Canadians have plenty to be proud of.
For the most part, we’ve got a pretty good standing on the world stage in terms of our politeness and peace-keeping, and our country’s spectacular natural beauty. The Canadians working at the Cambridge, Ont., Lexus assembly plant are also renowned for their vehicle-building prowess, having earned a reputation of outputting some of the best-built machines this brand has to offer. That Cambridge crew has been particularly busy lately as Lexus’s new RX series has been rolling down the line. The most impressive version of them all is the 2023 Lexus RX 500h, a new range-topping hybrid trim meant to provide its owners equal measure of performance, efficiency, and luxury.
What really sets the RX 500h apart from the 350 and 350h models is its emphasis on sportiness. The RX has always toed the Lexus line of prioritizing poshness over performance with sensible, smooth, and luxurious sport utes, but this version aims to step up the sizzle somewhat.
Like the RX 350, the 500h starts with a turbocharged 2.4L four-cylinder that’s starting to show up in other Toyota and Lexus models, but adds an elaborate hybrid system including twin electric motor-generators up front, and a high-output electric motor and reduction gearbox in the rear. Altogether, the system generates 366 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Where the other hybrid RX – the 350h – utilizes a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), the 500h is fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission that gives the power delivery less of a rubber-band feel – although when engaging the gas engine after being in electric-only mode it can be a bit clunky. Nevertheless, combining the immediacy of the electric motors with a torquey turbocharged engine gives the RX 500h a wave of solid energy from just off-idle all the way up through the rev range, providing an urgency not typically associated with Lexus hybrids. It’s sensible, usable power, but it also makes the RX 500h sneaky fast since it’s surprisingly smooth.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
While this performance-focused hybrid system isn’t as fuel-thrifty as the 350h, the published figures of 8.7 L/100 km in the city, 8.4 on the highway, and 8.6 combined are impressive, especially when compared to gas-only competitors from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi. Even still, after several hundred kilometres of mixed driving that favoured highways and backroads during this test week, the computer showed a 9.7 L/100 km overall average, which is higher than it’s rated for despite moderate springtime temperatures. The winter tires fitted to the tester would account for some inefficiency, but they shouldn’t have that big of an impact.
Driving Feel: 6.5/10
Surprisingly quick and decently frugal, the RX 500h still doesn’t offer the level of driving engagement that a BMW X5 does – and not just the M version, either. The Lexus’s steering is numb and the RX feels heavy when hustled. Its suspension does a good job of keeping the big wagon on its intended course, but there’s no joy in tackling backroad corners here. Similarly, the brakes offer strong stopping power, but the pedal feel is non-linear, with an inch of initial mush before becoming rock hard, making it difficult to modulate the brakes smoothly.
Those familiar with previous generations of the Lexus RX won’t be surprised to know that the 500h really shines as a comfortable highway cruiser. The F Sport 3 package fitted to this tester includes adaptive suspension, and even in sport mode there’s enough suppleness to soak up most road imperfections. Add to the smooth ride the 500h’s suave drivetrain and excellent sound suppression, and the RX becomes a fantastic way to travel vast distances. Amusingly, Lexus has fabricated some deep sound effects to correspond with the ferocity of acceleration requested, giving it a sporty soundtrack that belies the modest four-cylinder engine under the hood.
On paper, headroom both front and rear is tighter than in the RX’s German competitors, but there should still be ample room for most occupants, while outward visibility is good. The seats are also well done, with the rear bench providing good support, while the front buckets feel sportier than expected in a Lexus. You truly sit in these seats as they wrap around you, giving a comfy hug.
Those seats are covered in black leather in this tester, but they’re also heated and ventilated both front and rear. There’s an expansive power panoramic sunroof overhead, a heated steering wheel, and multi-zone climate control to keep everyone comfortable, too. The premium audio system comes with satellite radio and 21 speakers for audiophiles, and while the system offered crisp, bright sound, no matter how it was adjusted during this test, it didn’t deliver the fullness of sound that some competitive models offer.
Mercifully, Lexus has finally done away with the old infotainment system and its obtuse touchpad controller, replacing it with a massive 14-inch touchscreen. It’s a monumental improvement, and with wireless charging, plus cord-free connectivity for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, the Lexus system is finally on par with its competitors.
Some of the initial setup of preferred settings, widgets, and shortcuts can be a convoluted affair, but once an owner has spent some time getting it all dialled in to their tastes, it’s an effective affair. The wireless Apple CarPlay worked flawlessly throughout the test week, which isn’t always the case no matter the automaker.
A row of climate-related controls has been embedded into the screen rather than utilizing hard buttons, but setting the system to auto and letting each front seat occupant adjust to their desired temperature via the rotary dial keeps it all simple enough. It’s not ideal to have to tap at a screen a few times to get a desired seat heater setting or drive mode, but it’s far from the worst system on the market. [We want names! – Ed.]
Likewise, while push-button gear selectors are tedious at the best of times, the small shift knob in the RX 500h isn’t much better, requiring a push forward and to the left to go backward; but to go forward, you need to pull back and to the left. Want neutral in a hurry? You’ll need to remember to pull to the left and hold it there until N is engaged. Why mess with the simple P-R-N-D system that’s worked for so long?
Whereas some of the RX 500h’s competitors still offer optional three-row seating, the longer RX variant was canned for 2023. Still, the seats allow good comfort and space, and capping capacity at five also frees up a luggage area that doesn’t need to accommodate a third-row bench. At 838 L of space behind the 40/20/40-split rear seat, it’s a usable cargo hold, but a BMW X5 offers 100 L more, and several hundred litres more than the RX’s 1,308 L with the back seat stowed. Meanwhile, the RX 500h is rated to tow up to 1,585 kg (3,500 lb).
Commendably, Lexus fits its comprehensive safety suite to every trim of the RX. This includes pre-collision monitoring including pedestrian, cyclists, and motorcyclist detection, adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic and automatically slows down around curves, plus lane departure warning and steering assist. It’s also got an intersection monitoring system that proved to be hypersensitive to traffic that posed no danger, causing a few distractions when I’d rather not have had them. The rear seat-check reminder posts a note in the driver’s gauge display, but also beeps incessantly when the driver exits the vehicle.
It should also be noted that the adaptive high-beam control on the multi-lens LED headlights is simply awesome. On a dark road, the system blocks out distracting light where the oncoming car is, but keeps everything else brightly illuminated, including the ditches, which is sure to save a lot of hapless animals.
This latest RX is clearly the latest in the line’s evolutionary styling shift. Over the generations, the trademark (if rather overt) spindle grille treatment has grown to alarming proportions, but it’s been softened somewhat on this fifth-generation RX, as the upper portion of the grille fades into the body-coloured nose. The profile reminds of earlier generations of the RX, but the tail treatment catches up to the smaller NX with the “LEXUS” wordmark emblazoned in a full-width light bar, rather than the simplified logo used previously.
The RX has always employed gimmicks to help it stand out from the typically more staid styling of the European competitors, and it’s not always aged as well. This newest model is contemporary, and its Copper Crest paint hue is certainly distinctive, but only time will tell how long it’ll look fresh.
Inside the RX 500h is more conservatively styled, yet wholly contemporary. The enormous dash-mounted screen dominates the design, with only subtle details to break up the otherwise simple, monochromatic look. There’s little in the way of design flourishes to remind owners that this is a premium machine, leaving the exacting assembly and durable materials to tell the story instead.
The Lexus RX 350 begins in the upper $50,000s, while the gas-electric RX 350h starts at $60,000. To get into the RX 500h, a buyer needs to shell out at least $80,000, with this tester featuring an F Sport 3 package, bringing the tally up to over $88,000 including destination charges. At that price point, the RX 500h is facing formidable competitors like the plug-in hybrid BMW X5 that can lower fuel costs by driving roughly 50 km on pure electric power, and offering more power and torque (plus livelier handling) to boot.
Still, optional packages to offer comparable equipment levels to the RX 500h push European competitors well into the six-figure range, leaving the Genesis GV80 as the most serious alternative (although that’s not offered as a hybrid). Adding to the RX 500h’s value is both Lexus’s notable six-year powertrain warranty (eight years for hybrid components) and the brand’s very well established reputation for build quality and longevity.
As it has always done, the 2023 Lexus RX promises comfort, quality and practicality within the midsize premium SUV range. Now with a performance-oriented hybrid system, the RX 500h adds more sizzle to the dish, however, it’s still a machine that’s happier with highway cruising and comfortable commuting than it is carving backroads. Everything that has made the Lexus RX a popular choice in the past is simply better with the RX 500h. Keep them coming, Cambridge, this one should be a big seller.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4, dual-motor hybrid|
|Peak Horsepower||366 hp|
|Peak Torque||406 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||8.7 / 8.4 / 8.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||838 / 1,308 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2023 Lexus RX 500h|
|Price as Tested||$88,555|
$6,450 – F Sport Performance Package 3, $6,450