Lexus RX Hybrid

While it might carry the F Sport Performance badge, it hasn’t compromised on its opulence and comfort.

In the past, we likened the Lexus RX to a “bowl of vanilla ice cream with no sprinkles.” It seemed to embody the opposite of a sporty vehicle, tailored for leisurely drives to the golf course and local Publix by retirees in Boca Raton. So, the introduction of an F Sport variant raised eyebrows. Now, the 2023 Lexus RX Hybrid offers a flagship RX 500h F Sport Performance trim, armed with the most potent powertrain ever featured in the RX lineup since its US debut.

Under the hood, the RX 500h combines a familiar 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. This Hybrid Max configuration mirrors that of the Toyota Crown and Grand Highlander, but with a power boost achieved through premium fuel tuning. While we found this powertrain delightful in both Toyotas, its performance in the RX was even more captivating. Notably, the 500h F Sport Performance claims the title of the most expensive RX variant to date. It’s tailored for buyers who demand the finest of both worlds, refusing to compromise between performance and fuel efficiency. For those who can comfortably embrace the higher entry price, we believe this is the pinnacle of Lexus’s RX lineup, offering an exquisite blend of attributes.

Lexus RX Hybrid
Lexus RX Hybrid

Exterior: More Copper Cars, Please

Discussing the styling of the RX 500, we can’t overlook the impact of its color choice, named Copper Crest. This distinctive and daring hue made its debut on the 2023 RX and is set to join the 2024 LC lineup as well (depicted below). Its visual allure is undeniable. In direct sunlight, the paint exudes a rosy gold sheen, while on overcast days, it takes on a deeper tone. During our comprehensive week-long test, Copper Crest garnered substantial positive attention, leaving us eagerly anticipating its appearance on other Lexus models. For those inclined towards subtlety, the 500h offers a more restrained color palette, including white, grey, silver, and black.

It’s worth noting that Lexus might have erred by introducing the RX in white, which inadvertently emphasized the bulbous ‘forehead’ above the grille. As evidenced by Copper Crest, the grille’s aesthetics are far more pleasing when complemented by an actual color. The inclusion of 21-inch matte black wheels adds an element of performance credibility, marking a departure from previous RX iterations. For those interested, these wheels can be swapped for metallic grey ones at a reduced cost of $110. However, despite its designation as a “performance” model, the RX 500h doesn’t sport visible exhaust ports at the rear, which might be considered a minor letdown.

Interior: A Little Too Much Tech

The technology incorporated into the RX largely impresses, yet a few of Lexus’ decisions might risk distancing the brand’s loyal customer base. Even in the flagship 500h model, a standard 9.8-inch touchscreen takes center stage, while a larger 14-inch screen is available as an optional add-on priced at $1,105. Opting for the 14-inch screen alongside the 21-speaker Mark Levinson audio system costs $2,265, a choice that particularly merits consideration. This shared infotainment system is consistent with other Lexus offerings, boasting wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with commendable native voice control facilitated by the “Hey Lexus” wake-up command.

While Lexus has removed physical climate controls, it has thoughtfully allocated a dedicated portion of the touchscreen to these functions, ensuring swift and convenient access with minimal distraction. Regrettably, the same cannot be said for the unmarked buttons on the steering wheel. These four-way pads can be customized for various functions, but their activation is only visible on the gauges or the HUD (Head-Up Display) when a finger is placed on one. Our preference leans towards traditional buttons on the steering wheel, as these controls proved to be unnecessarily intricate.

It’s worth noting that the front seats feature more substantial bolstering than those found in other RX models, and potential buyers might consider a test sit before making a decision. Standard black seats adorn the 500h, offering a somewhat plain appearance. However, an enticing alternative exists in the form of Rioja Red leather seating, which complements the Dark Graphite Aluminum trim quite well.

Performance: Turbo + Hybrid = Speed

The RX 500h F Sport Performance merges a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generates 271 horsepower with an 80 kW eAxle at the rear. Coupled with an additional electric motor at the front, this combination yields a total output of 366 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, channeled through a six-speed automatic transmission to a Direct4 all-wheel-drive system. While often unmentioned by your Lexus dealer, it’s worth noting that the RX 500h can run on regular 87-octane gasoline, albeit with a slight power reduction to 362 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque.

As the most potent RX iteration to date, it also boasts impressive acceleration, clocking in at 5.9 seconds for the 0-60 mph sprint. This performance significantly outpaces the turbocharged non-hybrid RX 350 (7.2 seconds) and the efficient RX 350h (7.4 seconds).

In terms of fuel efficiency, the RX 500h F Sport Performance achieves a 27/28/27 mpg rating for city/highway/combined driving. While this is a substantial improvement over the gas-powered RX 350, it doesn’t quite match the remarkable figures of the RX 350h (37/34/36 mpg). Considering the considerable power output of the 500h F Sport Performance, achieving 27 mpg combined is indeed quite commendable. During our testing week, we found that the EPA rating accurately reflects real-world performance.

Driving Impressions: Soft Side Of Performance

Introducing only the second F Sport Performance model in the Lexus lineup after the V8-powered IS 500, it’s important to note that this iteration should not be confused with the F Sport Handling and Design packages available across the Lexus range. With the F Sport Performance designation, Lexus focuses on enhancing power while maintaining a balanced approach to other components, such as the suspension. While the RX 500h utilizes the Adaptive Variable Suspension with distinct tuning, the emphasis is on delivering a comfortable ride rather than optimizing for track performance. Although the vehicle still exhibits some pitching in corners, the overall driving experience is considerably more enjoyable compared to previous RX models. Notably, a weight reduction of 198 pounds compared to the outgoing RX, attributed to the new TNGA-K platform, contributes to this improved dynamic.

Moreover, the RX 500h benefits from rear-wheel steering, enhancing its agility without causing an overly sensitive feel at the limit. Standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires come with the RX 500h, yet our evaluation unit was equipped with Bridgestone all-season tires, which exhibited some squealing and grip loss at the edge of their limits. A revisit with the Michelin rubber could potentially yield more favorable results. Despite this, the six-piston front brakes felt more than capable of halting the RX 500h effectively.

The hybrid powertrain featured in this model has rapidly become a favorite among Lexus offerings. The transition between electric and gasoline power occurs seamlessly, as one would anticipate from a Lexus hybrid. What sets it apart is the inclusion of a geared transmission, eradicating the strained groaning sound typical of eCVT systems during spirited acceleration. While the six-speed transmission shifts imperceptibly under normal driving conditions, it delivers noticeable gear shifts when the throttle is applied forcefully. This unique combination marries the benefits of hybrid efficiency during urban driving with an exhilarating acceleration experience.

Practicality: A No Fuss SUV

The RX presents itself as a well-proportioned SUV, although the absence of a third row might nudge certain buyers towards the upcoming Lexus TX. To amplify the rear comfort, the option of heated and ventilated rear seats is available for a mere $680, ensuring that the rear quarters are on par with the luxury of the front. An added investment of $550 offers the luxury of power adjustments for the rear seats, along with a versatile 40-20-40 split configuration.

A simple button press swiftly folds down the rear seats, creating an expansive cargo space of 46 cubic feet. Should the need arise, another button elevates the seats, providing a still substantial 29.5 cubic feet of cargo room behind them. Rear passengers also benefit from the convenience of USB-C ports for fast-charging their devices, coupled with their own dedicated climate controls.

Pricing: Paying For The Best Of Both Worlds

A 2023 RX 350 or 350h can be acquired for approximately $50,000, but the 500h F Sport Performance commands a notable premium due to its fusion of power and fuel efficiency. The RX 500h initiates at $62,750, and it necessitates several key add-ons that are not included as standard, even on this top-tier trim. Our evaluation model arrived extensively equipped, featuring upgraded rear seats, an augmented infotainment screen with Mark Levinson audio, a rear kick sensor, a panoramic view monitor, panoramic glass roof, triple-beam LED headlights, a digital rearview mirror, and more. These additional features propelled the as-tested price to a substantial $70,650 (or $71,800 including destination charges).

Undeniably, this constitutes a significant investment for an RX, and we firmly believe that certain optional enhancements should be included as standard. Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that this version of the RX is undeniably the most captivating one we’ve encountered to date. While its fuel economy surpasses that of the gas-only RX 350, it boasts an impressive 91 horsepower advantage. Although it doesn’t match the efficiency of the RX 350h, it boasts a remarkable 120 horsepower superiority over that variant.

For those who find it challenging to rationalize the expenditure on the RX 500h, the 350h is an appealing alternative that delivers an impressive 36-mpg rating at the expense of some performance. However, if your budget permits, the RX 500h F Sport Performance elevates every aspect that has contributed to the RX’s status as a best-seller for Lexus, finally infusing it with a sense of enjoyment.

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