FIRST DRIVE: Canadian-made 2016 Lexus RX
The next generation of the mid-size luxury SUV that invented the categoryRichard Russell
Published: September 7, 2015, 8:00 PM
Updated: April 30, 2018, 3:37 PM
PORTLAND, OR – The 2016 Lexus RX has a big role to play, and a bold new look to help it out. The RX is the most popular vehicle in the extensive Lexus lineup and the best-selling vehicle in a category it arguably invented almost two decades ago – the mid-size luxury SUV.
Built in Canada since 2003, the new fourth-generation RX will roll off the Cambridge, Ontario assembly line and into Lexus stores in November, in RX350 and RX450h derivations, both available for the first time in F Sport trim.
When the new RX arrives this fall, it will wear a prominent proboscis that is the largest interpretation yet of the brand’s “spindle” grille. Love it or hate it, there is no mistaking the new RX for anything but a Lexus.
Not only does the giant grille stand out in a sea of sameness, the rest of the new and larger RX is more chiseled with sharp edges and creases, from the L-shaped LED headlights to the tailgate, which is shaped in the same spindle theme.
LED headlights are offered on all models: Bi-LED or triple beam LED depending on trim levels. Eighteen individual LEDs, shaped like an L around the headlights, serve as daytime running lights and illuminate sequentially when used as turn signals.
Staying with the lighting theme, the new RX has ambient lighting on the inside door panels and on the outside handles as well. There is no obvious key slot on the handles; it is hidden behind the handle on the driver’s side.
New shared platform
The 2016 RX350 rides on a new platform, shared with the Toyota Highlander. It is 120 mm longer overall than the outgoing model with an additional 50 mm between the front and rear wheels. Lexus avoided the temptation to use that extra space to squeeze in a third row of seats, instead making it available to second row occupants.
To make that second row even more inviting, the floor is lower than the outgoing model. The cargo area remains among the largest in the segment and an automatic tailgate is standard equipment. Available with a touchless opening feature – place your hand or elbow close to the big Lexus logo and the door will swing open by itself.
Avant garde interior
The interior design is modern and almost avant garde. The instrument panel is driver-centric with different instrument layouts for the “normal” and F-Sport models.
The latter gets a single large analog gauge for engine speed with over-the-road speed displayed within it in digital format, and also on the large full-color Heads Up Display, if so equipped.
A 20-cm high definition display rests atop the centre portion of the instrument panel. Or you can opt for the largest colour display in the industry, a whopping 31-cm wide liquid crystal unit. Unlike some wimpy little screens that hardly have room for the pointer, this one lets you fit an entire province on the screen!
The console is very wide at the front tapering slightly toward the rear. It contains controls for the infotainment system, Drive Mode selection knob and the new electric parking brake as well as a pair of cupholders.
As has become expected from Lexus, fit and finish are impeccable and the quality of material is at the highest level. The top of the console features real wood, etched by lasers!
Extensive equipment list
The extensive standard equipment list includes Canadian-friendly items like a heated steering wheel and heated and ventilated front seats.
Audiophiles are treated to a 12-speaker system compete with sub-woofers in the front doors, wireless capability, automatic sound leveling and satellite radio. That’s the standard package. Your ears will enjoy the step up to the optional Mark Levinson system with crystal clear highs and deep, rich bass from 15 speakers.
Safety has become a Lexus hallmark and the new RX has all the latest available technology. A new Lexus Safety System includes a pre-collision system, lane departure warning, automatic high beams and dynamic cruise control. The system utilizes both a camera and millimeter-wave radar.
The drivetrains are essentially carried over, albeit with more power and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 3.5-litre DOHC V6 engine utilized throughout the Toyota/Lexus empire appears here as well. An all-new cylinder head with revised intake ports and reconfigured combustion chambers has bumped horsepower from 272 to 295 and torque from 248 lb-ft to 268. As always, the engine is silky smooth and all but silent – so much so that on hybrid F Sport models additional sound is created and pumped into the cockpit.
The hybrid’s combination of internal combustion engine and electric motor produces 308 horsepower, up from 295 last year. Neither the RX350 nor RX450h are hot rods off the line but the extra torque of the hybrid is noticeable.
The 2016 RX350 and 450h both come with an eight-speed automatic transmission and the latest generation of the company’s AWD system.
The Drive mode select system works through eco, normal and sport modes with a Sport position on F-Sport models. The system alters throttle response, shift points, steering and suspension. In Sport mode, the throttle was much too sensitive for my taste starting from rest on the pre-production prototypes tested here.
On the road
Eighteen-inch wheels are standard with 20-inchers available. In both cases the ride is compliant and there is little body lean in the corners, although understeer is prevalent when pushing this tall and heavy vehicle into turns.
The various Mode Select selections have a noticeable effect on steering effort and suspension stiffness, from too light and floaty to just right and perhaps for some, a little stiff. But, there is a choice for everyone.
On the road, there is a distinct difference between the RX350 and RX450h. The former is much quicker to react to steering inputs and feels lighter on its feet. The extra weight of the hybrid system made the 450h feel more cumbersome.
Both are exceptionally quiet thanks to the ultra-rigid new platform and extensive sound isolation.
Thoroughly re-engineered and redesigned, the 2016 Lexus RX manages to be updated while carrying forward all the features that make it Canada’s favorite mid-size luxury SUV.
Model; 2016 Lexus RX350 and 450H
Price: not available until closer to the on-sale date.
Engine: RX350 – 3.5-litre DOHC V-6, 292 horsepower, 265 lb-ft of torque; RX450h – 3.5-litre DOHC V-6, electric motor, 308-horsepower
Drivetrain: eight speed automatic, full-time AWD
Fuel Consumption (city/highway): 12.2 / 8.9 L/100 km(RX350)
Length: 4,890 mm
Width: 1,895 mm
Wheelbase: 2,790 mm
Weight: 2,020 kg
Competitors: Acura MDX, Audi Q7, Infiniti QX60, Mercedes-Benz GLE