If you’re looking for information on a newer Lexus RX, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Lexus RX Review
The 2018 Lexus RX turns an important corner this year. This action should see the RX cement its status as the best-selling premium midsize crossover. A stretched version with three rows of seating is now available, with either regular or hybrid drivetrains.
Now, more people can appreciate the RX’s class, build quality, reliability and perhaps the optional Mark Levinson audio system upgrade, which is a treat for the ears. What might not be a treat for the eyes, however, is the exterior design. Lexus has developed an arguably eccentric design philosophy that puts off as many people as it attracts.
Get past that aspect, though, and the RX still retains a lot of what made the previous versions so popular. While handling has been improved, this fourth generation remains smooth, quiet and comfortable, emphasizing luxury over performance.
What’s New for 2018?
The big news is the introduction of the extended-wheelbase RX 350L and RX 450hL, with three rows of seating for up to seven occupants. The regular RX 450h has seen its price drop, but loses some standard equipment in the process. Most of those items can be reinstated with a new Premium bundle, others are individual options. And the Enform Safety and Service Connect features (similar to GM’s OnStar) are now free for 10 years. See the 2018 Lexus RX models for sale near you
What We Like
Exemplary Lexus build quality; comfort; ever-reliable powertrains; efficient hybrid model; safety equipment
What We Don’t
Remote Touch interface can still be a challenge
RX 350 models use a gasoline-powered 3.5-liter V6 engine that develops 295 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. An 8-speed automatic directs that power to the front wheels as standard; all-wheel drive is an option.
With front-wheel drive, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption as 20 miles per gallon city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. All-wheel drive adjusts those figures to 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.
EPA figures for the RX 350L are: 19 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined (front-wheel drive) and 18 mpg city/25 mpg hwy/21 mpg combined (all-wheel drive). In this longer body, Lexus quotes engine output figures as 290 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque.
The RX 450h hybrid also uses a 3.5-liter V6, plus electric motors for a combined system output of 308 hp (Lexus/Toyota does not quote total torque figures for its hybrid models). It uses a continuously variable transmission and a part-time all-wheel drive system that engages the electric motor powering the rear axle as and when it’s needed. Fuel economy is 31 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined. At the time of writing this review, there were no EPA estimates for the long-wheelbase RX 450hL (which is also rated at 308 hp).
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Lexus RX has a choice of regular or hybrid drivetrains in "base" or F Sport versions, and a choice of 5-seater or longer 6/7-seater body styles. The longer-wheelbase version can be fitted with two captain’s chairs in the second row for a total of six occupants.
The entry level RX 350 ($44,265) includes a rearview camera, premium vinyl upholstery, powered tailgate, keyless entry/ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, 8-way power-adjustable front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, LED lighting, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, 8-in center screen with Remote Touch controller, 9-speaker audio system, USB port, CD player, HD radio, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and forward-collision warning with automatic braking and pedestrian detection.
The F Sport variant ($49,915) features 20-in alloy wheels, enhanced exterior styling, re-tuned suspension with extra drive modes, paddle shifters, plus a dedicated interior trim and leather upholstery with heated/ventilated front sport seats.
The RX 450h ($46,690) and RX 450h F Sport ($52,050) are equipped similarly, but use the hybrid drivetrain.
A new Premium package brings rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, wood accents, driver’s-side memory settings, self-dimming side mirrors and roof rails. A further Luxury package (for the RX 350) includes all those items and adds finer leather, heated/ventilated front seats, heated and powered fold/recline rear seats, a heated steering wheel and sunshades for the rear passenger windows.
Both models also offer a larger (12.3-in) center screen, rear DVD entertainment system, navigation, wide-angle rearview camera, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and a panoramic sunroof.
All-wheel drive is an extra $1,400.
The RX 350L starts at $48,665. There’s also the RX 350L Luxury ($53,680), which is like the RX with the Luxury package, but Lexus has made it a separate trim level in this case. The RX 450hL is priced from $51,615.
With the rear seats in place, cargo space in the regular RX 350 is a generous 18.4 cu ft. This expands to 56.3 cu ft. with the rear seats folded down. The regular RX 450h has extra hardware to accommodate, resulting in 18/55.9 cu ft.
The RX 350L has 15.3 cu ft. behind the third row, 34.1 behind the second and 58.5 with both rows folded down. Lexus claims the same figures for the RX 450hL.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the current RX a maximum five stars overall, with four stars for frontal impact protection and five for side impacts. It also earned the coveted Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Safety features are plentiful, including side curtain airbags, front occupant knee airbags and the advanced driver aids mentioned previously.
Behind the Wheel
Even in basic (non-F Sport) trim, the RX has composed handling. It’s still no BMW X5 (or even Audi Q5), but the current model is the most rewarding to drive of any RX generation. Even more so with the F Sport, which enjoys precise cornering with minimal body roll.
That said, this version offers everything the RX faithful have come to know and love. Such as a comfortable ride, tranquil cabin, smooth transmission, predictable power output and relatively lazy acceleration. Even with 295 hp and an 8-speed automatic, the RX remains one of the slowest models in its segment. Although steering feel has been improved, you can still expect easy turning capabilities at just about all speeds.
Unfortunately, you can expect poor outward vision as well. The RX has a low roofline and sloped rear pillars that create large blind spots. At least the driver aids help to mitigate this issue.
The L versions are only three inches longer, so there’s not a great deal of extra space. In fact, legroom in the first two rows has been reduced somewhat to accommodate a third row that’s best for kids.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 Acura MDX — A close competitor to the RX in terms of pricing, plus a third-row seat. No hybrid variant, though.
2018 Lincoln MKX — Similar fit, finish and comfort to the RX. But with stronger performance and arguably less polarizing styling.
2018 Volvo XC90 — More expensive than the RX, but offers great technology and a finely crafted interior.
Used BMW X5 — Stronger performance than the RX, along with better handling and cornering capabilities, plus the cachet of the BMW name. But prices are a lot higher, so a used model might be the way to go.
F Sport models seem a little redundant because the RX is no driver’s dream. The RX 450h has the most power and best fuel economy, so that’s a good bet if the budget is available. You’ll have your own view on whether you need three rows of seats.