luxury upstart was a force to be reckoned with. While rivals like BMW and Mercedes-Benz followed into the segment quickly, today, Lexus accounts for nearly a fifth of luxury crossover sales.  

The RX also happens to be the best-selling vehicle in the Lexus lineup, which means a new version is a huge deal. So late last month, I drove a Toyota Corolla Apex up into the winding roads of Santa Barbara, California, to experience the fifth-generation RX for myself.   

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2023 Lexus RX Design

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

The 2023 RX is built on Lexus' GA-K platform, which it shares with the NX compact crossover.  Dimension-wise, the track of the new model is wider, and while the overall length is the same, the slightly longer wheelbase means there's more cabin and cargo space. The hood is also lower than the previous generation's, and the A-pillar has a more pronounced slope, so drivers can expect better visibility. Impressively, in an era when cars only seem to get heavier, the 2023 RX will be 198 pounds lighter than the outgoing model.  

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

When it comes to the sheet metal, there's no mistaking the new RX for anything but a Lexus. As with siblings like the IS and LX, the front fascia is dominated by the company's signature spindle grille. But the designers have taken it in a new direction here. Because instead of there being a clear delineation between the mesh pattern of the grill and the bodywork, that pattern extends into the area beneath the hood. It's the physical equivalent of a musical fade out, and it's the kind of trick touch I'm more accustomed to seeing on a concept car than a production model. 

Out back, there's a slick wraparound taillight which flows from the rear fenders and at the center. Like all new Lexus models, there's no Lexus emblem at the back. The brand name is now spelled out, and it makes for a subtle, classy change. Depending on trim level, the new RX will ride on either 19 or 20-inch wheels.  

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2023 Lexus RX Powertrains

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

At launch, there will be three distinct RX variants. The first is the RX 350, which will be available in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive. This model will be powered by a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder which produces 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. Power will get to the ground via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive models will go from zero-to-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, while all-wheel drive versions will make the trip in 7.2 seconds. Front-wheel drive models are EPA rated at 22 mpg city and 25 highway.  

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

Next up the ladder is the all-wheel drive RX 350h, which features a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter hybrid electric powertrain mated to a CVT transmission. At 246 horsepower and 233 lb-feet of torque, it's less powerful than the standard RX 350, but according to Lexus, it's one tenth of a second faster to 60 mph. With EPA ratings of 37 city and 36 highway, it's also the most thrifty of the RX line at the pump.   

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

The range-topping model will be the RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD, and it's the hot rod of the bunch. Along with the turbocharged 2.4-liter I4 and six-speed automatic transmission, it's packing an 80kW electric motor at the rear axle. That addition ups total system output to 366 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, which is good enough to make the sprint from zero-to-60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Despite the powertrain's performance focus, the RX 500h still returns a respectable 27 mpg city and 27 highway. 

While it won't be available at launch, a plug-in hybrid model is also on the way. This will be known as the RX 450h+, and feature full-time all-wheel drive. At press time, Lexus had not released power or economy features. 

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2023 Lexus RX Technology

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

That said, many buyers will be more concerned with the technology and features than the running gear, and Lexus hit it out of the park with the new RX. Now, on some Lexus models I've driven in recent years, the infotainment system was an Achilles' heel. The brand was slow to add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and earlier setups used an awkward mouse pad to navigate the menus. That's all changed now. 

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

The new OS was designed in the United States, specifically for the domestic market, and it's fantastic. The standard system is 9.8 inches, and a 14-inch version is optional. There are knobs to control both volume and climate settings, and while the controls for the heated and cooled seats are controlled by the touch screen, the placement makes them easy to locate at all times.

Additionally, the new Intelligent Assistant, which is activated by saying "hey Lexus," makes operations like changing the radio station, entering an address, or adjusting the climate control a snap. During my time behind the wheel, I used the Intelligent assistant extensively, and found it to be up there with the best in the business.

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

There's a host of other great tech available on the 2023 RX as well. The Digital Key function allows drivers to use their smartphone as a key, the Remote Connect can unlock the doors, start the engine, and adjust the climate controls, so the vehicle is primed and ready as soon as you enter the cabin. As an avid cyclist, I also appreciated the new Digital Latch With Safe Exit Assist, which used the RX's bevy of sensors to detect if a cyclist (or vehicle) is approaching from behind, and prevents the door from opening so anyone exiting the cabin doesn't get struck. 

The RX is also available with other cutting edge tech including Advanced Park, which can automatically park and unpark the vehicle is both perpendicular and parallel spots, and Traffic Jam Assist, a hand-free driving aid that will steer, brake, and accelerate the vehicle in stop-and-go situations up to 25 mph. Given that there wasn't any traffic around during my time with the RX, I didn't get to play with this feature. But for those who encounter gridlock on their commutes, it sounds like a must have. 

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

All versions of the new Lexus RX come standard with Lexus Safety System Plus 3.0, a robust list of active safety technology. Along with features like Lane Tracing Assist, Lane Departure Alert, and Adaptive Cruise Control, there's also a Pre-Collision System, which can detect objects in front of the vehicle, prep the brakes for a sudden stop, and even fully stop the vehicle. 

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2023 Lexus RX on the Road 

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

There's no two ways about it: The roads of Santa Barbara are magnificent. This is California wine country, and the ribbons of blacktop feature rolling elevation changes, some occasional straights, and plenty of twisty stretches. As you might expect, regardless of trim, the cabin of the RX is appointed with upscale materials and exhibits beautiful build quality. That said, the three powertrains I drove all exhibited distinctly different dynamics.

In base RX trim, I found the power to be adequate, and the eight-speed automatic proved a good fit for the turbocharged 2.4-liter. There wasn't loads of feedback through the wheel, but had  a pleasant directness, and in any of the drive modes (from Eco to Sport) the suspension kept its composure both in sweeping high-speed bends and rougher sections of blacktop. Brake pedal feel was solid and progressive, with a good initial bite. 

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

During my afternoon of driving the most surprising thing I found was that the RX 350h felt slower than the gas version. There wasn't that initial shove you expect from an electrified powertrain, and while it was hardly unwieldy in corners, it did feel noticeably heavier. Now, it's important to note that the RX isn't a vehicle enthusiasts buy for bare-knuckle driving thrills, and the target demo is likely going to be thrilled with its fuel-sipping nature.   

First Drive: The All-New 2023 Lexus RX

Another surprise was just how different the driving experience between the lower trims and the RX 500h F Sport was. Because in the past, the F Sport badge meant a stiffer suspension and racy trim bit, but didn't indicate more power.

But the extra grunt, along with trick tech like the adaptive suspension and rear-wheel steering, totally transforms the new RX. While it's not bonkers fast off the line, it's plenty quick, and the lack of body roll in corners was confidence inspiring. As someone who has long appreciated the practicality and comfort of the RX, it's cool to see it finally get a model with some proper performance chops. So I'm a little curious to see what percentage of buyers opt for the sporty version. 

Pricing for the new 2023 Lexus RX has yet to be announced. Production will begin next month, with inventory arriving at your Lexus-affiliated AutoNation dealer by the end of the year.

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John Coyle | September 9, 2022

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