2016 Lexus RX

RALEIGH, N.C. — For almost two decades, the Lexus RX has been the benchmark for luxury midsized crossovers and SUVs. The yard marks are wide, but you’re going to shell out anywhere between $45,000 and $70,000 to purchase one. The competitive set includes the cream of the crop: Audi Q5, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and a few others. Price notwithstanding, this segment is growing so fast, it seems that within five years, Americans will be issued one with their learning permits.

You just knew that when Lexus decided to redo the RX, it was going to be awesome. And it is. The RX is a fantastic vehicle and has been a huge seller, saving the brand for more than a decade.

There’s no denying that Lexus makes some of the world’s best and most beautiful automobiles. I can’t help thinking the RX would have won the Lexus swimsuit contest had it not been the latest of its siblings born with the “spindle” grille. More about that in a minute.

Slip into the driver’s seat and you’ll be greeted by Lexus’s handsome, rational interior, lined in lustrous aluminum trim, gorgeous wood veneers, French-stitched leather dash and door gussets, perforated leather seats, and an immense array of technological features.

Among the exterior details, Lexus presents a challenging bit of design with the RX’s unfortunate proboscis. Let’s say it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The cavernous opening of the brand’s signature grille, set between spear-shaped LED light tubes and severe sanguinary headlamps, encompasses nearly the entire front end. It’s even more acrimonious and equivocal than the one adorning the new NX compact crossover.

I couldn’t stop looking at the maw — like that of Donatella Versace — more out of ravenous bewilderment and curiosity than enchantment.

Behind the grille is the familiar 3.5- liter V-6 that makes 295-horsepower and is mated to a new eight-speed transmission. There’s also a RX450h hybrid model powered by the 3.5-liter V-6 and an Atkinson electric motor for a combined 308 horsepower. The hybrid model sports a less-in-your-face grille.

We drove three different RX models and each was consistently smooth, quiet, well constructed, and delivered more-than- adequate power.

All told, the new RX is by far more visually outgoing in its redesign. We’re guessing it will not only appeal to RX loyalists, but will bring converts to the brand. Overall, a smart pick for a luxury five-passenger crossover.

— Jim Prueter