Skip to main content

2016 Lexus RX First Drive: Big Improvements for the Segment Leader

I recently had a chance to drive the 2016 Lexus RX lineup, including the RX350, the RX350 F Sport, the RX450h and the RC450h F Sport, and while the RX is already the top dog in this luxury SUV segment – Lexus managed to improve the new RX in every way.


Many automakers often wait far too long to introduce a new version of a popular model, but with the Lexus RX midsized sport utility vehicle, Toyota didn’t wait for this model to fall behind before ushering in a new generation. In fact, the RX is and always has been the leader in the midsized SUV segment, but with new models like the Cadillac XT5 on the way, there is always new competition on the horizon. For this reason, Toyota worked hard to design a 2016 RX lineup that improved on the previous models in every possible way and the result is a great luxury sport utility vehicle that offers more luxury and more sport in a striking new package.

As part of the media drive for the 2016 Lexus RC lineup, we got to drive each of the trimlines for the new generation, along with a few from the previous generation. I have also drive the RX350 in the past for a full review and while I liked the previous generation, I am impressed with what a great job the Lexus team did in redesigning a vehicle that was already at the head of its class.

Exterior Upgrades
While some people don’t care for the angular, aggressive face of the modern Lexus lineup – I love it and I love the application on the 2016 RX. From top to bottom, front to back, the new RX is sharper and more linear than the 2016 models while the Lexus spindle grille on the new model is far more pronounced and far more aggressive than the previous generation. When combined with the LED accent lighting in the LED headlight assemblies, the new RX350 and RX450h are both far sportier than the outgoing models, even without the optional F Sport trim that is offered on both of the new RX SUVs.

2016 rx350 f side

I would imagine that those folks who dislike the look of the new Lexus IS will dislike the new RX, but I really like the exterior styling direction of the Lexus brand and I love the look of this new model. The entire luxury segment in the US has grown to demand a more aggressive look without compromising the luxury feel, and there is no question that the new Lexus RX checks both of those boxes with the striking exterior. While looking bigger than the 2015 models, the 2016 RX has a flatter design along the top and sides, so it doesn’t feel like a bigger vehicle than the outgoing models. It looks lower and wider, bolstering the sporty feel and allowing it to better fit into both the Lexus lineup and the entire segment as a whole.

Really, the 2016 Lexus RX350 and RX460h models perfectly apply the modern design language of the hotter-selling Lexus sedans and coupes – which should only spell good things for future sales numbers. In fact, the 2016 RX is already selling well and you can read more about that by clicking here.

A More Luxurious Cabin
Next up, we have the 2016 Lexus RX cabin, which begins by offering more cargo and seating space for front and rear occupants, but this new interior layout is more than just a few extra inches of leg room.

If you were to spend a few hours driving a 2015 Lexus RX350 or RX450h, you would surely come away impressed with the level of comfort provided by the interior. The 2015 model is the bestselling vehicle in the class for a reason, so most drivers would be pleased with the plush seats, the premium infotainment system, the spacious cabin and the smooth, quiet ride. The 2016 Lexus RX seats are a touch more welcoming, with plush padding and deep bolsters that provide tons of comfort on a long ride for both the driver and front passenger. The standard 2016 RX seats are situated nice and high to give the driver a great line of sight around the vehicle and while offering just as much seating space (if not more), the controls of the new model are arranged in a way that makes everything easier to access from a comfortable, normal driving position. Those who opt for the F Sport, whether RX350 or RX450h, will also enjoy package specific sport seats, leather wrapped shifter and sport steering wheel, bright polished sport pedals, F Sport badging and a unique Rioja Red leather interior.

rioja red front seats

Best of all, the entire 2016 Lexus RX lineup comes with a standard 8 inch infotainment screen and a 9-speaker sound system, but there is also an optional 12.3 inch infotainment screen and a pair of upgraded speaker systems – one being a 12-speaker Pioneer system and the other being a 15-speaker Mark Levinson system. I will get this out of the way up front – I find the Mark Levinson speaker systems offered by Lexus to be among the best in the industry and the optional Levinson system in the new RX lineup is no different. This system, paired with the 12.3 inch infotainment package, is worth every cent of the upgrade charge and I would say that this Lexus has one of the best sound systems I’ve experienced in a midsized SUV. From satellite radio to basic AM/FM to user-provided media sources, this system provides deafening, high quality sound regardless of the type of music that you prefer.

One aspect of the previous generation Lexus RX that I didn’t love was the shifter mounted on the face of the dash, but the shifter has been moved down onto the center console while the Lexus control interface has been moved back, better aligned with the driver’s right arm while on the center arm rest. When combined with the collection of buttons on the steering wheel and the voice control system, the driver rarely has to reach up to the center stack to make sound system or climate control adjustments – although folks who prefer traditional buttons and knobs will be pleased to find a full complement of controls on the sleek center stack.

16 rx350 f sport dash

Finally, in addition to the premium technology features and the plush seats, the 2016 Lexus RX lineup is offered with a quartet of high end interior finishes including Matte Bamboo, Espresso Walnut, Matte Linear Dark Mocha Wood, Striated Black Trim and Gray Sapele Wood with Aluminum trim.

The bottom line is that the 2016 Lexus RX interior – in any trim – is as comfortable, as luxurious and as impressive as any comparable vehicle in the class so heading into 2016, this new RX lineup isn’t outclassed by any other midsized SUV in America.

The Drive
The 2016 Lexus RX350 and RX350 F Sport are both powered by the 3.5L V6 with 295 horsepower and 267lb-ft of torque, which is sent to the wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front wheel drive is offered on the RX350, but the vast majority of these models will be equipped with all-wheel drive.

For comparison, the 2015 Lexus RX350 had a similar 3.5L V6, but the older engine only delivered 270 horsepower and 248lb-ft of torque. That extra power is quickly evident when driving the 2015 model then the 2016 model, and the 2016 RX350 feels stronger than the previous model at every point in the course of normal driving. Acceleration from a stop is strong and it is even more impressive through the midrange, so the new RX350 will scoot past slower moving vehicles on the highway more quickly than the outgoing models.

2016 rx350 f sport driving

More importantly, the new RX350 offers a more refined ride while also offering more engaging handling. Whether zipping along country roads or weaving through traffic, the 2016 RX350 felt more stable and more confident and, as a result, the new RX350 is simply more fun to drive than the outgoing models. Best of all, the 2016 RX350 is more fun to drive without compromising ride quality and while I didn’t use any formal sound meters – the new RX definitely seemed much quieter inside to me than the previous version. Both in terms of road vibration and wind noise, the new RX350 is quieter than the 2015 RX350 and when you have the incredible Levinson sound system turned down, I’m not sure that I’ve tested a quieter SUV.

Now, I have to point out that I found the 2016 Lexus RX350 F Sport the most entertaining to drive, but I need to also address the new RX450h – which also gets F Sport tuning for the new generation.

The RX450 hybrid offers the same impressive level of luxury in terms of interior comforts and sound levels, but the fuel sipping model doesn’t offer quite the same acceleration as the non-hybrid model, of course. The RX450h offers a combined system output of 308hp and 247lb-ft of torque, but the added weight of the hybrid components prevent the more powerful RX from being the better performing model. It still offers plenty of pizazz on the road, but it just doesn’t pack the same acceleration fun of the RX350. Along the same line, the RX450h handles nicely, but the added weight of the hybrid goodies does cause a touch more body roll force under hard cornering. Fortunately, most people don’t buy these vehicles for their hard cornering capabilities.

The Final Word
If you are in the market for a roomy, midsized luxury SUV that is fun to drive, packed full of technology and sporting an aggressive exterior look – there is no vehicle better in today’s market than the 2016 Lexus RX. This new RX offers something for everyone, with the RX350 serving as an impressive base model for those who are shopping on a budget, but for those luxury SUV buyers who want a sportier drive or hybrid fuel economy – the RX350 F Sport, the RX450h and the RX450h F Sport are quick to answer those added demands.

2016 rx350 f rear

While the striking exterior design may not sit well with everyone, the driving experience, the interior layout and the infotainment technology are hard to rival in the midsized SUV segment. The Lexus RX has led this segment since it essentially invented it and with the 2016 models, I expect to see that trend continue.