- Bracing design
- Swift acceleration
- Broad range of road manners
- Hybrid's high gas mileage
- High-tech safety standard
- That polarizing sheet metal
- Gets expensive in a hurry
- Firm F Sport ride
- Gas-only mileage just average
The Lexus RX makes a style-conscious statement like never before, and it hasn’t lost its grip on good manners.
The Lexus RX has been standard-issue equipment in mid- to upper-middle class neighborhoods. It's surprising that it wasn't sold with an HOA and membership dues.
Until now. Two years ago, Lexus struck out of the tract-home mold and wants to attract defectors who've left for sport-tuned German crossovers. The 2018 Lexus RX boldly asks you to consider every sharp shape and sharper F Sport intentions. It also wants you to consider using the new three-row RX L for family duty.
The RX is refreshing, eye-catching, and not quite as polished as in the past. We give it a 7.5 out of 10 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The RX L is 4.3 inches longer, though it rides the same 109.8-inch wheelbase as the standard length RX. It is offered with six- or seven-passenger seating configurations, the latter with a second-row bench seat and the former with second-row captain’s chairs and a center walkthrough to the third row. Rear seat occupants get vents for heating and air conditioning and their own cupholders. The RX L is available with both the standard V-6 and the hybrid powertrain.
The jellybean-on-wheels meme is gone, and the Lexus RX has a jet-inspired roofline (though the RX L has a more upright rear window) and a crazy amount of detail, by old Lexus standards. Adventurous and sleek, it’s also unquiet to the eye, a constant visual interruption of itself. The cabin’s less so, but a couple of sweeping arcs and tony leather and wood trim pitch it to the architecture-as-lifestyle crowd without crowding out more casual users.
The Lexus RX 350 and RX 350L suit up with a 3.5-liter V-6 making 295 horsepower in the RX 350 and 290 hp in the RX 350L. An 8-speed automatic doles out power to the front or to all four wheels.
The librarian’s finger-wag that quieted the RX in the past has been retired. The RX burbles with life, and accelerates strongly. F Sports even amp up intake noises and pipe them into the cabin–the polar opposite of Lexus philosophy, circa 1990.
RX 450h and RX 450hL hybrids have a lower-output V-6, batteries, and motors that power the rear wheels for a through-the-road, all-wheel-drive powertrain. The continuously variable transmission saps the life out of its delivery, but it’s smooth.
Both models span a wider range of road manners, from plush luxury tuning to moderately firm, delivered in F Sports with remapped steering and attentive adaptive shocks.
The standard-length RX seats five, and has exceptionally comfortable front seats, as well as relaxing rear seats with split-fold-recline seatbacks. We haven’t tested the six- or seven-passenger configurations of the RX L. In both body styles, cargo space is plentiful, and fit and finish is good. Lexus applies some avant-garde wood and leather to the RX; the cockpit’s balance and outreach works better than the sheet metal.
All RX crossovers have forward-collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control, and rearview cameras. What they don’t have are identical crash-test scores. The NHTSA scores 5-passenger front-drivers at four stars overall, AWD models at five. The RX L hasn't been tested, though its scores should be the same.
Lexus fits base RXs with synthetic leather, power features, and cruise control, though the RX L has leather in the first two seating rows. Most models come with real leather, and option packages add on navigation, premium audio, a panoramic sunroof, and rear-seat DVD entertainment. Lexus’ mouse-and-touchpad infotainment is inferior to systems from Volvo and Audi, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are nowhere to be found.
2018 Lexus RX
A somewhat risky shape imbues the Lexus RX with more personality, but we’re not convinced it’s a great long-term play.
With the latest RX, Lexus took off on a styling tangent meant to separate true fans from drive-by shoppers. Did it work? Do you like the somewhat shocking design, or does the plainer Q5 do the trick instead? Will it look as daring in a few years?
We get mixed messages from the wild curves, so we give it a 7 for styling. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The design conundrum starts at the spindle grille. Once upon a time, it departed radically from Lexus’ reserved designs. Now it’s commonplace across the lineup, less shocking. It works better on big SUVs with big front ends, and here on the Lexus RX it’s grown on us.
From there on back, the RX dives into the deep end of the styling pool. The floating canopy effect for the roof is a striking touch, though it came after the same look made its debut on the Nissan Murano–a crossover that’s all but a direct RX rival.
Below that canopy, Lexus sculpts and flares the RX in extravagant ways. The RX has playful surfaces and erupts in a near-constant stream of design non sequiturs. The old uncontroversial Taylor-era RX has been shut down, and this Kanye version won’t let it finish.
The RX cabin remains a place of calm and order. Less busy than the sheet metal, the cockpit disengages from the busy world outside, and from its flashy armor. The dash adopts a horizontal theme with broad, thin bands dividing controls into upper and lower zones, while an asymmetrical swoop shapes the center stack. The center console gets its own loopy curve, a line that cants it toward the driver.
Lexus has subdued some of the clutter on the dash, but has injected some cool design aesthetic with metallic and matte trims, bamboo and grey wood. On the ambitious F Sport, lipstick-red leather drips from the door panels and seats in the most lascivious way. Lexus is changing, and this RX marks the point where it’s crossed over into an entirely more showy realm.
2018 Lexus RX
The Lexus RX now spans a broader range from luxury to sport.
Styling tries to sell a sporty image for the Lexus RX. It’s sharper than in the past, and has a broader character, but the RX still does its best work when it’s coddling and cruising.
We give it a 7 out of 10 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
Lexus sells two versions of its most popular crossover SUV. The RX 350 has V-6 power and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. The hybrid-powered RX 450h only comes with all-wheel drive.
The RX 350’s 3.5-liter V-6 turns in 295 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, and runs on a lean combustion cycle to boost fuel economy. The 8-speed automatic comes with paddle shift controls on F Sport models. It’s not the quickest luxury utility vehicle, but the RX 350 moves with authority, and does so quietly—unless it’s an F Sport. Lexus pumps intake noise into F Sport cockpits for a muscular effect, though to us it’s still nearly silent.
Both the RX 350 and RX 450h have a drive-mode selector that varies powertrain performance through Normal, Eco, and Sport modes. F Sport versions get additional Customized, Sport S, and Sport S+ modes.
Front-drive models lay down power smoothly. All-wheel-drive models can split up to 50 percent of their power to the rear wheels, for all-weather safety–not really for plugging away at muddy ruts.
RX 450h: hybrid time
With the RX 450h, Lexus takes a lower-output version of the same V-6 and blends its 259 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque with batteries and electric motors. Gas power goes to the front wheels, and electric power goes to the rear, which allows the RX hybrid to launch on battery power alone.
It sounds sporty, but even in F Sport trim the RX 450h’s continuously variable transmission saps any satisfying powertrain snap. You can dial the drive mode to Sport if you want; the most noticeable change will turn the power-meter gauge into a tachometer.
Underneath the RX
Composed, confident handling sets the latest RX apart from Lexus’ crossover-SUV past.
The RX’s car-like underpinnings pair front struts with a double-wishbone rear suspension for a more composed ride than in past RX crossovers. F Sports get adaptive dampers that stiffen for the firmest ride we’ve ever experienced in an RX, which means it’s still more supple than any Cadillac XT5. When it encounters rough roads, the RX’s adaptive dampers will relax themselves so you don’t have to worry. It’s thoughtful like that.
Lexus has dialed more road feel into the RX’s electric power steering, though oddly, there’s more of that feel in the most highly boosted Comfort setting. F Sport steering gets heavier feel, but doesn’t impart any more information.
Wheels are 18-inch, seven-spoke alloys in base models, upgradeable to 20-inch high-gloss machined alloys or super chrome alloys with color inserts. The RX uses a special Michelin Premier LTX tire that’s designed to improve its characteristics for wet-road performance somewhat as it wears.
The longer three-row RX L carries an extra few hundred pounds, of which is all in the rear third of the crossover SUV. The extra weight makes the RX L handle a little sloppier than its two-row sibling with more body roll around corners.
Those extra pounds also tax the powertrains more with a 0.2-second slower sprint from 0-60 mph than the two-row RX, and less usable power for passing maneuvers at highway speeds.
2018 Lexus RX
Comfort & Quality
The RX wanders off the Lexus reservation with bold shapes and bright colors, but it’s still a plush softie underneath them.
Lexus has a reputation for crafting library-quiet car interiors finished in subdued materials.
Much has changed, and that Lexus RX you like so much now can be fitted in lipstick-red leather and a sport exhaust. The quality part hasn’t changed, though. We give the RX an 8 for its good seating comfort and space, and for its fit and finish. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The RX sits at an ideal height for step-in access. Once in, front passengers will find fantastic chairs with excellent room all around them. The softly cushioned seats feel good after hours of driving, and driving position is fine. On the RX F Sport, the bolsters grow bigger and firmer, while Luxury models get 10-way power adjustment, cooling and heat, and an extendable thigh cushion.
Lexus surrounds back-seat passengers with excellent space, and the seats themselves are supportive while still maintaining their ability to split and fold and recline. A fold-down armrest hides retractable cupholders, for times when the middle seat isn’t in use. On the RX 450h, the rear seat sits an inch higher; the hybrid batteries tuck beneath the bottom cushion, but head room survives mostly intact.
The base RX has synthetic leather, but like the latest of its kind, it does a good job of imitating the real thing. Nonetheless, Lexus will sell you animal hides, and offers an even nicer, lightly treated leather. It also applies tasteful matte bamboo or gray tropical wood to the interior, for a price. The combinations give the busy interior a lovely high-end sheen, and makes the most expensive models seem more reasonable.
The RX also damps out most wind and road noise, though Lexus pipes some engine noise back in on F Sport models for a sporty effect.
Lexus extended the RX 4.3 inches in length, though none in wheelbase, to give it a third row and an L at the end of its name. While it has a third row, it’s more of a jump seat at best.
The token fold-flat third-row isn’t suitable for an adult, and while the smallest of children will fit all the way in back, a car seat won’t fit behind someone sitting in the second row. Despite raising the second row 2 inches, foot room is absent for those in the third row.
Competitors such as the Acura MDX do better with 5 to 8 inches more leg room in the second and third rows, depending on seat positioning, compared to the RX L’s 23.5 inches of leg room in row three and 30.9 inches in row two.
Putting all three rows up nets 16.3 cubic feet of space—a smidge more than the MDX—for hauling duties, which will parents and grandparents will barely find suitable for a big day outing with the kids or grandkids.
2018 Lexus RX
Mixed crash-test results cost the Lexus RX some easy points.
Crash-test scores for the Lexus RX haven’t been as good as they need to be.
We give it a 8 out of 10 here. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The RX’s IIHS scores are straightforward. The insurance-industry-funded agency gives the RX a Top Safety Pick award. It earns good results in all tests and meets the IIHS’ new standards for advanced safety technology and headlight quality.
The NHTSA presents conflicting information. Front-drive RX crossovers get four stars overall, with a four-star rating for front crash protection. With an identical four-star front-protection rating, the all-wheel-drive RX earns five stars overall. On our scale, the four-star overall rating costs the RX a point.
Lexus gains a point by making some safety features standard. They include forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. A rearview camera also is standard, but blind-spot monitors are optional on some models, as are surround-view cameras.
Outward vision is OK in the RX, but the roofline ends in a chunky rear pillar that blocks some of the view.
2018 Lexus RX
The Lexus RX pampers its owners with high-resolution screens and high-definition audio, but its infotainment system needs a reboot.
The Lexus RX has spoiled us. As one of the O.G. luxury crossovers, it’s added more and more standard gear over the years, and has exercised little restraint on the options side.
Are we miffed? We’ll get back to you after the caviar course. Meanwhile, the RX gets a 9 for its panoply of features, including its sterling service reputation. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
All RX 350s come with power features, synthetic leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, power front seats, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment.
With the Premium option package, the RX 350 adds wood trim, roof rails, and leather. Luxury-package RXs have heated and ventilated front seats, nicer leather, and 20-inch wheels.
With the available navigation system, the 8.0-inch screen can be upgraded to a 12.3-inch display. A rear-seat entertainment system has a superwide display that can run two videos at once, side by side.
An F Sport bundle adopts adaptive suspension, remaps the steering, restyles the front and rear ends, and fits a pair of front sport seats.
Other options include a panoramic sunroof, Mark Levinson audio, and a head-up display.
Lexus configures the RX 450h like its Premium RX 350, and charges more for the hybrid. Options on the hybrid include the panoramic roof, heated and ventilated seats, navigation, and blind-spot monitors.
Audio and infotainment
Lexus offers a few audio and infotainment choices. The standard setup has an 8.0-inch display, and a nine-speaker AM/FM/XM/HD/CD unit with USB ports, and Bluetooth with audio streaming. The stunning Mark Levinson audio option gets 835 watts of power, 15 speakers, and software that adds density to music files to make them sound better.
The RX’s dash reserves space for a larger 12.3-inch high-resolution screen that works with the infotainment system. The mouse-like interface also has a touchpad that accepts swipe and zoom gestures. It’s a strange interface, with a dated look and a feel that’s very close to a desktop computer—a distraction in a car. Lexus doesn’t offer the streamlined choices of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, at all.
2018 Lexus RX
The Lexus RX hybrid posts impressive gas mileage ratings, while the RX 350 is competitive in its class.
We give the RX lineup a 6 for green, with the caveat that hybrids perform much better here than gas-powered RX crossovers. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The RX 450h hybrid garners EPA ratings of 31 mpg city, 28 highway, 30 combined with its standard all-wheel-drive system.
Front-drive RX 350 SUVs check in at 20/27/23 mpg with front-wheel drive, or 19/26/22 mpg with optional all-wheel drive.
Opting for the long-wheelbase version, in any configuration, clips 1 mpg across the board.
Lexus programs an economy drive mode into both models. It cuts down on climate control and softens throttle response.
Even without economy mode engaged, we’ve seen high real-world mileage in RX hybrids, provided it’s driven with some restraint.