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2016 Lexus RX: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader June 2016

It's been almost 20 years since the Lexus RX first went on sale in the U.S. and quickly became the brand's most popular vehicle. The SUV has made some major changes during that time -- but none have been as drastic or as daring as the full redesign issued to the 2016 Lexus RX.

While the outgoing RX hinted at a bolder, more youthful look compared to the earliest RX models, the latest version no longer makes any hints. It now offers one of the most unique, eye-catching designs on the market -- for better or for worse. Some drivers will hate it and some will love it, but one thing's for sure: Everyone is talking about it.

Get past the polarizing exterior, however, and you'll find that the latest RX still retains a lot of what made the outgoing models so popular. While handling has been improved compared to the old RX, the new version is still smooth and comfortable, placing an emphasis on luxury rather than performance. The latest RX also continues to offer a fuel-efficient hybrid version and the same reliable powertrains found in the outgoing model. In other words: Underneath the wild exterior styling, the RX still retains all the same great benefits it's had for nearly 2 decades.

What's New for 2016?

The RX has been fully redesigned for the latest model year. In addition to a few new tech features, the latest RX touts totally new interior and exterior styling, along with a new 8-speed automatic transmission.

What We Like

Surprisingly improved handling; still very comfortable; same reliable powertrain as always; efficient hybrid model

What We Don't

Somehow, there's still no third-row seating; polarizing styling; Remote Touch interface can still be a challenge

How Much?

$42,900-$56,500

Fuel Economy

The RX offers two versions. Base-level RX 350 models use a gas-powered 3.5-liter V6 engine, which makes 295 horsepower (25 more than last year) and 267 lb-ft of torque (19 more than last year). The RX 350's newly standard 8-speed automatic helps it return 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive or 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy with optional all-wheel drive (AWD).

Drivers looking for better gas mileage will want to go with the hybrid-powered RX 450h, which also uses a 3.5-liter V6 -- this time with 308 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is 31 mpg city/30 mpg hwy with front-wheel drive or 30 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with optional AWD.

Standard Features & Options

The base-level RX 350 ($42,900) includes a backup camera, Lexus' premium vinyl upholstery, a power tailgate, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, dual power front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, an 8-in center screen with Lexus' Remote Touch controller, a 9-speaker stereo, a USB port for music, a CD player and HD Radio.

Drivers looking for a little extra excitement will want to go with the F SPORT ($50,100), which features 20-in alloy wheels, enhanced exterior styling, an improved suspension with extra drive modes for spirited driving, paddle shifters, unique interior trim and leather upholstery with heated and ventilated front seats.

Hybrid models (the RX 450h, which starts at $53,200, and the RX 450h F SPORT, which starts at $56,500) are equipped similarly -- though the RX 450h comes standard with a few additional items that are part of the RX 350's Luxury package, such as a power sunroof, automatic wipers, leather upholstery and ventilated seats.

As for options, the RX offers an extensive list. In addition to the aforementioned RX 350 Luxury package (which also adds roof rails and seat memory), both models also offer a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, a larger center screen, a rear DVD entertainment system, a wide-angle backup camera, a panoramic sunroof and a long list of today's latest safety gadgets, which includes a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and forward-collision warning with automatic braking.

Safety

At the time of this writing, the 2016 Lexus RX has not yet been crash-tested by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, it has earned the coveted Top Safety Pick+ rating from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which indicates strong crashworthiness.

As for safety features, the RX's are plentiful. In addition to a long list of standard safety items that includes anti-lock brakes, side-curtain airbags, a backup camera and knee airbags, the RX also touts a wide range of high-tech safety gadgets: adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic braking, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert. You'll have to pay extra to get those items -- but they include basically every modern safety features you could ask for.

Behind the Wheel

On the road, the latest RX might surprise you. Even in base-level (non-F SPORT) trim, the RX comes standard with surprisingly sharp handling, which is a direct contrast from the outgoing model's vague, overassisted steering. It's still no BMW X5 (or even Audi Q5), but the latest RX is a lot more rewarding to drive than ever before. That goes double for the F SPORT, which touts tight steering and surprisingly composed cornering with minimal body roll.

With that said, the RX still offers everything previous RX owners have come to know -- and love -- about their SUV. Expect a comfortable ride, a smooth transmission, predictable power output -- and relatively lazy acceleration (even with the 25-hp boost and the new 8-speed automatic, the RX remains one of the slowest models in its segment). While steering feel has been improved for the latest model year, you can still expect easy turning capabilities at just about all speeds.

Unfortunately, you can also still expect poor visibility: Just like the old model, the latest RX has a low roofline and sloped rear pillars that create large blind spots. In fact, we actually think visibility is a little worse in the latest version. Fortunately, the RX's litany of available driver aids helps to lessen the severity of this issue.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Acura MDX -- The MDX is a close competitor to the RX in terms of pricing, but it offers the all-important third-row seat, which you can't get in the Lexus. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer a hybrid variant.

2016 Lincoln MKX -- You might be surprised to find out just how competitive Lincoln's latest offering is. Not only does it tout similar fit and finish and comfort to the RX, but it offers stronger performance -- and less polarizing styling.

2016 Volvo XC90 -- The new Volvo XC90 is more expensive than the RX, but with good reason: It offers amazing technology and a finely crafted interior.

Used BMW X5 -- The X5 offers stronger acceleration than the RX, along with better handling and cornering capabilities. It also touts the all-important BMW name. But prices are a lot higher, so you may want to consider a used model.

Autotrader's Advice

We'd go with the base-level RX 450h. We don't need the F SPORT, which is primarily an appearance package, and we think the hybrid-powered RX 450h justifies its price premium over the regular model by offering more standard equipment and economy-car-like gas mileage. Between the luxury, the fuel economy, the cutting-edge technology and the improved handling, the RX 450h feels like one of the best all-around vehicles on the market.

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RELATED INVENTORY
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Certified 2016 Lexus RX Models AWD
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Certified 2016 Lexus RX Models AWD
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$42,900
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Certified 2016 Lexus RX Models AWD F Sport
Certified 2016 Lexus RX Models
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Used 2016 Lexus RX Models AWD
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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Lexus RX: New Car Review - Autotrader