New & Used Lexus RX : In Depth
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The Lexus RX — called the RX 300 originally, later the RX 330, and most recently the RX 350 — bridges the gap between the brand's mid-size ES (ES 350) sedan and the more truck-like GX and LX sport-utility vehicles.
The RX is one of the many vehicles spun off Toyota's mid-size architecture. It's related most directly to the Toyota Highlander but has also shared components with models like the Venza, Camry, and Avalon.
The RX has been the best-selling Lexus model since its introduction. The mid-size Lexus utility practically invented the luxury crossover when it debuted, with many other brands following suit and trying to take sales away from it since. It has also been offered in hybrid versions over the years, including today, with that model called the RX 450h. The RX was recently joined in a more diversified Lexus lineup by a smaller crossover, the NX.
A fourth-generation 2016 Lexus RX was introduced at the 2015 New York Auto Show, and it gets a much edgier look inside and out. With about five inches of additional overall length, the RX should offer improved space and comfort, while its newly available adaptive suspension and a suite of active-safety technology should nudge this model up in performance and safety respects. There's also a new 12.3-inch infotainment screen and available rear entertainment package, as well as a huge new panoramic sunroof. The styling is much more striking, with a floating-roof effect on the D-pillar and many aggressive cues taken from the smaller NX crossover.
In the past ten years, the RX has become one of the benchmarks for luxury crossovers, and a real minivan alternative, albeit with only two rows of seating. That makes it a rival for vehicles like the Audi Q5, Acura MDX, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Lincoln MKX, among many others.
MORE: Read our 2016 Lexus RX preview
The first-generation RX was the RX 300, introduced for 1999. It was offered in only one trim, with a limited number of options, and included the same 220-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 that was featured in the ES 300 sedan. Power was delivered with a four-speed automatic transmission through either front- or all-wheel drive. For 2001, the RX 300 saw slightly different styling plus a new list of options, with electronic stability control made standard.
For 2004, the crossover was redesigned and renamed the RX 330, getting a larger, stronger 230-hp (or 223-hp), 3.3-liter V-6 plus a five-speed automatic. The RX's overall size and formula remained the same, though its styling inside and out was smoother, with substantially improved interior materials. For 2007 and 2008, the RX was renamed the RX 350, as it gained the higher-output 3.5-liter V-6 that was introduced on a number of Toyota and Lexus products. One of the key attributes of this second-generation RX is that quite early on it offered a number of high-tech features that weren't found on many other luxury vehicles in its segment or price range at the time, including the Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS) and Dynamic Laser Cruise Control.
Today's Lexus RX
While we await more details on the 2016 RX, which will go on sale by fall 2015, the current 2015 Lexus RX is a continuation of the model that made its debut for 2009. Although the RX was again completely redesigned, it carried over with the same base engine, now making 275 hp, and didn't look all that much different from the outside than the models before it—particularly the 2004–2008 models. The design of the instrument panel was significantly changed this time around, however, becoming more swoopy and curvaceous, with materials again given a big upgrade. In a review of the 2009 Lexus RX 350 we called it, "a dependable, luxurious isolation chamber that performs responsively though not lively." Top features on the latest RX include heated and ventilated seats, power heated mirrors, a head-up display, and an updated navigation system with XM NavTraffic and NavWeather.
Like most crossovers in its class, the RX isn't really designed for serious off-roading or towing. It can, however, handle itself in snow or mud, with a diff-lock mode standard on all0-wheel-drive models, and most RX models are able to tow 3,500 pounds, which isn't much by class standards but more than most cars can handle. It's also not meant to be a minivan substitute, as the RX is strictly a two-row affair; the third-row seats available or standard in similar and smaller competitors are not offered here.
Safety and reliability are strong reasons to choose the RX, as much as luxury and comfort. The current RX has achieved top ratings from both crash-test agencies. Also, the RX has been a very reliable vehicle its entire run, and resale value is strong no matter what the year.
The Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h were given an updated front-end appearance in 2013, with a new grille to bring the front-end design more in line with the GS sport sedans' look. Other than a few other smaller changes, the RX continued unchanged, although the RX 450h was given a Sport mode and its own F-Sport model to offer better responsiveness.
In the 2014 RX lineup, Lexus added Siri Eyes Free functionality for the infotainment system, allowing you to integrate some iPhone models with the RX's voice-command system. For 2015, Lexus followed that with refreshed Display Audio systems across the model line.