Change it up, Lexus, but not too much

Lexus RX: Getting old, but still there

Despite being in its eighth model year, the current-gen RX has held up surprisingly well with the times. An update for 2020 has eliminated (or at least mitigated) one of the RX’s most annoying features by replacing its dreadful touchpad infotainment interface with a proper touchscreen. The touchpad will be gone forever in the next update as the RX, with its large touch display and integrated temperature controls, will adopt a form of the infotainment system from the recently redesigned and a size smaller NX.

Normally we would call for a complete interior makeover on any vehicle this old, but the RX has remained remarkably contemporary. Odd switch placement (crammed full of new tech that wasn’t there when the vehicle was launched) is a common sign of an aging vehicle, but the 2022 RX’s interior still looks modern… except for the standard CD player. Still, we can’t rule out a CD changer reappearing – after all, the RX still has to appeal to boomers and other older demographics who might still use physical media.

Better driving dynamics on the way

Aside from the aforementioned touchpad, our main complaint about the Lexus RX, particularly the F-Sport variant, was the luxury SUV’s less than responsive driving characteristics. It’s almost a given that this will improve, as Lexus will move the RX to Toyota’s New Global Architectural (TGNA) platform, which offers noticeable improvements in road manners.

Lexus has made a few changes to the RX for 2022, mostly to reduce body roll and improve ride quality. We singled out the F Sport because it doesn’t offer the thrills you might expect when you sign up for its tauter ride, but we thought the 2022 was a lot more comfortable walking down the road – especially when we were in the New York Metro drove where road repair does not appear to be high on a community’s list of priorities. If the next-gen RX delivers the same ride quality with better cornering and improved steering feel, we’d be really pleased. Based on our experience with other vehicles on the TGNA platform, we are optimistic.

The RX’s V-6 has to go…or does it?

But the engine has to go. Not that the 295hp 3.5-litre V6 under the RX350’s hood did anything to offend us; It’s a faithful soldier who has served faithfully, and its refinement and tone are pleasing enough. But our all-wheel-drive RX350 returned to fuel economy in its mid-teens around town, and even during a day of slow-paced hiking through the beautiful back roads of the Berkshires, it barely cracked 23mpg. Even the hybrid RX450h uses six-cylinder power, a concept even more outdated than the CD player. We’d be amazed if the next RX didn’t upgrade to a more fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder. (If that happens, it’ll be the end of an era: the RX has had V-6 power since its inception in the 20th century.)

That said, we have our concerns. The obvious candidate is the 275hp 2.4-liter turbocharged four that powers the Lexus NX350, but our testing of this vehicle showed performance that left a lot to be desired: 0 to 60 in 7.3 seconds, reasonable, but not stunning for a luxury SUV. The current-gen RX350 is nearly a quarter-ton heavier than the NX350, so how will this engine handle that weight? On reflection, it may be a bit hasty on our part to condemn the V-6 to the junkyard.

Lexus RX: The right-sized SUV

We’re hoping Lexus will resist the temptation to make the RX bigger (as it did quite a bit with the NX). The existing RX350 is a great size for a five-seat SUV, big enough to have a significant presence but small enough to easily maneuver through Manhattan traffic. The back seat offers plenty of legroom and a level floor. We like the long-wheelbase seven-seat version, the Lexus RX-L, which is far too stingy with third-row space – it’s not clear at this point if the L will continue or be replaced by the recently confirmed three-row TX model – but the five-seat RX is just the right size, and we’re hoping that doesn’t change.

Another thing that needs to go are the stupid dealer installed running boards on our RX350 test SUV. At $650, they’re sure to be a nice profit generator for Lexus and its dealers, but they’re a major pain for owners. Finally, the RX350 was engineered to sit at just the right step-in height. Those silly planks just get in the way, and we’ve repeatedly slammed our shins and soiled our pant cuffs while making an otherwise graceful entry or exit from the RX. We can’t imagine the Lexus designers not looking and flinching at these things. When are they going to get up and oust those in the marketing department who are trying to spoil perfect design for a few bucks more in profits?

Change the RX, Lexus – but not too much

We’re surprised by the result of this test drive: we thought we were spending all our time noting things that should change, and instead kept finding things that shouldn’t. The RX is just the right size, and its interior is still lovely, especially with the optional red leather seats in our F-Sport example. The controls are uncomplicated, interior comfort is excellent, and the driving experience, if not vibrant, is quiet and comfortable. We’re not going to pretend that the current RX is our favorite luxury SUV, or even our favorite Lexus, but we understand why it remains the brand’s best-seller.

2022 Lexus RX350 F Sport AWD specifications

BASE PRICE $51,875
LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/295hp/267lb-ft Port and Direct Injected DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
TARGET 4,400 pounds (mfr)
WHEELBASE 109.8 inches
L x W x H 192.5 x 74.6 x 67.7 inches
0-60MPH 6.8 sec (MT European daylight saving time)
EPA RANGE, COMB 422 miles

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