Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD

All-new RX high on luxury,
short on driving excitement

By Jim Prueter

(May 2, 2023) Back in 1998 Lexus introduced its first RX crossover utility vehicle in the United States just two years after Mercedes introduced their first-generation ML SUV. The RX met with immediate sales success climbing right to the top of the sales charts’ much to the surprise of the German auto maker who had a two-year head start. Lexus did a better job making the RX more luxury-like and less truck-like.

Fast forward some 25-plus years and Lexus continues to serve as the benchmark for refined, midsized luxury utility vehicle motoring with a sterling reputation for quality, reliability, resale and, a quiet, comfortable ride.

While the RX competes in the luxury Sport Utility Vehicle category, it’s never had sporty driving dynamics nor has it been particularly engaging to drive in the manner of excellent competitors like the Audi Q7, BMW X5 or the new Genesis GV80.

Now with its fifth generation just introduced, the folks at Lexus would suggest the RX is edging towards the “Sports” spectrum of a Sports Utility Vehicle based on the top tier up market 2023 RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD offer that’s reviewed here.

Lexus says the RX is about 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, and in our view, it looks sportier, too, with a lower, sharper angled roofline, a new take on their controversial “Spindle Grille” design with a body-colored upper area and 367-hp, 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder hybrid engine and electric drive, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Inside, we didn’t expect to find anything other than the highest level of quality materials with superb fit and finish build, and our RX didn’t disappoint. The leather throughout the cabin is supple, comfortable with heavily bolstered side, seatback and bottom cushions on the F Sport’s front seats. They’re snug but not uncomfortable and hold you in place through twisty curves and corners. However, we were surprised that this top-level RX only has two-way power adjustable lumbar support for the driver’s seat. Overall, attention to detail is impeccable.

On the road, our RX 500h despite its F Sport Performance name was always a luxury SUV first with a smooth comfortable ride rather than a dedicated canyon-carver Sports SUV when tested on twisty mountain roads along Arizona’s Apache Trail during our drive route to Tortilla Flats. Know that while the new F Sport Performance AWD is a definite move to a sportier driving, performance driving and handling isn’t part of the RX’s offering.

We remain disappointed when it comes to Lexus’ infotainment interfaces that we’ve grumbled about for years. Thankfully Lexus did get rid of the clumsy computer-mouse-like system for navigating the infotainment screen. Lexus now has gone almost exclusively in favor of an also-fussy touchscreen solution. While an improvement to be sure when it comes to functionality and usability over the previous infotainment systems, the new setup merges the media and climate controls into a single screen that requires even seemingly simple tasks multiple steps to operate.

Lexus also introduced a new feature called proactive driving assist that is debuting on the RX. It’s “designed to detect objects ahead at higher speeds in order to help avoid a collision.” The system is designed to detect vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and upcoming corners by using the RX’s camera and radar. It can provide gentle braking to help control the distance between your vehicle and the one ahead, as well as gentle braking into curves. If you start to get too close to the vehicle ahead, it will actively work to slow the RX down.

It’s similar to how adaptive cruise control system works to keep you from getting dangerously close to the vehicle in front of you although, unlike adaptive cruise control, you will still need to apply the brakes to keep from hitting the vehicle in front of you.

Accelerating to 60 mph from a standing start clocked in at 6-seconds. That’s not particularly quick, but it is the quickest RX we’ve every tested. There’s also an artificial engine sound pumped into the cabin to make you think it’s quicker than it is. Theater at best. Lexus says it’s intended to make the SUV “sound sportier,” and for sure when the driving mode is switched to Sport it delivers a snarly yet non-convincing, artificial sound. With the RX is in its regular drive mode, but with the Active Sound Control system on, there’s an overabundance of powertrain noise, especially given it’s a luxury vehicle. What’s worse, Lexus has made it incredibly difficult to turn the system on or off (it’s a four-step process) via the vehicle’s infotainment screen.

We thought acceleration was quite good with good tire grip and the all-wheel drive system well synched. It felt well sorted and smooth and although only a 6-speed automatic transmission where the normal for the class is 8, 9, or 10 speed we never felt the need for more gears with the gear box delivering excellent linear both upshift and downshifting. We did notice our RX hybrid didn’t spend much time running strictly on battery power suggesting Lexus intentionally was focused more on performance than fuel economy as suggested by the name.

Another change with the new RX is Lexus eliminating the “L” trim level with three-row seating and has returned to two-rows of seats allowing for more second-row space. There are rumors that Lexus will soon introduce a new three-row crossover.

While overall we quite assuredly like the new RX we did have a few complaints. First, Lexus decided to use the E-Latch electronic door system borrowed from the Lexus NX to open the door from the exterior.  The handle doesn’t move rather the release is triggered by a hidden button on the backside of the handle resulting in a momentary pause before the door opens. It’s worse inside where an electronic button replaces a regular door handle. Just push a button and push on the door to open. It’s easy to use once you understand it, but every new passenger will need to be coached on how to use it to get out of the vehicle.

We also didn’t like the short little electronic gear shift selector, again borrowed from the NX. The shifter is annoying to learn and use since there’s no physical path to move the lever through leaving you unsure of what the process is to shift into Drive or Reverse. It’s easy to miss one or the other and end up in Neutral. Add to that, you need to press the “P” button to shift into park. Again, with practice you can get the hang of it but it’s still awkward.

Overall, the new fifth generation RX with an all-new handsome design, new engines and a new emphasis on sporty with the new RX 500h F Sport Performance, it still falls short of performance competitors from the European brands like Audi and BMW. Still, those who put luxury appointments, quiet, smooth and, cosseting comfort at the top of their shopping list will be more than pleased with the all-new RX.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $61,600
Price as Tested: $70,780
Engine/Transmission: 2.4L 275-hp DOHC 16-valve turbo I-4, plus rear electric motor; 367-hp combined paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
EPA Fuel Economy: 27/28/27 MPG – City/Highway/Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Safety Ratings: Highest possible 2023 Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Where Built: Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

Competes With:
Audi Q7
Cadillac XT6
Genesis GV80
Land Rover Range Rover Velar
Lincoln Aviator
Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
Volvo XC90

Smooth, quiet, comfortable, luxurious
Loaded with advanced safety and driver assist features
Stylish all-new design inside and out

Fussy touchscreen operating and infotainment controls
Annoying gear shift selector
Weird door handles/latches that don’t move