2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport AWD - 2-shot front and rear
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

More to Like, but That Nose! 2023 Lexus RX First Drive Review

The Lexus RX gets more than a makeover for 2023. You get even more bang for your buck with the latest version of this luxury crossover.

Few recent nameplates have been more successful than the Lexus RX. The first luxury crossover has dominated since making its debut in 1998, but an all-new version of the popular people-mover is coming to market for 2023. See how it stacks up against the outgoing RX, as well as competitors like the Acura MDX and BMW X5.

Pity the poor product development team that has to come up with a replacement for an automotive icon. The challenge, especially in a crowded market segment, is knowing just how far to go to keep a vehicle competitive without alienating traditional buyers.

In the case of the 2023 Lexus RX, the luxury brand struck an intriguing compromise. The midsize SUV rides on an all-new platform and adds a variety of new features, including a sophisticated new voice assistant system.

It also adds two new hybrid drivetrains, with a plug-in hybrid to follow. Yet the overall package is more evolutionary than revolutionary — and that might be precisely what is needed.

2023 Lexus RX: Holding On to Tradition

2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport AWD side profile, copper
(Photo/Lexus)

First introduced in 1998, the original Lexus RX 300 was a prescient product that, at launch, raised plenty of eyebrows. U.S. car buyers were just beginning to embrace SUVs — that was a largely mainstream trend.

Luxury customers seem firmly ensconced in their traditional sedans and coupes. But not for long. Demand for the RX took everyone by surprise — including Lexus, which had waited for years before adding another crossover to its lineup.

Over the years, the RX has gone through a series of updates, but it hasn’t strayed far from its traditional formula. The 2023 model moves into a new market segment, dubbed “Mid-Lux” by industry insiders — marketing-speak that means next to nothing to the average potential customer.

That’s not to say the automaker hasn’t changed things up. For 2023, the RX moves to the GA-K platform shared with several other Lexus models, including the ES sedan and smaller NX crossover.

But the fifth-generation RX has the same overall length as the outgoing crossover. A closer inspection reveals the wheelbase has been stretched slightly. The hood is longer, creating more of a sporty appearance, aided by a slight increase in track and a nearly one-inch lowering of the roof. The rear axle, meanwhile, moves back by 2.4 inches.

Evolution vs. Revolution

2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport AWD copper front and rear
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

Visually, the changes are subtle as well, starting with an updated version of the oft-debated Lexus spindle grille, which varies by trim package. Wider new LED headlamps and new air curtain intakes add to the slightly sportier appearance, as does the new floating roofline.

By now, you might be asking about the three-row version of the 2023 Lexus RX. The simple answer: there isn’t one. During a media background briefing, company officials asserted that demand wasn’t that strong. The more complete story is that adding an extra row to the old RX didn’t quite meet expectations.

So, it is widely expected that Lexus will soon launch an all-new addition to its crossover family — the rumored TX model offering three rows and up to eight seats.

Surprisingly, the new RX cabin is ever so slightly smaller than the old crossover, due to moving the A-pillar back. By shortening its rear overhang, there’s no real compromise to seating space, and, at 29.6 cubic feet behind the second row, cargo space nearly doubles.

Lexus RX Interior Upgrades

2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport - interior dash
2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport interior; (photo/Lexus)

One place where the new RX shows clear improvement is in the choice of interior materials. The outgoing model had far too much hard plastic for a luxury vehicle. Lexus has upgraded with improved materials, more soft-touch surfaces, and better graining. Even the base model gets faux leather.

2023 Lexus RX touchscreen
(Photo/Lexus)

It’s also included a variety of new tech features: all models get a digital gauge cluster and, on all but the base trim, a 14-inch touchscreen atop the center console. The entry-level screen is 9.8 inches.

It’s good to see the center console-mounted touchpad go away. Motorists can now control the infotainment system using either steering wheel controls, the touchscreen, or by voice.

The new Intelligent Assistant is the Lexus take on Amazon’s Alexa. There’s no question it’s more accurate than the voice recognition system in the old RX, but it’s not up to Alexa standards. You still have to say, “Go to …” when setting a destination into the navi, for example, where competing products like the Mercedes-MBUX can recognize a variety of alternatives.

On the plus side, Lexus retained not only a volume knob but also a variety of conventional controls for the climate control system.

Depending upon the trim level you choose, the 2023 RX is loaded with tech features: numerous USB ports, wireless smartphone charging, an onboard Wi-Fi hotpoint — great when you’re hauling the family on a long trip — and the latest version of the Lexus Safety System+ 3.0.

It boasts features such as pre-collision warning with pedestrian and motorcycle detection, active cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, and more. An auto park system is optional.

More Powertrain Options

2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport AWD engine
(photo/Lexus)

There’s plenty of technology under the hood, as well. By the time the complete fifth-generation Lexus RX family rolls out, there will be four separate powertrain options.

That starts with an updated base engine in the RX 350 — a turbocharged 2.4L inline-four making 275 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic, and buyers get a choice of front- or all-wheel-drive.

The FWD model will hit 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and delivers 22 mpg city, 29 highway, and 25 combined. The AWD model cuts launches down to 7.2 seconds and manages 21/28/24 mpg.

For maximum mileage, consider the first of the two hybrids: the RX 350h. It’s a two-motor system paired with a 2.5L inline-four engine and a continuously variable transmission. This package is offered solely in AWD and will launch to 60 in 7.4 seconds. Meanwhile, it delivers 37 mpg city, 34 highway, and 36 combined.

2023 Lexus RX: Performance Hybrid

2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport AWD
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

New for 2023 is the performance hybrid, the Lexus RX 500h. It uses a different motor layout, and the 2.5L I-4 is now turbocharged, the combination bumping power up to 366 horsepower and 406 pound-feet. It’s also offered solely in AWD and drops 0-to-60 launches to 5.9 seconds.

I spent most of my time in Santa Barbara driving the RX 500h and found it to be near-transformative. No, it doesn’t quite match the sportiness of either the Acura MDX or BMW X5. But it is a substantial improvement over the old Lexus crossover’s appliance-like manners.

The electric motors in the RX 500h bring power on smoothly and quickly, with no sense of turbo lag. The combination is reasonably quiet under normal driving, though a bit harsh when your foot is nailed to the floorboards.

The real plus is the Lexus Direct4 AWD system used only on the 500h. It nominally delivers more torque to the back wheels but is fairly intuitive at shifting power around, as needed, whether dealing with slippery surfaces or charging into tight corners.

Stiffer & Smoother

All versions of the new RX benefit from the switch to the GA-K platform. It is stiffer and features an improved suspension system — a MacPherson strut layout up front, and a multi-link design in the rear. I did notice a bit more body roll in my brief time behind the wheel of the base engine package, however.

At the other extreme, the RX 500h really does dial things in with the F Sport package, thanks to the use of adaptive dampers and six-piston front brake calipers.

Lexus RX Plug-In Hybrid Coming

2023 Lexus RX 300 - interior drivers seat
2023 Lexus RX 300 interior; (photo/Lexus)

Lexus offered brief drives of the upcoming RX 500h+ plug-in hybrid system. It was difficult to get a sense of what it will offer beyond even more compelling acceleration. Add the ability to travel up to 42 miles in all-electric mode, which should allow most potential buyers to run their daily commute or errands without firing up the gas side of the drivetrain.

Since taking the helm at Toyota Motor Co., CEO Akio Toyoda has made a mission out of driving more “passion” and “performance” into the automaker’s products. That’s especially critical for the Lexus brand, and we’ve begun to see what Toyoda’s mantra translates into. No, you won’t confuse the RX for an LC sports coupe, but the latest version of the people-mover is a significant step forward.

If you were looking for a revolutionary makeover, you will likely be disappointed. There have been enough improvements to please existing RX buyers and draw the attention of those who previously might have ignored the Lexus appliance, however.

2023 Lexus RX: Pricing & Availability

Look for the 2023 Lexus RX 350, RX 350h, and RX 500h models to reach showrooms late this year. The automaker is vague about the timing of the RX 500h+ plug-in hybrid and could keep us waiting until the 2024 model year.

As for pricing, the base model currently starts at just over $47,000, including delivery fees. Expectations are that the price could move up by about $2,000, bringing the entry point for the 2023 Lexus RX somewhere closer to $49,000.

2022 Acura MDX Type S Review
Family Wagon Looks, Sports Sedan Soul: 2022 Acura MDX Type S Review
The 2022 Acura MDX is the first SUV to wear the Type S badge. Can it still haul people and gear and live up to the performance expectations of that badge? Read more…
Paul Eisenstein
By

Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning publisher, photographer, editor, and one of the world’s most widely published automotive journalists. His work appears in a wide range of print, broadcast, and electronic outlets, including AutoWise, GearJunkie, NBC News, Forbes Wheels, and his own automotive website, TheDetroitBureau.com. He’s a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror, and board member and past president of the Automotive Press Association. J.D. Power also named him a “Pioneer of the Internet."