Lexus gets wilder with 2016 RX

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The 2016 Lexus RX has unexpectedly bold styling - and that, uh, distinctive signature grille.

After years of hyper-conservative styling strolls, Lexus seems to be edging closer to a walk on the wild side.

A case in point is the adventurously redesigned 2016 RX, whose unexpectedly bold styling suggests a bit of corporate courage. After all, it's hard to mess with a good thing, and the RX is certainly that. With annual sales typically topping 100,000, this midsized crossover is the best-selling luxury SUV in the U.S. market.

The styling is certainly cutting edge. You can argue that it's a bit busy, but the silhouette and sculpting are real eye-catchers. I like the boldness and the substantive feel, although I could do without the signature Lexus grille, which presents a face only a mother could love.

No such caveats about the interior, especially the upmarket one in the RX 350 F Sport model I spent a week with. The tester's innards were as gorgeous as they were comfortable. The interior design was fresh, clean, nicely proportioned and benefited from Lexus' usual impeccable workmanship. The well-bolstered, leather-trimmed F Sport's seats were exceptionally supportive and comfortable, as well as being heated and ventilated.

In addition to the sporty cosmetics, notably the aluminum pedals and paddle shifters, the F Sport has dynamic enhancements like sportier suspension tuning with "sport" and "drive" modes and big, wide 20-inch tires.

The interior of this fourth-generation RX is also roomier than its predecessor, thanks largely to the fact it is almost five inches longer. Indeed, headroom and legroom abound in the backseat.

It is also quieter than the previous RX, thanks to increased body rigidity engendered by the use of more high-strength steel and industrial adhesives. The increased structural rigidity also improves handling.

The net result is a quiet, comfortable ride and a car that stays composed in the corners. No, it isn't a sports car in the turns, but it is an able SUV.

Motivation for the all-wheel-drive RX 350 tester, which started at $49,125, was furnished by a version of Toyota's and Lexus' oft-employed 3.5-liter V6. In this case, direct injection and a rather tall compression ratio of nearly 12-1 have bumped up this year's gas-powered RX to 297 horsepower. This engine, in concert with the eight-speed automatic that replaced the six-speed gearbox found in most 2015 models, raises the combined mileage number by 2 mpg. (The exception would be the F Sport I drove. Since that model had the eight-speed in 2015, the 22 combined for the 2016 version is only 1 mpg better.)

I thought the peppy RX 350's EPA estimate of 22 combined was decent enough for a roomy, five-seat all-wheel-driver. If you want to do even better, you can opt for the cheaper base front-drive model, which starts at $41,900 and gets 23. And if you want to top that you'll have to invest the extra shekels for the hybrid RX. The front-drive RX 450h, which starts at $52,235, gets 30 combined.

What's perhaps most memorable about this crossover is the way it marries the driving dynamics afforded by a composed suspension, responsive steering and ample braking to a comfortable ride and a library hush.

The tester was a well-equipped luxomobile whose safety-mindedness included 10 standard air bags and the Lexus Safety System consisting of adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, a lane-departure alert, and lane-keeping assist.

The 2016 RX has not yet received a government safety rating.

Given Lexus' history, quality and reliability probably will not be a problem with this new model.

alhaasauto@aol.com


Excellent

2016 Lexus RX 350 (AWD F Sport model)

Base price: $49,125.

As tested: $58,895.

Standard equipment: 3.5-liter engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive, the F Sport package (which includes an adaptive sport suspension, 20-inch alloy wheels, and heated, ventilated, leather-trimmed sport seats), and features like a power tilt/telescopic steering column, reclining, sliding rear seats, power liftgate, and a back-up camera.

Options: Include a moonroof, a full menu of electronic safety alerts, parking assist, a touch-free power liftgate, and a heated steering wheel.

Fuel economy: 19 city and 26 highway. (premium fuel)

Engine performance: Reasonably lively.

Handling: Composed.

Styling: Different.

Ride comfort: Very good.

Warranty: four years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper.

The Ben key: four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.