Well, this is embarrassing. Lexus sent me a 2023 RX 500h F-Sport at the end of August, and I’m just now discovering that while I did indeed drive it, I didn’t write anything about it at the time. Blame it on the fact that I had several other cars in and out at the same time, or the week-long beach vacation that immediately followed. Thankfully I take good notes; let’s talk about this RX 500h now.
This year brought the all-new fifth generation RX, and given it’s a perennial best-seller for Lexus they understandably wouldn’t want to change too much. The ethos of the car remains the same as before, a quiet and comfortable midsize luxury crossover with seating for five. The itty-bitty third row “RX L” model is gone, replaced by the larger Lexus TX that also launched this year.
My last experience with a Lexus RX was a few years ago. I thought the bones of the 2021 RX 350 F-Sport were good, but found the entire notion of an RX F-Sport to be kind of silly. Lexus heard my “Really? It’s just adaptive dampers and cosmetics?” cry and put some more serious hardware on this new generation of RX F-Sport. In theory, the math works. In reality, it doesn’t quite add up for me.
The Basics of the 2023 Lexus RX
Lexus’ press release for the 2023 RX lineup claims that since its conception in 1998, the RX (which stands for Radiant Crossover internally) has always been built with “a vibrant verve known as omotenashi, or anticipatory hospitality” and that this fifth generation is more refined than ever.
Part of that refinement comes from the move to the Toyota/Lexus “GA-K” platform. Shared with seemingly endless other vehicles, GA-K is their latest familial platform to underpin more or less all front-biased unibody vehicles. Lexus claims the new platform results in lighter curb weight, a lower center of gravity, and increased rigidity. While the overall length stays the same (yay) as the outgoing model at 192.5 inches, the wheelbase is nearly 2.5 inches longer and provides more rear legroom.
Drivetrain-wise, Lexus offers a standard 2.5-liter turbo four and a hybrid variant (dubbed RX 350h) as well as a new-for-2024 plug-in hybrid model. But my tester was the RX 500h, which uses a slightly-smaller 2.4-liter turbo four and three electric motors for propulsion. Three electric motors? Yep, there’s a small one acting as a starter/generator, a bigger one sandwiched between the engine and six-speed automatic transmission, and a third powering the rear axle.
And yes, this is the same basic T24A engine found in the 2024 Tacoma, though its iForce Max hybrid setup is different than what’s found here. Total power output from this RX 500h and its “DIRECT4” all-wheel drive is rated at 366 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque.
Making an RX 500h F-Sport
The RX 500h F-Sport is already better than that RX 350 F-Sport I drove a few years ago, in that it’s differentiated by more power. But Lexus didn’t stop there. Adaptive dampers are once again part of the formula, but paired to optional rear-wheel steering. The system allows up to four degrees of counter-steer and works automatically.
Brakes, too, are upsized, with front rotors measuring a gigantic 15.74 inches in diameter and rears at a still-big 13.39 inches. Front calipers clamp with the force of six-pistons. The whole setup is suspiciously similar to that of the Lexus LC, though Lexus claims these brake calipers are 2.4 pounds lighter. Racecrossover!
Further down the sporty-hardware list, you’ll find a set of 21-inch wheels with Bridgestone Alenza all-season tires (Michelin Pilot Sport summers are optional). Inside, the steering wheel and gauge cluster come with small F-Sport tweaks and the front seats are (slightly) more heavily bolstered.
It’s F-Sporty, Sort Of
If all you care about in a performance vehicle is straight-line speed, the RX 500h will be F-Sporty enough. The multiple power sources combine for strong acceleration without much, if any, turbo lag. You can get the RX to produce a touch of torque steer, given the front and rear axles aren’t directly connected. Yes, the rear “e-axle” kicks in quickly, but you’re still asking for a lot of power and torque from the front-focused powertrain.
Leave everything in its Normal drive mode and you’ll find the ride quality to be typical Lexus – cosseting, supple, and refined. Poke through the too-complex infotainment to change your drive mode to Sport, and the fabulous ride quality turns over-damped.
Steering remains a highlight, though, with nice weighting and pretty good feel given what it underpins. Rear steering is most noticeable at lower speeds but makes the RX 500h remarkably maneuverable, cutting 1.7 feet from the turning radius compared to other RX models.
I found the brake pedal to be my least favorite aspect of the RX 500h, with a wooden feel that didn’t accurately communicate quite what those big calipers were up to as I asked to scrub speed. It’s not a complaint I’ve shared with the Lexus LC 500, so calibration on the RX is clearly different.
And then we must talk about tires. I like the Bridgestone Alenza and have had it on several of my personal vehicles, including my current Porsche Cayenne. But it’s not a performance tire in the slightest. It’s meant for long life, a quiet and comfortable ride, and good wet-weather control. It does those three things well. It does not handle enthusiastic cornering with any sort of excitement.
I complained about this on the Cadillac Escalade V as well, another performance-minded SUV with the same tire. Tossing the RX 500h toward an off-ramp with much aggression results in understeer and noise as the poor Alenza rolls onto its sidewall in protest. Choosing the optional summer tire here would go a long way.
Innovation for Innovation’s Sake is Frustrating
Lexus updated the interior of the new RX, bringing their latest infotainment and related technology to the cabin. While it’s a big improvement over the outgoing generation’s touchpad interface, the large touchscreen found in the RX 500h isn’t perfect. Some key settings feel buried in menus and are hard to deal with on the move.
Equally difficult to sort out are the steering wheel buttons. I love how they pair to the heads-up display; a light touch (without a button press) brings up a graphic in your eyesight confirming what each button does. What I don’t love is how the buttons change function based on what you’re controlling. It’s distracting.
Finally, we have to talk about the door handles. Pedantic, maybe, but they confused everyone who rode in the RX 500h. Exterior handles are fixed and do not move, relying on a touchpad hidden behind each handle to actuate the latch. Easy enough, if a bit odd. Inside, though, Lexus moved to an electronic push-button to release the door. Legally, they must also have a manual door release, and that’s where this gets odd. Instead of mounting something separately, the electronic “pusher” is also a manual “puller.” Most passengers ended up pulling on the release, then realizing it was the backup method.
At Its Core, It’s Great
Despite a few annoyances with the 2023 Lexus RX in general, I think at its core it remains a great car for the right kind of buyer. It’s quiet, it rides well, it’s nice without being ostentatious. The optional Mark Levinson sound system is fantastic, the seats are comfy, and the interior is spacious.
I’m still not sold on this particular Lexus model having an F-Sport variant, though. They threw all the right hardware at the car and it still doesn’t land. The RX, to me, isn’t supposed to be that girl. The model name carries a lot of (good) baggage, but I feel like it’s best experienced – as always – as the most whipped-buttercream-smooth variant you can find.