By Steve & Tamami Laser
It’s a weird feeling driving a new vehicle before it goes on sale. We just completed a seven-day test drive in the all-new 2016 Lexus RX 350 running around the streets of Los Angeles and Orange counties plus a quick road trip to San Diego.
We drove more than 300 miles in some of the busiest areas of Southern California – and we didn’t see another 2016 RX. Yet we have a hunch that we’re going to see lots of them very soon. Lexus has reimagined and re-engineered its best-seller and dressed it with newfound character in an effort to attract younger buyers.
Lexus let us borrow a 2016 RX 350 pre-production prototype about two months before it went on sale. We couldn’t have attracted more attention if we were driving a parade float down the street decked out with celebrities.
The bold design of the new RX really gets noticed. Judging by the stares and comments that we received from fellow motorists, strangers in parking lots, our neighbors, and owners of previous generation RX models, we can say without a doubt that Lexus has succeeded in the transformation to WOW!
Hop in and join us for a drive in the all-new 2016 Lexus RX as we talk about the changes to the best-selling Lexus.
The RX luxury crossover has been a tremendous success for Lexus. Since it was launched way back in 1998, more than two million have been sold. It helped form the segment and continues to outsell every other Lexus model in the U.S. Yet rather than resting on its laurels, when it came time to redesign the RX for 2016, the automaker decided to turn up the volume on the styling.
The new design can best be described as polarizing. The massive Lexus spindle grille really gets noticed. The majority of comments we received were positive. A woman in the parking lot of the San Diego Convention Center walked over to us and said, “OMG, is that the new RX?” When we replied that it was, she said, “Do you mind if I take a picture and post it on Facebook? My dad has an RX, and so does my aunt in Seattle. They have GOT to see this!”
Back on our home turf near Redondo Beach, we followed a car into a restaurant parking lot. The driver got out, turned around and said, “Hey bud, your truck looks like Darth Vader in my mirrors.” Then it dawned on us that Lexus has been down this road before. Not the path to a science fiction movie – but the trail of controversy.
We remember driving the first generation RX 300 (above) when it was introduced as a 1999 model. Its styling really stood out, yet it was a bit too radical for some folks in an era of boxy SUVs. However, it didn’t take long for the RX to catch on and the rest, as they say, is history.
The new 2016 lineup includes the RX 350 in regular and F Sport models, and the RX 450h Hybrid that also offers an F Sport version for the first time. Front-wheel drive is standard while every model can be fitted with all-wheel drive.
Our walkaround video offers a closer look at the outside, inside and under the hood of the new RX 350.
Up front, the new RX wears triple L-shape LED headlights. The optional headlights are accompanied by 18 individual LEDs that serve as turn signal indicators. Intelligent High Beam (IHB) is available as part of the Safety System + (plus).
L-shaped LED taillights flank the tailgate while wrapping around the rear fenders. The blacked-out C-pillars provide a floating-roof effect for the first time on a Lexus. While they were probably being designed simultaneously, it’s interesting to note that Nissan beat Lexus to the market with its own version of the floating roof on its Murano crossover.
The new RX shares some of its styling cues with the smaller Lexus NX that made its debut last year. However, parked side-by-side at Lexus Headquarters, we noticed that the RX’s spindle grille is definitely in the realm of super-size.
Our RX 350 tester was equipped with the standard 3.5-liter direct-injection V6 engine that delivered improved performance along with smooth operation in the Lexus tradition. Output is rated at 295 horsepower at 6,300 rpm with 267 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm. That’s a healthy increase from last year’s 270 hp and 248 lb.-ft.
To enhance breathing and fuel efficiency, the V6 uses a new cylinder head design with reshaped intake ports and combustion chambers plus D-4S direct fuel injection. Meanwhile, a new 8-speed automatic transmission replaces the previous 6-speed.
To maximize torque throughout the rev range, Variable Valve Timing with intelligence Wide (VVT-iW) is included on the intake side, while the exhaust side features VVT-i. Lexus says the inclusion of VVT-iW has enabled the adoption of the Atkinson cycle (usually used on hybrids) to further benefit fuel economy, without sacrificing engine start-up in extremely cold conditions and during Wide Open Throttle (WOT) driving.
For RX 350 models with all-wheel drive, Dynamic Torque Control is added which Lexus says processes information from a number of sensors, including wheel-speed sensors and steering angle sensors, and instantaneously routes engine power to the rear wheels to help maximize tractability on varying surfaces and road conditions.
The RX utilizes a front-strut and rear double-wishbone suspension system that has seen big improvements engineered to provide better steering response and ride comfort. We certainly agree. It’s a joy to drive like before yet we felt that the driver is better connected to the road than in the previous generation.
Like the exterior, the interior of the new RX has been thoroughly revamped. We really like the look and feel of the instruments and controls, the thick-rim steering wheel and the typically excellent Lexus attention to detail throughout the cabin.
It’s the little things that count. Lexus says its designers and engineers gave a great deal of consideration to the layout of the redesigned center console, leading to enhancements in the usability of the switches and the accessibility of cup holders and storage areas.
Available interior trims include the upscale sounding treatments of Matte Bamboo, Espresso Walnut, Matte Linear Dark Mocha Wood, Striated Black Trim or Gray Sapele Wood with aluminum. For the Striated Black Trim, a glossy black is used for the base, and a three-dimensional embossed pattern is then applied to create a neat looking design with a sense of depth.
All RX models seat five passengers as before. Yet Lexus says the new RX’s lowered rear floor section helps provide seating positions comparable to that of the rear-seat passengers in the flagship Lexus LS luxury sedan.
The new RX features enhanced rear cargo space. Lexus says it’s “larger than competing crossovers within the segment” providing space for big items including up to four large suitcases or multiple golf bags. New for this model year is the available Touch-Free Power Rear Door, a “Lexus first,” which allows users to open the tailgate by placing a hand near the Lexus emblem.
The RX offers optional eight-inch and 12.3-inch navigation systems. Lexus says the former has a high-definition Thin Film Transistor (TFT) liquid crystal display featuring a high level of contrasting clarity as well as minimal color variation when viewed at different angles from either the driver or the front passenger seat.
The 12.3-inch system in our tester was a joy to use. It features an Electro Multi Vision (EMV) display with a large high-definition TFT liquid crystal display, enhanced Lexus Multimedia with new graphics and the handy computer mouse-like Remote Touch Interface.
The standard RX audio system with the eight-inch display includes HD Radio™, Bluetooth® audio, voice recognition, micro SD card slot, an AUX jack, two USB ports and nine speakers.
The available 12-speaker Pioneer audio system in our tester delivered crisp, clear sound throughout the cabin via speakers along the sides of the instrument panel plus 20-cm subwoofers and new 18-cm woofers in the front doors.
Lexus says discerning audiophiles will enjoy the optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround System, with its advanced Clari-Fi™ compressed music restoration technology, Green Edge™ high-efficiency conversion technology and Unity™, which is said to bring the high-range and mid-range cone positions as close together as possible for a smooth connection between mid- and high-range sounds.
The standard RX Drive Mode Select system allows the driver to choose between different drive settings. The settings regulate items including the damping force of the suspension system, adjust engine output, re-map the throttle and modify other key parameters of the engine and chassis.
The available Lexus Safety System + is a package designed to help mitigate collisions across a wide range of vehicle speeds according to the automaker. It integrates several of Lexus’ existing active safety technologies including: the Pre-Collision System (PCS) with Pedestrian Detection that detects sudden stops initiated by the vehicle in front warning drivers of potential contact with obstacles ahead; Lane Departure Alert (LDA) with Steering Assist; Intelligent High Beam (IHB); and All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
While we thankfully didn’t have the chance to test it, Lexus says the Pre-Collision System warns the driver via an audible warning as well as a visual alert through the Multi-Information Display (MID) when it detects an imminent collision, and automatically applies the brakes to reduce impact force or avoid a collision altogether.
As we mentioned earlier, our tester was a prototype RX 350. It included all the standard features plus optional 20-inch wheels, intuitive parking assist and navigation with the 12.3-inch display. It didn’t have a sunroof, which we would want if we were considering a purchase.
After spending a week in the new RX 350, we can easily picture ourselves owning one. While Lexus has succeeded in dialing-up the styling to capture younger buyers, folks like us in the traditional RX demographic really like the new look too.
At press time, Lexus announced that prices for the 2016 RX 350 models start at $41,900 with front-drive, $43,300 with AWD, and $49,125 for the F Sport. RX 450h Hybrids are $52,235 with FWD, $53,635 with AWD and $57,045 for the F Sport. Individual options and package prices have not yet been announced.
RX 350 prototype press fleet vehicle provided by the Lexus Division of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (Prices and vehicle information applies to models to be offered in the U.S. All information including prices, features and specifications is subject to change without notice by the automaker.)
1999 RX 300 photo courtesy of Lexus
Story, all other photos and videos © 2015 CarNichiWa.com