2016 Lexus RX Hybrid F Sport First Drive

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The Lexus RX luxury crossover—and particularly the RX 450h hybrid version—has always been an image vehicle. But now, for 2016, the RX lineup finally gets an image that says something other than pragmatic, fiscally responsible luxury.

It’s no surprise why this vehicle is the longtime best-selling luxury crossover of its class (think BMW X5, Acura MDX, and Lincoln MKX, among many) for upscale realtors, business people, and empty-nesters, as its combination of interior comfort, a high seating point (for easy entry and exit), and fuel-efficient powertrains—plus the Lexus badge and the high resale values that go with it—have added up to a smart (albeit predictable) pick.

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With predictability thrown to the wayside for a new design for the RX that throws out the jellybean look in favor of a design that may be tough to take in at first glance, but as a sum, is a very expressive one.

After seeing this model on auto show floors, in pictures, and in a day of driving, we’ve warmed to the look; compared to some of its lookalike peers, it impresses as engaging and alive—technical and organic, yet teasing odd influences of the SUV designs the RX has always eschewed.

The design is at its best in F Sport guise, where the horizontally slotted grille gets replaced with a black mesh-look (crosshatched) grille, plus big 20-inch wheels with a dark metallic finish.

Yes, a sport model of the RX Hybrid

For the first time, the RX 450h hybrid will be offered in F Sport guise, which means that it upgrades to an Adaptive Variable Suspension (and a stiffer suspension tune in general), deeply bolstered sport seats, and various trim and appearance changes inside.

In the 2016 RX 450h, a 3.5-liter direct-injection V-6 engine, rated at 259 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque, is supplemented by a two-motor system, as part of Toyota’s familiar Hybrid Synergy Drive, using planetary gearing for the power split and to replace a traditional transmission. The main traction motor of that system is is rated at 123 kW (165 hp).

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Then in all-wheel-drive versions of the RX 450h, a separate 50-kW (67-hp) motor-generator unit is installed for the rear wheels, making this version an over-the-road hybrid in some respects.

Front-wheel-drive versions of the 2016 RX 450h can get to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, while AWD versions aren’t far behind, at 7.9 seconds. The hybrid powertrain, altogether, makes 308 horsepower in either setup. That’s because the battery capacity remains the same 2 kWh.

30 mpg city—in a roomy, AWD utility vehicle

While final EPA fuel economy ratings for the RX lineup aren’t yet out, Lexus anticipates ratings of 31 mpg city, 30 highway for the front-wheel-drive versions and 30/28 mpg with AWD. In a very short drive, keeping an eye on trip computer and efficiency displays, we were reminded how this system rewards mindful driving and gentle inputs.

That is, of course, a bit at odds with the new F Sport presentation.


 
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