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Upgraded standard safety features, third seating row coming for Lexus RX. Will they be here for 2017?

2017 Lexus RX

2017 Lexus RX

What changes will make the 2017 Lexus RX different?

A seven-passenger version of this popular midsize luxury crossover is coming – but not until late 2017, and probably as a 2018 model. Meantime, the 2017 edition of America’s bestselling premium SUV remains a five-seater. It’ll largely stand pat after a model-year 2016 redesign that brought the first all-new RX since the 2010 model. It got more power, slightly larger dimensions, and controversially updated styling. For ’17, it’ll return in gas and gas-electric hybrid versions, each available with front- or all-wheel drive (awd). The RX will again slot into Lexus’s crossover lineup above the subcompact NX and provide a more carlike counterpoint to the similarly sized but heavier-duty body-on-frame GX460 SUV.

Why should I wait for the 2017?

Maybe to see if Lexus fiddles with the palette of exterior paint colors; there were 10 choices for ’16, including hues named Caviar, Autumn Shimmer, and Eminent White Pearl. More important, you could hope the automaker stops charging extra for key safety features on a family-oriented crossover with an average transaction price of around $50,000. Front-collision-mitigating automatic braking, for example, is part of an option that adds at least $1,720 to the base price. Lexus and parent-company Toyota have pledged to make it and a related suite of safety features standard on almost every vehicle they make by the end of 2017. The promise pre-empts an industry-wide initiative to make automatic braking and other safeguards standard on all vehicles by 2022. So perhaps you should wait for the ’17 RX to see if the Lexus Safety System+ will be standard.

Check out our 2018 Lexus RX Preview for the latest info

Should I buy a 2016 model instead?

Might as well, if Lexus Safety System+ isn’t standard on the ‘17. The ’16 will essentially duplicate the 2017 RX, but without inevitable model-year price inflation. As detailed in the “features” section below, the safety aids will be optional and the model lineup won’t change. It’ll consist of the RX350 with a gas-only V-6 and the RX450h with a gas V-6 assisted by battery-powered electric propulsion. Lexus arguably inaugurated the premium-midsize-crossover class with the original 1999 RX. Its blend of accessible luxury, reliability, and Lexus red-carpet customer service made it the brand’s — and the segment’s — top-selling vehicle. This fourth-generation RX is the largest ever, expanding the 2010-2015 version’s dimensions for a cabin both roomier and even more upscale. It again emphasizes isolating comfort and even greater-levels of refinement over crisp road manners. In a bow to drivers who favor more involvement, there’s the F Sport package. Available on both the RX350 and RX450h, it furnishes slightly upgraded handling, unique exterior trim, and special seats and interior décor.

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Will the styling be different?

Not until the midcycle refresh, probably for model-year 2019. Even then, the fevered quilt of jagged angles, gaping grille, and blacked-out “floating” rear-roof pillar will sustain visual themes introduced with the ’16 redesign. They guarantee styling that may be unloved but won’t go unnoticed – precisely the aim of a conservative brand groping for a way to stir the emotions. Appearance-effecting details include standard bi-LED headlamps, LED daytime running lights and fog lamps, LED turn-signal mirrors, and an integrated rear spoiler that hides the windshield-wiper mechanism. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard; 20s are optional and, with a darker finish, are part of the F-Sport package. It also includes an even more aggressive-looking front fascia, black-mesh grille, and black instead of body-colored mirrors. The interior is far less radical than the exterior, with the myriad controls logically arrayed and most every surface swathed in soft-touch padding or quality-finish plastic. The F Sport adds aluminum accents; similar aluminum, along with wood appliques and ambient lighting, is included in the optional Luxury Package. A convincing faux-leather material Lexus calls NuLuxe is standard; leather is part of the Luxury Package and graces the front seats on F Sport versions.

Any mechanical changes?

No. The RX350 will continue with one of the least powerful standard engines in the competitive set, a 3.5-liter V-6 of 295 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It does, however, work splendidly with the 8-speed automatic transmission to furnish smooth, prompt throttle response. Acceleration is more than adequate, if not adrenaline-pumping. This is no off-roader. The awd system optional on the RX350 and included with the F Sport package is intended as a traction enhancer on snowy roads or gravely surfaces. The 450h also uses a 3.5-liter V-6 but teams it with an electric motor for a net 308 horsepower (Lexus doesn’t specify torque output). The RX450h is not designed to run on electricity alone and isn’t a plug-in hybrid. It relies on regenerative braking to recharge the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. RX350s ordered with awd add a second electric motor to drive the rear wheels. As does the awd system in the RX350, it operates primarily in front-wheel drive and shuffles power rearward when sensors detect front-tire slip. The RX450h uses a continuously variable automatic transmission and despite its extra power over the RX350, it’s no faster, mainly because it’s some 350 pounds heavier.

Will the fuel economy improve?

Not without drivetrain changes. Fuel economy should again be among the very best in a class where high mileage generally takes a backseat to luxury, performance, and prestige. EPA ratings for 2017 weren’t released in time for this review but RX350s should return at 20/28/23 mpg city/highway/combined with front drive and 19/26/22 with awd. Expect the 2017 RX450h to repeat at 31/30/30 mpg with front drive and 30/28/30 with awd. Lexus recommends 87-octane gas for the RX350 but says the RX450h achieves top performance and mileage with premium-grade 91-octaine gas.

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Will it have new features?

Probably not; it already includes most everything Lexus believes buyers in this class crave, although addition of automatic parallel parking and a head-up instrument display would fill a void for some. Among returning standard features on every RX will be heated mirrors, a power liftgate, keyless entry with pushbutton start, power front seats with power lumbar, a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, power tilt-and-telescope steering column, and a rearview monitor. An 8-inch dashboard screen will again be standard, servicing an infotainment system that comes with Siri Eyes Free connectivity. One of the industry’s most user-friendly navigation systems will again be optional, starting around $1,750, or around $2,830 accompanied by an audiophile-grade Mark Levinson stereo system. For around $2,200 ($3,300 with the Mark Levinson) you again be able to upgrade to a 12.3-inch screen with 3D representations of key buildings and landmarks.

As for Lexus Safety System+, it was priced at a reasonable $635 for model-year 2016. It included pre-frontal-collision warning and automatic braking with vehicle and pedestrian detection, radar cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, lane-departure waring with automatic steering correction, and high-beam headlamps that automatically dim for oncoming traffic. A $1,050 version added steering-linked headlamps, and a $2,250 version built on that with super-bright triple-beam LED headlamps. However, those prices were for the system itself. To get Lexus Safety System+ on a ’16 RX350 you had to get the F Sport package — $5,825 bump over an awd RX350 or $3,410 extra on an RX450h — or spring for the Premium or Luxury packages. Standard on RX450h, the Premium Package was a $1,085 RX350 option and included a rear-armrest storage compartment; aluminum roof rails; three-setting memory for the power driver’s seat, mirrors, and steering column; an easy-exit driver’s seat; and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Optional on both the RX350 and 450h, the $4,610 Luxury Package included all that, plus dress-up items such as aluminum scuff plates and a grille garnish, aluminum and wood door trim with ambient lighting, enhanced power lumbar adjustment, and the 20-inch alloy wheels.

How will 2017 prices be different?

They will be higher, but still at the low end of a category in which the least expensive versions of crossovers such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE start over $50,000 and it costs more than $60,000 to get into the cheapest edition of the BMW X6, Range Rover Sport, and Porsche Cayenne. (All estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Lexus’s was $950 for the 2016 RX.) That’s not to say an RX is a budget buy: a loaded RX450h F Sport will approach $63,000. Expect a base price for the 2017 RX350 of $43,300 with front-wheel drive, $44,700 with awd, and $50,500 in awd F Sport guise. Estimated starting price for the ’17 RX450h is $53,600 with front-drive, $55,000 with awd, and $58,400 as an F Sport. In addition to prices for packages and options already mentioned, be prepared for popular extras such as the panoramic moonroof to again cost around $1,600, power folding heated rear seats $1,480, and a rear DVD entertainment system with dual 11.6-inch screens $2,095.

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When will it come out?

Expect a 2017 Lexus RX release date in fall 2016.

Best competitors

Acura MDX, BMW X5, Infiniti EX70, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLE,

What change would make it better?

Making Lexus Safety System+ standard ASAP, of course. A genuine high-performance version isn’t part of the RX story line. But Lexus loyalists deserve the option of a seven-passenger iteration, and Lexus is working to stretch the current design enough to accommodate a third seating row large enough to accommodate adults. It’ll be a rung up the luxury ladder from the similarly positioned Toyota Highlander and an attractive counterpoint to the set of comparably priced three-row premium crossovers that includes the Acura MDX, Buick Enclave, Infiniti QX60, and Volvo XC90. Finally, it’ll give Lexus buyers an alternative to the truckier and more expensive GX460, whose cramped third-row seating is best suited to children.

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About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at ch[email protected]