I am a Lexus guy, there is no denying that. But the RX might be one of the best cars Lexus has ever made. Why? Because it does everything.
Through the first three months of 2018, Lexus has sold nearly 24,000 RX’s. That is more RX’s than Lincoln and Cadillac individually sold cars. Last year, Lexus sold 108,000. The next closest luxury competitor in the CUV market was the… Lexus NX, another Lexus model that sold 59,000 units. Outside of Lexus itself, the next closest competitor is the Audi Q5 which sold 57,000 units. That means that Lexus sold 51,000 more RX’s than the closest competitor. Fifty-one thousand! Now, in its 4th generation (Body Code AL20), the RX is a staple in the Lexus lineup. Even with the now controversial styling, it’s obvious that buyers in fact love the RX.
So why do I feel the need to defend it as a car guy?
Currently, I have three cars in my personal fleet. A 1998 Lexus LS400, a 2011 Lexus ISF, and of course, a 2009 Lexus RX350. In my opinion, that’s three of the most influential Lexus vehicles, and you can probably guess which one we end up using the most. It’s comfort, spaciousness, and ease of use is undeniable.
Toyota invented the crossover in 1996 when they came out with the original RAV4. The trend ever since then, in the enthusiast world, has been bashing said crossover. The truth is they are comfortable for just about everyone. They are so much easier to get in and out of than anything else short of a minivan. Full size SUVs can be too tall, and sedans too short. But at my height of 5’11” and my wife’s height of 5’1”, we are equally comfortable jumping right in unimpeded. In contrast, the ISF and LS, with their long doors, lower ride heights, and deep seating position, can make it a chore on days like today, when I’m sore from playing a full hockey game the night before. The commanding view of the road also makes commutes much easier. Having a sports sedan in a world of tall vehicles can be tough. Is that light green? Is this the left lane clear to pass? Is this person behind someone slow or should I pit maneuver them myself? This is amplified when you’re already small in stature, which is why many women do love the crossover.
And the space. Ohhh the space. All four generations of the RX have nearly flat folding rear seats, creating the perfect load bed. This provides ample room for many activities including long road trips, moving in and out of dorms (and later a house), and most importantly, transporting dogs. All of which I have done with my wife’s RX. As the owner of two retired racing greyhounds, this is the vehicle to have. For anyone that knows this interesting breed, they take a lot of room when they sleep. As graceful as they are when they run, they are the absolute opposite at rest. The RX provides comfort in the front seats for us, with plenty of sleeping and standing room in the back for them.
The funny thing? As a car guy, of course I hate my wife’s RX. The 275 horsepower, 2GR-FE, is reasonably quick, but also torque steers like a Renault Megane RS. I have been suddenly transported from on ramp to interstate by the surprise kick of 268 ft/lbs streaming through the front wheels. It is borderline dangerous for those looking for a more spirited experience.
But you don’t have to settle for FWD like we did. This means that I find myself coveting another vehicle for my wife… something similar…but different. All I want to do is change 2 numbers and add four letters. The numbers change depending on the generation but the letters are what matter. What are those letters? “h AWD”. The perfect RX. In fact, my parents in fact own a 2006 RX400h AWD. They bought it from a customer of their automotive repair shop, who was looking for something a little newer with less miles. An understandable proposition as this particular RX had 340,000 miles on the original hybrid battery at the time.
The 2006 RX400h AWD has electric assisted front and rear wheels, nickel-metal hydride batteries, and 268 combined horsepower. The low center of gravity and instant torque from the electric system help the car handle many times better than non-hybrid-AWD versions and makes the 400 lb gain over the RX350 disappear. The other thing that disappears? The torque steer. The FWD RX feels like dragging a dog that’s trying not to be kenneled. The AWD provides grip and a seamless acceleration like a greyhound leaping out of the gate, all four paws firmly digging into the ground. It completely changes the attitude of the car. Getting around 50% better fuel economy in the city is a perk too. Now this wonderful variant is not just limited to the mid-2000s. To this day, the AWD hybrid is still the RX to get.
The 2018 RX450h AWD hybrid starts at $46,000, only a mere $900 more than the naturally aspirated AWD model. For that you get 10 more horsepower, EPA 30/28 mpg, and the knowledge that you bought the best vehicle in its class for under $50,000. For $66,000, you get a heads up display showing the current speed, speed limit, approaching cars, and a compass. You also get lane assist, blind spot monitoring, and a 360 degree camera to start. And if you can’t afford that $45,000-66,000 tab, you can probably find a RX400h nearly back from the moon in miles that will treat you just as well. Either way, the RX does not get the love it deserves, and my mission is to change that!