Just Before Remake, Lexus RX Remains Segment’s Gold Standard

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Long before lots of other automakers even thought about making upscale SUVs that were drivable like cars and rode like a magic carpet, Lexus introduced the RX midsize crossover in the 1990s and immediately created a gold standard that most of the industry is still trying to catch up with.

Even just before a replacement version arrives next year for the fifth-generation RX that dates from the 2016 model year, the aging current RX350 still sets the pace for the entire segment of luxury crossovers. Rivals may be better here or there, but for an overall package that gives expectant drivers what they’re looking for in this category, it’s still very hard to beat RX.

The vehicle’s dashboard technology may have aged out its present configuration, and Lexus felt it necessary recently to add a third row RX L version to its lineup. But the silky smooth ride provided by the standard LX, and the internal quiet that gives you space to think, and seats that make you forget you’re sitting, all have helped create a vehicle that I’ll be sorry to see go no matter what’s up next for the RX line.

There are assumptions that Lexus will use Toyota’s New Global Architectural platform for the fresh version, for instance, a platform that provides significant ride improvements to the company’s new models. And tech aficionados are pining for the new RX to include a massive new touchscreen that would befit an IMAX theater.

But today’s RX offers an ideal blend of controlled handling, cushioned ride, and sufficient oomph from the V6 powertrain, a 295-horsepower engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is plenty strong for nearly all driving situations, including from a stop and when getting up to highway speeds. And all the while, the ride feels nearly as distinctively effortless today as it did a quarter-century ago when no rivals could even touch what Lexus was able to accomplish in early RX models.

RX gets 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, which are decent ratings for its class. RX also comes in a hybrid version nearly identical to the standard gasoline-powered one, but with better fuel-economy numbers and a higher pricetag.

Lexus has continued to refine its exterior styling over the years, with a more angular and aggressive look, and that approach lends itself well to RX, giving it an elongated appearance that it hasn’t always enjoyed. On the other hand, RX doesn’t provide as much cargo room as you’d hope or expect from a midsize hauler and trails some rivals significantly in that criterion.

One complaint: The running boards on the current version not only aren’t necessary for a vehicle that has a relatively low step-in height already, they’re actually an annoyance, because your inclination is to step over them rather than use them for disembarking. And then they just get in the way.

But all in all, Lexus can certainly improve on what remains its flagship product. But I wouldn’t really complain if they didn’t bother trying for a while, either.

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