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2023 Lexus RX: Holy hybrid! [First Drive]

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The 2023 Lexus RX gets an edgier style, a rather confusing lineup of powertrains and holy-cow performance in the hybrid version.

For years now, the Lexus RX has been the best-selling, midsize luxury SUV on the market — and for good reason. Unlike its competitors, Lexus puts reliability first, often sacrificing the latest and greatest in technology or powertrain advancements. However, for 2023, the Lexus RX it has pushed the boundaries on what a 2022 RX was and is now offered in a multitude of different flavors.

Trim levels matter

While upscale trim levels used to mean whether or not you got leather seats, that’s not the case with the new RX. 

First, the 2023 Lexus RX comes in six grades: Standard, Premium, RX-first Premium+, Luxury, F Sport Handling and (an RX-first) F Sport Performance.

It’s a little confusing with all the trims, but that’s not all.

For example, going with the F Sport trim, you not only get different performance items, but you also get a little more paint on the grille. Yup, the front nose gets another brush of paint, which surrounds the “L” in the Lexus logo. 

Next, the F Sport Performance grade has both unique front and rear bumpers as well as exclusive 21-inch wheels — plus a variety of black accents and body-color sills to further distinguish the grade. 

Riding in a variety of different trims, you can really tell the difference not only from the material differences, but the overall performance. Why performance? Well, each trim has different powertrains that go with each.

Powertrains galore for 2023 Lexus RX

Another key part of the Lexus RX is performance, and this varies greatly depending on which trim you get. While the prior generation Lexus RX had a small variety of powertrains, the 2023 model amps things up.

Here’s the breakdown:

Base RX 350: Available in both front- and all-wheel drive, it is powered by a 275 horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to a 8-speed automatic transmission. It returns 25 MPG combined for the FWD and 24 MPG combined for the AWD.

RX 350h: The hybrid model comes only in AWD and has a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine with 246 total system horsepower mated to a nickel-metal hydride battery. It is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This powertrain returns 36 MPG combined.

RX 450h: This is the plug-in hybrid offering, which combines the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with a 18.1 kWh lithium-ion battery and full-time AWD. This is available at a later date with more details coming.

500h F Sport Performance: This is an AWD model with 271 horsepower coming from a 2.4-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission and an integrated electric motor on the rear. There is a nickel-metal hydride battery with this system, and total horsepower is 366 with the battery. 

Confused yet? Yeah, that’s four different engines, four different transmissions and three batteries — with two being nickel-metal hydride and one being a lithium-ion. 

Oh, and the one I really liked? Well that’s easy. The 500h is amazing, yet the regular 350 is pretty dang good as well.

What about the other changes?

First, eagle eyed readers will notice the tires have been moved back while the overall wheelbase isn’t any longer. This makes a difference.

The 2023 Lexus RX is still 192.5 inches long, however, the wheels have been moved back 2.36 inches, and the track has been widened .59 inches with 65 inches in the front and 66 inches in the rear.

This means the Lexus RX corners better, especially with the higher trims having 4 degrees of additional rear wheel steering helping, while still being easy to park in the garage.

Then there is a new Copper Crest color, which is stunning in person. In total, the RX comes in 10 different colors, again, depending on trim level:  Ultra White, Eminent White Pearl, Nebula Gray Pearl, Iridium, Caviar, Matador Red Mica, Copper Crest, Nori Green Pearl, Nightfall Mica and Grecian Water.

There are a slew of other changes, such as the new interior, a new infotainment system and the slick new DIRECT4 AWD system, which helps with braking and accelerating to avoid the hood from raising and lowering while performing these operations. This makes a big difference in helping with a confident driving experience and you can see it in action in the video below. Again, like the rest, this is only offered on specific trims levels.

The bottom line

The 2023 Lexus RX takes what was good and builds on it. There is no reason to expect this new model won’t sell like hotcakes — just like the older versions — and it should help Lexus maintain its sales leadership in this category.

Editor’s note: Driving impressions in this “First Drive” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Lexus covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.

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Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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