PowerSteering: 2017 Lexus RX Review
You are looking at the most popular luxury vehicle in America: the 2017 Lexus RX. Reflective of consumer preferences for reliable vehicles and the nation’s infatuation with SUVs, this 5-passenger crossover SUV outsells every other upscale nameplate, and by a wide margin.
Redesigned for 2016, the RX gained a greater sense of style and sophistication, while at the same time benefiting from improvements to the driving dynamics. Lexus no longer wants to design, engineer, build, and sell boring vehicles, and the latest RX serves as evidence of the company’s changing character.
What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Lexus RX, it is helpful to understand who buys this SUV, and what they like most and least about their RX models.
Compared to the Midsize Premium SUV segment, Lexus owners are more often women, are older, and enjoy a lower median annual household income. J.D. Power data shows that 42% of Lexus RX owners are female (vs. 38% for the segment), that their median age is 65 (vs. 58 for the segment), and that their median annual household income is $155,303 (vs. $184,248 for the segment).
Despite this lower median annual household income, just 6% of Lexus RX owners identify as Price Buyers, compared to 12% of Midsize Premium SUV owners. Still, reliability, fuel economy, and low maintenance costs are important to Lexus RX buyers. J.D. Power data shows that 62% of Lexus RX owners strongly agree that they avoid vehicles with high maintenance costs (vs. 50%) and that 77% strongly agree that reliability is their first consideration in choosing a vehicle (vs. 63%). More than half of Lexus RX owners agree that miles per gallon is a first consideration in choosing a new vehicle (vs. 43%).
Given the RX’s expressive styling, it may come as some surprise to learn that Lexus RX owners are less likely to want a vehicle that stands out from the crowd. Only 79% agree that this is a preference, compared to 82% at the segment level. It’s a small difference, but a notable one.
Also, note that 64% of Lexus RX owners are willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly compared to 56% of Midsize Premium SUV owners. This reflects the availability of a hybrid model in the RX lineup.
Owners report that their favorite things about the Lexus RX are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, seats, interior design, exterior styling, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the Lexus RX are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, storage and space, climate control system, infotainment system, and by a significant margin, fuel economy.
What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Lexus RX measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2017 APEAL Study.
People either like the looks of the latest Lexus models, or they don’t. According to J.D. Power data from the 2017 APEAL Study, many RX owners don’t like how their SUV looks. By far, in comparison to the Midsize Premium SUV segment as a whole, “front-end styling and appearance” is this Lexus SUV’s top weakness.
Since this dramatic redesign debuted, I’ve acclimated to it. Especially with F Sport detailing and the undeniably appealing dark-finish 20-inch wheels, the RX looks sharp, like a car from the future.
As for the front end, I think the creased and folded styling of the latest RX is an improvement upon the previous version’s chubby-cheeked countenance. Still, the gaudy grille and excessive amount of visual weight over and forward of the front wheels throws this otherwise appealing SUV’s design out of balance.
Inside, the Lexus RX features a cockpit-style dashboard, with controls and a center console that wrap around the driver. With F Sport trim, unique finishes and instrumentation add a more technical ambience.
The control layout is mostly intuitive, and the materials are mostly premium. There is evidence of sharing with parent company Toyota’s parts bin, but you need to look closely in order to spot it.
Thanks to leather-wrapped, heated and ventilated front seats, as well as a heated steering wheel, the test vehicle was just about as comfortable as an RX gets. Nothing more than greater thigh support and, perhaps, optional massagers could have improved happiness levels in front seat occupants.
You sit rather low in the Lexus RX, instead of perched high like in most SUVs. This imparts a more sporting feel from behind the wheel.
Likewise, rear seat passengers sit somewhat low, and while legroom is generous, the Lexus RX lacks proper thigh support in the back. Foot space beneath the front seats is also snug.
Climate Control System
Air vents help to keep rear seat occupants cool, but if you’re seeking a vehicle with triple-zone climate control, you’ll need to shop elsewhere.
Up front, the climate system is effective, especially when the RX is equipped with heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. Silver knobs similar to those used for radio adjustments would be preferable to the black rocker switches Lexus uses for temperature adjustment. While wearing sunglasses, I found it hard to find and use them.
Also, the controls for the heated and ventilated front seats are tucked behind the gear selector on the center console, where they are hard to see and use.
Equipped with the optional 12.3-inch infotainment display screen, a navigation system, and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system, the test vehicle had the top-shelf technology setup.
The display is terrific, and the large, luxuriously weighted silver stereo controls for volume and tuning sure are terrific. I didn’t have much trouble using the voice recognition and Bluetooth systems, either.
With that said, Lexus does not offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in its vehicles. The company says it is concerned about privacy matters associated with the technology. Also, the Lexus Enform subscription service offering around safe teen driving systems covers basics related to speed, curfew, and boundaries, but nothing more.
A Remote Touch Interface (RTI) mounted to the center console is designed to provide intuitive control over the infotainment system. Because it works like a computer mouse, it should. However, with sensitivity set to medium, it proved somewhat resistant to input and often moved to unexpected locations on the display. In order to limit distraction, you’ll want to get this SUV set up to your liking before driving, and use voice commands and steering wheel controls to avoid the RTI as much as is possible.
Finally, it would appear that Mark Levinson needs to step up its game. Other luxury SUVs offer superior clarity and depth of sound through their premium audio systems.
Storage and Space
With its sportier, lower slung interior comes a bit of a compromise in terms of storage space. There simply isn’t much, though expanding door panel pockets and small bins carved into the door armrest do help.
Cargo space is limited, too, the price to be paid for the RX’s rakish roofline. Measuring 18.4 cubic feet, the trunk is not much larger than what you’d find in a Lexus ES sedan. Why? You can’t stack things up like you would in most other SUVs, and that’s because of the rear hatch’s steep angle.
Where the RX is more practical than a car is with regard to the 56 cu.-ft. of maximum cargo space. To access it, fold the 40/20/40-split rear seat down. Still, given that the RX is a midsize vehicle, this measurement is on par with smaller and less expensive luxury crossover SUVs.
Visibility and Safety
Forward visibility is impressive, thanks in part to thin windshield pillars and front quarter windows. Visibility to the side is expansive, too, the large mirrors supplemented by an available blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and automatic braking. That latter feature is particularly useful, because without it and the reversing camera, seeing to the back would certainly cause frustration. Lexus also offers a surround-view camera system for the RX.
Standard equipment includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and lane departure warning with steering assist. The RX earns a “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and while it receives a 5-star rating from the NHTSA, in the frontal-impact tests the SUV gets just 4 stars for its ability to protect the driver and front passenger.
Get the RX 350, and your new Lexus will have a 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission and a choice between front-wheel and all-wheel drive.
Get the RX 450h, and your new Lexus will have a gas-electric hybrid drivetrain making a combined total of 308 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission delivers gas engine power to the front wheels, while rear electric motors effectively give this version all-wheel drive.
The RX 350 test vehicle had front-wheel drive, and the F Sport trim installed a pair of paddle shifters along with an adaptive damping suspension. Drive Mode Select supplied Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport+, and Customize driving modes, providing a variety of different driving characters.
Tested primarily in Normal mode, which is the default setting each time the RX is started, the V6 engine provided robust acceleration from a stop, the front wheels occasionally breaking loose with a chirp and torque steer sometimes evident through the thick-rimmed F Sport steering wheel.
Lexus says the RX 350 with front-wheel drive accelerates to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. It feels quicker than that, though the transmission is evidently geared to deliver impressive thrust at low speeds. At higher engine revs, passing power is rather lackluster.
During spirited driving, the paddle shifters were not particularly useful. The engine is isolated from the cabin, so it’s hard to discern shift points by ear. Better to let the Sport or Sport+ driving mode and the transmission sort things out.
By far, Lexus RX owners cite fuel economy as their least favorite thing about their vehicles, a complaint compounded by owner psychographics that show RX owners as more concerned about miles per gallon than a typical Midsize Luxury SUV buyer.
Based on my testing, it is easy to see why they’re unhappy. On my testing loop, the RX 350 returned just 18.7 mpg, falling far short of the official EPA rating of 23 mpg in combined driving.
Equipped with larger 20-inch wheels and tires, an adaptive damping suspension, and multiple driving modes, the RX 350 F Sport ought to be more enjoyable to drive than it is.
Where most people explore handling characteristics, the RX feels sporty, just firm enough to deliver a sense of the road and supplying just enough grip to spark a thrill around a freeway ramp. With a driving enthusiast behind the steering wheel, on a mountain road he or she knows well, the RX 350 F Sport’s performance act falls apart pretty fast.
The tires are part of the problem, all-season 55-series rubber that scrubs early and howls earlier. Certainly, carrying the majority of its weight on the front axle doesn’t help. Otherwise, the consistently weighted but lifeless steering and the failure of the adaptive damping suspension to completely quell body roll really limit the RX 350’s ability to put a smile on a serious driver’s face.
Worst, though, are the brakes. On the test vehicle, they heated up and shuddered on a family ride across local mountains to the beach, and when the SUV was driven hard they faded to the point where a panic stop was difficult to execute.
In short, the RX 350 F Sport is promising dynamism it cannot deliver. Good thing, then, that J.D. Power data shows that RX owners are less demanding in terms of powerful acceleration and responsive handling than are the collective owners of Midsize Luxury SUVs.
That Lexus RX owners chose their vehicles in spite of their dissatisfaction with the front-end styling, and that the RX is the most popular luxury vehicle in America, is testament to the power of reputation.
Known to be a dependable, refined, comfortable, luxurious, and safe vehicle, the RX delivers on all fronts. Therefore, if you like the way this SUV looks, and you’re not expecting to tackle local roads like your neighbor with the Audi Q5 or Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class does, you’ll probably find happiness behind the wheel of this Lexus.
Do not, however, expect to match the EPA fuel economy rating with an RX 350.
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Lexus RX review.
For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.