The newly updated flagship RX crossover is all about luxury, with little mind towards the sport and performance in its name.
2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD review with The Road Beat
Words and photos by Mitchell Weitzman
Let's talk about the color first. It's called Copper Crest, and to both my amusement and surprise, this shade of rose gold can easily be considered a smashing success. Things were off to a rocky start when my best friend had a negative reaction towards the paint, but then something happened that I've never experienced before with a car: multiple people, multiple strangers, approached me and asked about the color because of how much they liked it. The initial unsolicited response came from an elderly lady, which confirmed a suspicion, but then others, men and women of varying ages, all came to comment on this shade of rose-copper in positive manners. Never have I tested a car where a color garnered so many compliments, let alone reactions of any kind. Copper Crest? My appreciation for the paint grew when at night it transforms into a strong copper worthy of the name. This final judgement was made all the more apparent when I saw another new RX in boring silver, which looked terrible by comparison. I mean, really, silver? That's the best your imagination could do? Job well done, Lexus. Copper Crest is a winner.
Well, at least the color is good, because the rest of this Lexus is a combination of untapped potential and a pointless and degrading technology overload. There might be some sharp body lines and an F Sport badge adorning the fender, not to mention Performance in the official name, but this luxury barge forgoes both those aspects in typical Lexus fashion of lying in a game of pretend. As for style points alone, oh it kills it there, especially in this aforementioned color. But, the luxury aspect is also compromised by having too many solutions to problems that didn't exist, and by doing so, creates unique new challenges that grow in annoyance.
There is speed to be had, thanks to a 2.4L turbocharged inline-four that is bolstered by a pair of electric motors (they help mask mostly all turbo lag and make for a transparent, seamless powertrain experience), boosting power to 366 total system horsepower. As a result, when you do smash your right foot down, 0-60 MPH takes a brisk 5.5 seconds. What's more surprising though is how smooth this new four-cylinder mashup is, and with a subtle rumble and growl when provoked. Both these aspects led me to believe there was a V6 lurking under the hood until personal examination. Where noise, vibrations, and hardness are concerned, this is one of the best four-bangers in the business right now. And with the electrical assist, this Hybrid averaged 27 MPG during a week together, not brilliant by other Toyota group hybrid standards, but impressive for a large and heavy luxury vehicle with decent pop to the pedal.
Yet, that's where the Performance and F Sport retire. Beyond the impressive powertrain, there's not even a morsel of sport to be found. Now, that doesn't detract from the easy-going nature of the RX when cruising along the freeway, thanks to the nicely weighted steering that never wanders from your intended path, nor the comfortable ride that soaks up bumps - this is a hallmark of a good luxury cruise ship. However, enter a series of bends with enthusiasm, and you're only greeted by mundane boredom and such a lack of interest in sporty driving that it becomes laughable and arrogant for Lexus to have bestowed the name and badge upon this copper creation. Is the handling bad? No, not at all, as it still has decent ability and grip to make unsuspecting passengers (like your in-laws for example) hold on for dear life if you know what you're doing, but the problem is that this Lexus has no desire to partake in this and is zero fun doing so. Push things and you'll only be welcomed by a white flag of surrender and understeer, followed by the most heinously screeching front outside tire I've ever heard. I'm serious, on a long, right-handed, cloverleaf onramp, the left front tire was roaring and pleading for help so profusely I thought the sound was being piped into the cabin via the stereo.
At least the cabin is built to a high stand - wait, what's that? On the dash, a large trim piece has simply popped out of place. Lexus usually stands among the highest build quality of any manufacturer, but a trim piece that repeatedly popped out is not a welcome sign. The rest of the cabin is as you'd expect, with sumptuously glorious leather and microsuede throughout and the solid feeling that's made to NASA tolerances with zero rattles. Well, except that damn trim piece.
On the road, the interior makes for a wondrously quiet and relaxing ride, with noise levels so low that you can whisper from front to second row passengers, and a cushioned ride quality that shrugs bumps off with ease. The seats are terrific, too, with support where needed and that can be made to fit your body shape as perfect as you could so desire. You want luxury? Yeah, it's pretty nice here, and it better be for $70,000.
However, Lexus has decided to implement some systems and changes carried over from the smaller NX crossover, adding solutions to problems that frankly did not exist before. The infotainment is refreshed and far easier to use than before, but the lack of a physical home button can be troublesome at times, with not even a digital one appearing when needed. The on/off button for the RX is also out of place, perched high up for all to see, and since when has that ever been something you want to draw attention to at eye level?
Where things get truly bad are with the steering wheel controls, which are unlabeled, and pressing any of them instead brings up an illustration on the head-up display. If this is supposed to ease distractions, it only increases them as the attention needed to read the HUD and watch which ones you're hovering over makes things far worse than traditional buttons that reflect on the instrument cluster. There's even a button to shuffle to a new page of additional buttons on the HUD! What's worse is that, in some scenarios, like a low, setting sun, you can barely even see the head-up display, and if you wear polarized sunglasses like myself, just good luck - I needed it. I've never once had an issue with clicking through my steering wheel buttons for info like range or cruise control, yet here we are now with touch-sensitive buttons that show up on the windshield in a clumsy method. And, none of the controls even work until the system recognizes your finger hovering upon it, meaning that a quick click to increase your speed on cruise control often means clicking it twice to have any effect. Maybe with more time it can be easily mastered, but the learning curve is so difficult as to actually be borderline dangerous.
The door handles look like traditional items on the outside, but they don't actually move, having sensors on the inside to unlock electronically. If they're trying to make door handles cooler, why are there still door handles to begin with? The Tesla or Aston Martin style and method isn't the right answer either for practical use, but these are just weird as to wonder, why even bother since they don't enhance the experience at all. And like many other new cars, this Lexus will notify the driver if there's something left in the back seat - a little friendly precautionary reminder. Except here, it's not a a friendly chime, but an annoying and loud six-beep sequence as you lock the car and walk away, making others stare at you as they too think your car is possessed or broken. The real kicker? Literally only once out of the half-dozen or so times this alarm went off, had I actually left anything in the car. Yes, this pointless and annoying reminder system actually was a total failure.
Is the Lexus RX 500h a good car? Of course! But does it live up to the Performance and F Sport in its name? Not at all. The bright side is the straight line speed is enough, at least for a Lexus (a base BMW X5 is just as quick), but there is no fun to be had here besides the charismatic paint on this example. The build quality wasn't even rock solid thanks to that pesky trim piece (that I so annoyingly forgot to get a proper picture of), but the rest of the luxury is definitely typical-Lexus, attributing to a soothing mode of transportation.
Either way, 70 grand is a lot of money for a Lexus now, but to be fair, you'd have to spend at least 80 for a comparably-equipped BMW X5, which I do think is the superior vehicle for its improved driving dynamics, and an interior that is more user-friendly. If space isn't as important, the incredible Genesis GV70 beats the Lexus on luxury and interior materials, style, and its four-cylinder is nearly as quick and returns similar-enough mileage. If you just want luxury and a smooth quiet ride with space for four, have no desire for enthusiasm in your driving, and granted that you can live with the electronics, the RX will be a fine choice, and you know you definitely want this color, too.
2023 RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD
As-tested price: $70,830
Pros: Stylish to some; Luxurious and comfortable cabin; Good mileage
Cons: Not sporty; Bad steering wheel controls