It’s amazing the journey the SUV has taken. It was originally a naked off-roader, stripped bare for action with little thought for creature comforts. Today’s 2023 models bear no resemblance at all to their ancestors.
With an estimated price of $70,620, consider the 2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD as equipped. That’s a bite of a name that connotes a high-performance hybrid that’s still capable of off-road four-wheel drive. It’s indeed the fastest Lexus RX ever built, with 366 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque available from the hybrid powertrain. The 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder puts out 275bhp, and then the electric motor/inverter on the rear axle brings the whole package to the aforementioned 366. Power is sent through a six-speed automatic.
The battery electrics achieve all-wheel drive by putting motors on both axles – in other words, all the wheels are driven by the motors – but this Lexus has its own system, Direct4, that’s able to move the power around quickly (from 70% front, 30% rear on 20/80). As standard, the car comes with four degrees (with or opposite the front wheels) of rear-wheel steering, which helps shrink a fairly large vehicle in parking lots. The B-pillar offers a small obstacle to the side view.
The test car was strikingly copper, with a contrasting black interior and dark graphite aluminum interior trim. Is it a pretty car? Not by conventional standards, but with its huge waterfall grille and sharp lines, it has a certain brutalist appeal. Getting in and out is easy – the ride height is perfect – and both the front and rear seats offer plenty of headroom and legroom. It technically fits five people, but four is more comfortable.
The Lexus is by no means a hard-driving performance car. It’s a luxury SUV that happens to take off pretty well when you step on the accelerator. Yes, there are paddle shifters, but how many buyers will use them? The 500h hits 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. Because at its core, this is a fuel-efficient hybrid with 27 miles per gallon combined (27 city, 28 highway). The standard RX 350h does better at 36mpg combined, but the 500h has over 100 extra horsepower.
On the road, the 500h strikes a good balance between performance and luxury. The vehicle has a softer ride that absorbs road bumps and is quiet unless your right foot gets angry. There’s an active noise control feature that gives the car an amplified engine note, or what Lexus calls “a pleasantly sporty intake noise.” Basically, the Lexus doesn’t encourage driving at the limit, but the power is there when it’s needed for overtaking or cruising fast on the freeway. Remember that Montana has had an 80 mph speed limit since 2015.
The Sport Performance AWD is loaded and has a base price of $61,600. The car’s key extras were the 14-inch, 21-speaker touchscreen/Mark Levinson audio combo ($2,265) and triple-beam LED headlights (a whopping $1,565). The touchscreen is huge and well integrated into the car – a worthy addition. However, enabling Apple CarPlay proved problematic – the permissions screen kept disappearing. The panoramic sunroof is a steal at $500, and the 21-inch tires sit on matte black sport rims.
Buyers pay no extra for a range of safety technologies that include a pre-collision system with pedestrian (and motorcycle) detection, radar dynamic cruise control and lane departure warning with assisted steering. The car will monitor the driver for alertness and will notify you when entering a school zone.
Occupants are treated to heated and ventilated front seats and a unique heated leather steering wheel, which is part of the F Sport package. The latter also adds aluminum pedals and other interior trim. The doors are trimmed in suede and take a little getting used to. The power tailgate opens to a very convenient rear compartment, 29.59 cubic feet even without the second row folded. Drop the seats and you have 46.19 cubic feet.
Hybrid technology is hardly exotic at this point (the Toyota Prius appeared 22 years ago) and integrates seamlessly into SUVs like the 500h, which pays dividends at the pump.