The 2016 Lexus RX 450h is here and grabbing attention. The Lexus RX has been the best-selling luxury SUV for years. Remarkably, in 2015, it was also the best-selling luxury vehicle, topping the sales of the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedans.
That top position could be in peril this year as a redesigned 2016 model is now in showrooms and appeared in my driveway this past week. It’s more aggressively styled. It looks more sporty. It could be a move that widens the RX’s lead over other luxury vehicles — or it may slow its momentum. Either way, it’s easy to find five reasons to drive this comfortable, five-passenger crossover.
Let’s explore five reasons to drive the 2016 Lexus RX 450h.
Reason #1: Aggressive style makes an impression
The RX has been a hit since it first arrived in the late 1990s. However, the model you likely think of today is the redesigned version Lexus released for the 2008 model year. It was comfortable, rounded and conservative enough that it simply evoked Lexus goodness, but nothing radical.
The 2016 model changes all that and it starts with the massive spindle grille. The sheer size of the grille between the old and new models is staggering. I parked the 2016 RX next to a 2013 model and — sorry Lexus — every person in my test car preferred the old grille to the new one. The good news for Lexus is that the rest of the styling changes on the 2016 model — everything from the dramatically sloped rear, the creased rear hatch and side doors and the sharp headlight and taillights — are “better” and “more stylish” than the version it replaces.
A friend of mine drives an older RX model and proudly calls it her “grandma car.” Given the target demographic of the RX, she’s not off the mark. But you won’t get a grandma or grandpa vibe with this new model. Time and sales will tell if this more aggressive design pays off for Lexus.
Reason #2: A comfortable, luxurious cabin
No matter your opinions on the RX’s exterior, I’m confident you’ll like the interior. The soft leathers, wood grains, and quality finish are evident throughout the vehicle.
This new RX is five inches longer than the old model and you immediately notice the extra legroom in both the front and rear seats. Lexus could have tried to jam a third row of seats in the rear of the car, but wisely didn’t. The result is a vehicle that feels spacious and coddling at the same time.
Your kids (or grandkids) will enjoy the huge LCD video screens mounted to the backs of the front seats. They look and feel like a full-size iPad and pivot forwards and backward to ensure a clear view for toddlers and adults alike. The good news for kids is that one of them can watch a movie while the other passenger plays console games. The screens are available as stand-alone options or as part of the Rear Seat Entertainment Package for an extra $2,095.
Lexus continues to use the Remote Touch Interface (RTI) that works like a computer mouse to scroll through information and navigate the 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen display nestled into the top of the dashboard. Though some critics express frustration about the RTI system, spend a few minutes with it and you’ll quickly figure it out. While it’s more clumsy than a touchscreen, it also ensures you’re not constantly looking at a smudge- and grease-filled screen. I consider that a fair trade.
Reason #3: Lots of cool features
Once you get past the new design, the big things that will stand out are all inside the latest RX. The rear-seat entertainment system allows back-seat passengers to control what’s on the 11.6-inch screen, even connecting their gadgets to stream music via Bluetooth or connecting a player via HDMI cable to send movies and other content from their devices to the screen.
A panoramic sunroof lets in lots of sunlight while heated rear seats keep you warm during cold winter months. And to help ensure your safety, you can select a camera-based panoramic monitoring system that creates a 360-degree image of your vehicle and makes backing out of a crowded driveway or parking lot incredibly easy.
Reason #4: 2016 Lexus RX 450h averages 30 mpg in combined driving
Most drivers will choose the RX 350 with its 3.5-liter V6 engine that returns 23 mpg in combined city and highway driving (22 mpg with all-wheel drive). If you’re looking to reduce your emissions by doing your part to drive (slightly) green, the RX 450h is without question the way to go. This hybrid crossover averages an outstanding 31 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway for a combined 30 mpg. And here’s the extra-good news: the all-wheel drive version still averages 30 mpg in combined driving. You won’t find many crossovers that even approach or meet those averages and that means you’ll make fewer trips to the pump each year.
Another impressive fact is that the RX 450h uses an Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V6 engine and an electric assist motor to make 300 horsepower. Coupled with a standard 8-speed transmission, you’ll enjoy strong acceleration when needed and improved fuel economy when puttering around town. You can also use Drive Mode Select technology to toggle between Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes. Frankly, you don’t notice a huge difference between the modes, but I’m confident Eco mode will help improve fuel economy if you drive conservatively.
Reason #5: Delivers outstanding safety ratings
Lexus includes the Lexus Safety System+ as an available upgrade on all new RX models. For $635 you’ll gain the dynamic radar cruise control system, a pre-collision braking system with pedestrian warning, lane keep assist and lane departure warning, and intelligent high-beam headlamps.
The system is worth the upgrade, and I encourage you to consider adding adaptive headlights, blind spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert systems, too. It’s a bit surprising these aren’t all offered in a single safety system. Perhaps next year.
Add these systems to the standard rearview camera and 10 standard airbags and the 2016 Lexus RX vehicles earned a “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety after earning “Good” scores on all crash tests.
RX should remain the best-selling luxury model
I’m not sure the latest RX design will appeal to traditional Lexus owners. But for those who have never before considered the RX, the more contemporary design may move them closer to ownership. The seats are firmer than the prior model, yet are still comfortable. The interior fit and finish are excellent. Consumer Reports expects “excellent” reliability and includes the RX 450h on their list of “recommended” vehicles for 2016.
With a starting price of $53,635, the RX 450h is expensive. Throw in a full complement of options and my test car’s price topped $64,000 after the destination and handling fee. That’s a lot of coin for a top-selling luxury SUV. If your car-buying budget is in the $50k-plus neighborhood, I recommend you give this one a serious look.
2016 Lexus RX 450h photo copyright Waterdog Media, Inc.