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The redesigned 2023 Lexus RX.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Lexus may be the fourth best-selling luxury auto brand in Canada, but it is the clear market leader in the popular midsize SUV category. The RX accounts for about 40 per cent of Lexus’s sales in Canada and the company is hoping the all-new 2023 model will boost sales even further.

“We’re hoping for a 20-per-cent sales increase over this year,” said Martin Gilbert, director of the Lexus Division at Toyota Canada during the international press launch of the RX in Santa Barbara, Calif. in late August. He added that Lexus was still breaking records even at the end of an aging model.

Lexus broke barriers when it launched the RX300, the world’s first luxury crossover SUV, in 1998. Now nearly twenty-five years later, the fifth-generation RX is completely revamped for 2023. Among the changes are four new powertrains - three are electrified, including the nameplate’s first plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) variant. All models, except the PHEV which will be made in Japan, will be built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, or TMMC, in Cambridge, Ont. It’s the only factory outside of Japan to build the RX. More than 1.6 million RXs have been built since production started in Canada in 2003.

Canada is also important for Lexus for sales. Canada is the fourth largest market for Lexus, behind the United States, China and Japan.

Our route began in Santa Barbara, driving about 100 kilometres north east to Santa Maria in the conventional hybrid, the RX 350h AWD. It’s powered by a 2.5-litre inline-four two-motor hybrid mated to a continuously variable transmission. It generates 246 horsepower and delivers better fuel economy than the outgoing V6 engine, which has been scrapped for 2023 in all models in favour of more fuel efficient four bangers. While it’s quiet and confident, at times, the engine struggles and the CVT whines when pushed. But you won’t find that problem with the other versions.

The RX 500h AWD is spirited and lively thanks to a high-performance hybrid that combines a 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a single electric motor and a six-speed automatic transmission. It produces 366 horsepower and 406 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s responsive and hugs the winding, hilly roads beautifully. Off the line, it’s quick and nimble - there’s no hesitation or struggling when accelerating or merging onto Highway 101 North. Driving the PHEV variant, the RX 450h+, is even more impressive. It combines a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with a high-output 18.1-kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery and full-time all-wheel drive. Many details, such as horsepower, fuel economy and electric range, still aren’t available. The PHEV is composed, quiet, powerful and feels like a gas-powered vehicle. There’s one gas-only variant, the base RX 350 AWD. It has a 275 horsepower 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is smooth and shifts gears precisely. I prefer it over the other transmissions. Where the gas model falls short is in the fuel economy. The gas-only version averages 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres combined highway and city driving; while the RX 350h returns a frugal 6.5 and the RX 500h averages 8.7.

The 2023 RX comes with four powertrain options, three of which are electrified including a PHEV variant.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

All RXs seat five - there’s no longer a three-rowed RXL available. That’ll come in the form of a new Lexus model down the road. The 2023 RX is built on a new global platform, which is 90 kilograms lighter than the outgoing model. It’s the same height and length as the last version, but its wheelbase has grown 60 millimetres and its track is widened by 15 millimetres in the front and 45 millimetres in the rear for extra rear-seat legroom. The front seats are also hollowed out for slightly more legroom in the rear. The rear seats offer enough space, even if you’re six-feet tall.

All versions are refined, well-equipped and filled with innovative safety and convenience technology including a digital key that lets you use your smartphone as a key via the Lexus app. There’s also wireless charging, wireless Apple Car and Android Auto and an Intelligent Assistant, which works very well and understands natural language so you can simply say, “Hey Lexus, I’m hot” and it’ll lower the temperate by a few degrees to cool the cabin.

The 2023 Lexus RX goes on sale later this year. But the RX 450h+ PHEV won’t be available in Canada until later next year. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date.

The redesigned rear has Lexus’ signature single LED light bar across the backPetrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

2023 Lexus RX

  • Base price: to be announced
  • Engines: RX350: 2.4-litre turbo I-4 with 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque; RX350h ; 2.5-litre I-4 with a two-motor hybrid with 246 horsepower and 233 lb-ft of torque; RX500h: 2.4-litre turbocharged I-4 with single-motor hybrid with 366 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque; RX450h+: 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with an 18.1-kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery
  • Drive/Transmission: AWD; RX350: eight-speed automatic; RX350h: continuously variable transmission; RX500h: six-speed automatic; RX450h+: TBC
  • Fuel economy (litres per 100 kilometres city/highway): RX350: 11.2/8.4; RX350h: 6.3/6.9; RX500h: 8.7/8.4; RX450h+: TBC
  • Alternatives: BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q5, Genesis GV70, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX60, Lincoln Nautilus

Looks

Lexus’ traditional flared spindle grille grows larger, extending to the front bumper. The redesigned rear has Lexus’ signature single LED light bar across the back, similar to the NX. On the side, strong lines are further accentuated by new colours with depth. Copper Crest and Nori Green Pearl, in particular, reflect the sunlight differently, altering the colour depending on the angle of view. The RX comes with 19-inch wheels standard and an option for 21-inch wheels.

The RX boasts a luxurious cabin with a completely redesigned cockpit, instrument panel, and infotainment system.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Interior

As expected from Lexus, a luxurious cabin with a completely redesigned cockpit, instrument panel, and infotainment system. The larger, available 14-inch touchscreen is easier to read than the standard 9.8-inch one. I don’t like the unconventional door-release mechanism dubbed “eLatch.” It’s not ergonomic and awkward to use. Often, you have to push it several times to open the door.

Performance

The PHEV is the way to go, if you can wait. Otherwise, the RX 500h AWD is powerful, fuel-efficient, and spirited to drive.

The 2023 Lexus RX comes standard with a 9.8-inch touchscreen and a 14-inch model is available.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Technology

Plenty of excellent safety technology including Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 system, which includes Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Intersection Support and a new Motorcycle Detection feature, All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with new Curve Speed Management and Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist. Traffic Jam Assist and Advanced Park system are offered for the first time on a Lexus.

The trunk has 838 litres of space behind the rear seats.Petrina Gentile/The Globe and Mail

Cargo

Space is large with 838 litres behind the rear seats. The loading height is lowered so it’s easy to load items without straining your back. You can also kick under the rear bumper to open and close the liftgate for quick access.

The verdict

The RX plays in a crowded segment, but the different electric variants and a Canadian-made badge give it an advantage.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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