2019 Lexus RX Buying Advice
This is the best premium-midsize crossover for you if you believe one of the segment’s pioneers is still at the head of the class. Lexus shook the luxury-vehicle market with the 1998 launch of the original RX. While it wasn’t a paragon of style or driving dynamics, the high-riding five-passenger wagon excelled for passenger comfort and build quality and was backed by the brand’s peerless reputation for reliability, resale value, and customer service.
That first RX essentially defined a new segment and was a roaring success, quickly becoming the top-selling Lexus. Despite an exponential increase in competition it’s remained atop the premium-midsize-crossover sales charts, ahead of such rivals as the BMX X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, and Acura MDX.
Last redesigned for model-year 2016, the RX finally added a third seating row with the model-year-2018 introduction of the seven-seat RX L. That gave Toyota’s premium division a belated answer to the likes of the MDX, Buick Enclave, Infiniti QX60, and Volvo XC90. Demand is up 6 percent through August 2018, and the RX is poised to have its best sales year ever.
Should you buy a 2019 model or wait for the 2020?
Tough call. The 2019 RX deserves a high place on your shopping list if you’re in the market for a refined luxury crossover. However, Lexus is likely to freshen this crossover for model-year 2020, updating styling and features. Visually, expect a toned-down version of the brand’s controversial “spindle” grille, along with nip/tuck updates to the front and rear corners. Count on a revised infotainment system that at last supports Apple CarPlay.
ChangesStyling: The 2019 RX is visually unchanged from its 2018 counterpart. We appreciate Lexus’s recent move to shed its conservative image and take more styling risks, the RX goes a touch overboard perhaps. The body’s exaggerated creases and the spindle grille’s sheer size give the RX impact but little in the way of grace. It doesn’t help that the foglight housings look like flags from a 1990s computer golf game. Neither are we fans of the trendy “floating” roof with its blackout treatment between the rear fenders and roofline.
Thankfully, the RX’s interior design is outstanding. Materials quality is near the top of the competitive set. Rich leather surfaces abound, complemented by supple padding. Instrumentation is clear and straightforward. Lexus continues to improve the functionality and ergonomics of its climate controls and Enform infotainment system. We’ve criticized previous iterations of Enform for its computer-mouse-like control scheme and occasionally sluggish performance. Recent test vehicles show much improved response to user input, with the high-resolution ultra-wide dashboard screen being the centerpiece of an overall user-friendly experience.
In the five-passenger versions, room and comfort in the first and second seating rows is unassailable. The softly padded seats logically prioritize comfort over sporty bolstering, and there’s plenty of headroom and legroom. The RX L’s third row feels like the afterthought it is. To squeeze it in, Lexus stretches the RX’s overall length 4.4 inches, but it doesn’t adjust the wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles). That leaves the RX L’s third seating row with just 34.8 inches of headroom and 23.5 inches of legroom, making it suited only for small children. Compounding the problem, access is tight, with none of the clever second-row fold/sliding tricks that you’ll find in the MDX or QX60.
Cargo capacity in the five-passenger RX is a decent-for-the-class 18.4 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 56.3 with them folded. The L’s extra length doesn’t translate into much more space: just 7.5 cubic feet behind the third row, 23 behind the second, and 58.5 behind the first.
Mechanical: RX 350 and 450h use tried-and-true Toyota-derived drivetrains, and they work remarkably well. The RX 350 uses the corporate 3.5-liter V-6 engine, here with 295 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is smooth and strong, aided by a responsive 8-speed automatic transmission. Zero-60 mph comes in a pleasant 7 seconds or so, and highway passing and merging maneuvers are not a problem.
The 450h pairs a 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 with a battery-powered electric motor for a combined 308 horsepower (Lexus doesn’t quote a torque figure). Its transmission is a continuously variable automatic (CVT). The electric assistance helps a bit with standing-start acceleration because it delivers instantaneous torque. But the RX hybrid weighs about 150 pounds more than the gas-only RX and is about a half-second slower to 60 mph.
RX models riding on the standard 18-inch wheels and tires are cathedral quiet, with only the faintest road noise entering the cabin at highway speeds. Our recent RX 350L review sample had the 18s, which work in concert with the softly tuned suspension to deliver what is arguably the best ride quality in this competitive set. Models so equipped soak up bumps as if they weren’t there. F Sport grades have a firmer performance suspension and 20-inch wheels, which generate more – but not excessive – road noise. The larger tires, do, however, cause the ride to become brittle over all but the smoothest road surfaces. The intent is to mimic the sharper handling characteristics of Acura’s MDX, but the effort falls short due to excessive body lean in fast turns and slow steering. The RX is best savored as a comfortable cruiser that isolates you from the din of the outside world.Features: Regular and extended versions of the RX 350 and 450h largely mirror each other in terms of standard and optional equipment. All models include LED daytime running lights and fog lights, keyless access with pushbutton engine start, power front seats with 10-way adjustment for the driver and 8-way for the passenger, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, dual- (RX) or tri-zone (RX L) automatic climate control, convincing faux-leather upholstery that Lexus calls NuLuxe, HD Radio receiver with real-time traffic and weather that doesn’t require a paid subscription, and Enform infotainment with an 8-inch dashboard screen. Lexus’ Enform Safety Connect telematics with service for 10 years is also standard. New for 2019 is Lexus Enform Remote, which allows users to control certain vehicle features with a smartwatch or Amazon Alexa.
F Sport grades add unique wheels, instrument cluster, and an aero body kit, heated and ventilated sport bucket front seats with driver-side memory function, ambient interior lighting, and auto-dimming exterior mirrors.
A full complement of driver-assistance features is also standard on every 2019 RX. These items include forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, automatic high-beam headlight control, lane-departure warning, automatic steering correction to help keep you in your lane, and radar cruise control that can maintain a set follow distance from traffic ahead.
RX base prices track a bit higher than those for its Japanese-brand rivals but for the most part undercut those of German-make competitors. Keep in mind that Lexus includes a comprehensive suite driver aids on every model, while some of these valuable features are optional on the competition.
Including Lexus’s $1,025 destination fee, the 2019 RX 350 with front-wheel drive starts at $44,595; the L version lists for $48,795. The front-drive RX 350 F Sport base price is $50,245. All-wheel drive adds $1,400 to all the above.
The AWD-only RX 450h and 450hL start at $47,020 and $51,745, respectively. The F Sport hybrid is priced from $52,360.
Key options come in packages. All models offer the $315 Cold Weather Package that includes a windshield wiper de-icer, auto-leveling headlights, and a special heater designed to warm the cabin more quickly. The $265 Towing Prep Package adds a heavy-duty radiator and coolers for the engine and transmission oil systems, which allows for a maximum towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. Full LED headlights are an extra $200 on RX L models equipped with the Cold Weather Package. The $2,145 Navigation Package includes imbedded GPS mapping, 12.3-inch ultra-widescreen dashboard display, 12-speaker audio system, climate control smog sensor, and upgraded Lexus Enform with destination assist and built-in app suite. The $3,225 Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio Package includes everything in the Navigation Package plus Lexus’ signature Mark Levinson audio system.
Non-F Sport grades offer a Premium Package, which costs $1,110 on five-passenger models and $810 on the L. It includes genuine wood interior trim, leather upholstery, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, driver-seat memory, power sunroof, and a storage compartment in the rear armrest.
A Luxury Package for $4,235 on the RX 350/450h and $5,015 on the 350L/450hL includes everything in the Premium Package plus 20-inch wheels, power-adjustable thigh support for the front seats, upgraded leather upholstery, Sapele wood and aluminum interior trim, rear-window sunshades, and a heated wood/leather steering wheel.
Our pick for best value is an AWD RX 350 with Premium, Cold Weather, Towing Prep, and Navigation/Mark Levinson Audio packages for a sticker price of $52,260. The extras in the Luxury Package are nice, but we’d rather forego the 20-inch wheels.
EPA ratings for the 2019 RX 350 are midpack, at best, among premium-midsize crossovers. With front-wheel drive, the five- and seven-seat models rate 20/27/23 and 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined, respectively. AWD drops ratings to 19/26/22 mpg for the five-seater and to 18/25/21 for the L. All 450h grades rate 29/28/29 mpg.
Our front-drive RX 350L test example averaged just 20.4 mpg in our suburban test loop. Conventional RX models use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline. Lexus recommends premium-grade 91-octane for the RX 450h.
A mid-lifecycle freshening is on tap for the 2020 model year. We hope Lexus will smooth out this crossover’s sharp exterior styling edges. A more-practical third-row seat would also be nice, but we wouldn’t count on that until the next-generation RX debuts, which isn’t likely to happen before model-year 2022.