For 2015, the Lexus RX enters its sixteenth year on the US market. Changes are minimal, because the RX pretty much has the luxury-crossover thing down pat.
Sweet sixteen finds the RX to be as desirable and relevant as ever. It is ubiquitous on the road, as well it should be; that first RX was a pioneering car-based crossover, at a time when all the love was going to truck-based SUVs, like the Ford Explorer and Chevy Tahoe. In its first review of the RX, Edmunds.com sniffed, “Don’t kid yourself, it’s not a real SUV”.
The market shift from SUVs to crossovers shows that Lexus did in fact have a dead aim on the likes and needs of upscale buyers who were allergic to station wagons but weren’t really looking to drive a truck. The success of the RX has been enormous and enduring, and it’s one that any carmaker would dearly want.
The RX is priced for successful people. Its three flavors start with the $41,705 RX 350 and rise to $48,355 for the hybrid-powered RX 450h. Add $1,400 to each for all-wheel drive. At the top is the new-for-2015 RX 350 F-Sport, which at $49,460 includes all-wheel drive but adds the paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic transmission shared by other F-Sport Lexuses. It’s nice that Lexus saw fit to bestow a more immediate response to the rigorously mainstream RX.
Additionally, debuting at August 2014’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and then hitting the US market in November 2015 is “The Crafted Line by Lexus”, which essentially is a unique color scheme that has a version in each Lexus sedan, along with RX 350 F-Sport and the NX F-Sport, which we’ll get to in a bit.
If the first thing you think of with Lexus is a beige luxury sedan, then The Crafted Line may be a surprise, with stark powdery white paint with contrasting black door handles, along with red accents in the black interiors. TCLs also come with a couple of matching TUMI bags, in case you’d like your car to spoil you just a little bit more.
If you’d like a little less car, then model year 2015 will accommodate with the debut of the RX’s little sibling, the aforementioned NX. As the Toyota Highlander (and Camry) are to the RX, the RAV4 (and Corolla) are to the NX. The NX also brings the first turbo to the Lexus lineup. Prices are yet to be announced, but expect NX base prices to land in the low-$30K range with an overall length that aligns with the Corolla’s 182 inches, which is about five inches shorter than the RX’s.
So with its new in-house competitor, the RX faces as high a bar as ever. But for as much of the automotive background it occupies, the RX is still a compelling choice. I’d stop short of saying that the tested RX 350 was fun to drive, but I still very much liked driving it. You would not call your personal assistant who is so thoroughly competent “fun”, but you’d appreciate the terrific job he does. Same with the RX.
Start with the gutsy V6 engine; it darts the RX from the line and burbles under load like a muscle car. Hard to imagine needing more than this in the daily traffic grind.
The six-speed transmission is a willing partner, with responses that are well-plotted. Braking is fuss-free, and there’s little forward dive in a panic stop.
Handling has one nick: if you do a lot of urban driving and need to spin the wheel for three-point turns toward opposite-lane parking spaces, then you’ll notice that the steering loads up with a gummy feel in the first turn-and-a-half as you aim for those spots. Not a dealbreaker, but it is there, time after time. Otherwise, the RX feels fluid and game.
Inside, the RX shows sixteen years of refinement. Soft lighting, pliant plastics, clear displays, intuitive interfaces – you will have this Lexus in hand after a quick pre-flight, and you’ll appreciate the glow of its surroundings as you go.
The front seats are particularly impressive. Remember the pillowed seats of 1970s US cars? The Buicks and Oldsmobiles and others with piped velour pads atop the seats? This RX delivers on the promise of those elaborately styled cushions with a seat makes you feel like you’re floating above it, even as it gives decent side support. It’s kooky that such a plush seat could be so supportive in curves, but this one is.
The RX is available with only two rows of seats as opposed to the three in the Acura MDX, so you’ll want to check out the MDX to get the rest of the story. And suffice it to say that the Koreans and Germans and Americans will all want your digits if you are shopping in this profitable upscale crossover segment.
But if you think you’d like the Lexus RX, the one that blazed the crossover trail, then you’ll probably like it a lot.
2015 Lexus RX 350
Base Price: $43,120 (including delivery)
Price as Tested: $54,355
Comfort Package: $1,390 (includes HID headlights, LED fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, heated and cooled front seats)
Dual-Screen Rear Seat Entertainment with Navigation: $4,060
Heads Up Display: $1,200
Mark Levinson DVD Premium Surround Sound: $995
Intuitive Parking Assist: $500
Premium Package with Blind Spot Monitor System: $2,760 (includes leather, moonroof, power folding outside mirrors, roof rails, etc.)
Wood and leather trimmed steering wheel and shifter: $330
Plush overall feel
Gummy steering in tight maneuvers
No third-row option