The all-new Lexus RX marks a big step forward for one of the brand's most popular models, but is this entry-level model good enough to overcome its big price tag?

Lexus and its parent company Toyota have long been pioneers of hybrid technology, and the all-new 2023 RX is testament to that. One of the brand’s most important models globally since the first generation model’s debut in 1998, and its second best-seller in Australia last year behind the smaller NX, this fifth iteration model serves up an electrified drivetrain in its cheapest variant and a new turbocharged petrol engine in mid and top-spec models, with electric assistance also added to the latter.

It’s the entry-level RX 350h Luxury 2WD that we’re looking at here which kicks the range off from $87,500 before on-road costs. That’s not an especially entry-level price tag, but then being a Lexus, this isn’t your average entry-level car. It might ride on the same TNGA-K platform as the RAV4 – and its hybrid drivetrain is lifted straight from it – but in few ways does this simply feel like a fancy Toyota.

What stands out immediately is the new design language Lexus is rolling out across its lineup. At the front, the controversial ‘spindle grille’ has evolved into what Lexus is now calling the ‘spindle body’, with the chrome trim around the grille now removed so that it instead blends seamlessly into the front bumper of the RX, while its upticked lighting signature and large side intakes also add to the aggressive but modern look.

There’s also a full-width lightbar at the back along with Lexus’ name now spelt out on the rear rather than using its logo there as well, both design touches debuted on the NX. Mind you, even with the more modern touches, elements such as the design on the C-pillar and its overall proportions do give it that familiar RX look. Five-spoke 19-inch machine-finished alloy wheels come as standard on the entry-level variant, as does bi-LED headlights, front and rear fog lights, and rear privacy glass.

It’s on the inside where the updates are most noticeable, however, as the last-gen RX was definitely feeling its age thanks to the trackpad-controlled infotainment system, analogue dials, and even an analogue clock. Now, the RX adopts the same interior as the NX, with even this base model treated to a solid array of bells and whistles.

Most obvious is the new infotainment system which is presented on a 14-inch touchscreen and includes satellite navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, and digital radio. Compared to Lexus’ system of old, it’s brilliant, although it’s not quite as fast, slick, or intuitive as you’ll find in some European rivals. However, it looks the business on this massive screen. All models are now treated to a digital instrument cluster as standard, although it’s a slightly older and lower-grade design in the RX 350h.

You can, however, opt for an Enhancement Pack – priced at $5100 for this 2WD model or $5500 on the AWD variant – which adds a higher grade digital cluster along with a head-up display, smart key card entry, a wireless phone charger, panoramic sunroof, leather-accented upholstery, ventilated front seats, and a memory function for the driver’s seat. Mind you, it does also add silly touch-sensitive steering wheel controls which you have to operate through the HUD. If simplicity is your thing, the old-school buttons on the base RX’s steering wheel will be more your thing. The Enhancement Pack also fails to include a 360-degree camera which you’d expect at this price point.

Even without it, there’s still a lot of standard kit in the regular RX 350h, including 8-way power-adjustable heated front seats, a power-adjustable steering column, synthetic leather upholstery, interior illumination, auto-dimming rear view mirror, powered tailgate, driver monitoring system, and a 12-speaker Panasonic audio system. The standard upholstery also feels as supple and premium as you’d expect it to in a Lexus, with this cabin on the whole feeling well-made and high-quality throughout.

With this new interior comes a few quirks, however, such as the puzzling door handles. While the exterior handles look as though they would pull out like you’d expect, they’re actually decoys and simply have an electronic button release inside them. The interior handles are the most baffling ones, however, as they are tiny and only require a single finger to operate, and have to be pulled twice in order to release the door. The stubby little shifter is also a bit quirky, although to anyone familiar with hybrid Lexus or Toyota models over the past decade or so, it won’t be anything new.

Beyond that, the RX’s interior is very functional and in particular very roomy. There’s an acreage of legroom for both front and rear seat occupants, the storage cubby ahead of the shifter is cavernous thanks to the shifter itself being electronic, and the centre console can open to either the left or right for the convenience of both the driver and passenger. The boot is also massive with 612 litres of cargo space with the rear seats in place, and there’s a good array of five USB-C ports, one USB-A port, and one 12V socket throughout the cabin for keeping devices charged.

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Under the bonnet of the RX 350h 2WD tested here, you’ll find a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine paired with an electric motor to produce a maximum 184kW system output which is channeled to the front wheels through a CVT automatic with a six-speed manual mode. To break down that maximum power output which is calculated in a unique way given this is a hybrid, the petrol engine itself produces 140kW at 6000rpm and 239Nm from 4300-4500rpm, while the electric motor can add 134kW and 270Nm, although neither can produce those maximum outputs at the same time. For another $5100 you can add all-wheel drive with an additional 40kW/121Nm rear electric motor.

While these numbers all look pretty healthy, the RX 350h isn’t the punchiest car in the class. While low-end pickup is good as you would expect, the power does taper off at higher speeds. Being front-wheel drive, it can also feel a bit squirrelly when you do lay on the power with some detectable torque steer, while the light steering has clearly been tuned for smoother driving rather than for performance.

But then, performance driving clearly isn’t what this variety of RX is aimed at. Rather, this base variant is all about comfort and efficiency, and in that regard it delivers in spades. In traffic, this hybrid system is about as smooth as one could be with the change between petrol and electric power being utterly undetectable save for the faint hum of the four-pot. Combine that with the RX’s softly-damped suspension and quiet cabin and any peak hour road rage quickly fades away.

Ultimately, the way the RX 350h drives is a solid representation of Lexus’ original aims as a luxury brand. It screams luxury in a way most modern luxury SUVs don’t. There’s no shortage of gadgets which is usually what constitutes luxury these days, but in this instance it’s all about the vibe this car gives off from behind the wheel, and it’s one that’s utterly relaxed. That’s especially important as the last-gen RX’s ride felt a bit too firm which wasn’t quite so on-brand in my eyes.

Of course, all the modern tech means modern efficiency, and certainly the RX delivers in that regard. Lexus claims fuel consumption of 5.0L/100km for the RX 350h 2WD, and over the course of 317km I saw a 5.8L/100km return in mixed driving conditions which is an impressive return for a car this size. It’s also easily the most efficient model in the new lineup, even with the top-spec variant being a hybrid as well.

Speaking of, it’s worth noting that more pricey variants will add some of the power back in thanks to a new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine which serves as a replacement for the old 3.5-litre V6. In the RX 350 it operates by itself, while in the top-spec RX 500h it produces more torque and adds a pair of electric motors.

As with all other Lexus models, the 2023 RX 350h is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, with servicing capped at $695 for each of the first five visits which are required every 12 months/15,000km. You’ll also be afforded the benefits of a three-year Lexus Encore subscription which includes Caltex fuel discounts and invitations to VIP events and experiences.

For fans of a real luxury feel with no sporting pretensions or those looking for a fancy SUV that won’t hurt your hip pocket at the bowser, there’s an awful lot to like about the 2023 Lexus RX 350h. For long-time Lexus buyers, this is going to tick all the right boxes that draw such customers to the brand.

However, for the buyer less committed to any one brand, the RX hits a few stumbling blocks when you look around at the competition. I’m not sure anyone was really expecting it to stick it to the legacy luxury marques as the Audi Q5, BMW X5, and Mercedes-Benz GLE all sit in a distinctly higher price bracket. Compare it to other disruptor luxury offerings, though, such as the Volvo XC60 or Genesis GV70 and you’ll find better tech, styling that isn’t so Marmite, and a sportier drive that doesn’t compromise on luxury. Mind you, nothing in this segment comes close to the RX for fuel efficiency.

As a result, I’m not sure how many converts the RX will attract away from other brands, but for the Lexus loyalists, it’s well worth trading in your old one for.

2023 Lexus RX 350h Luxury 2WD List Price: $87,500
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Impressive fuel efficiency for the class, solid and premium build quality as you’d expect from a Lexus, cabin is roomy and has all the gadgets you need, plush ride quality
Cons: Feels a tad underpowered by class standards, doesn’t offer much in the way of driving feel, big price tag for what is the cheapest model, 360-degree camera unavailable on Luxury grade

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Lexus Australia for five days with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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