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First Drives: 2016 Lexus RX 350 / RX 450h

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Lexus unveiled the 2016 Lexus RX at the New York Auto Show earlier this year, and we were understandably surprised at the bold styling direction that Lexus decided to take with their best-selling luxury crossover. But after seeing the 2016 Lexus RX 350 in person, all of the SUV’s sharp creases and curves just made sense.

A few weeks ago, Lexus invited us down to Charleston to experience the new RX 350 and RX 450h firsthand, and we came away really impressed with the changes they made to the fourth-generation RX. They improved the vehicle in every way (more room, more power, better mileage, more dynamism), without messing with the winning formula that made the RX such a dominant vehicle in the luxury crossover category.

Lexus engineers and product planners were faced with a daunting task when it came to the 2016 Lexus RX, to broaden the appeal of the car (to a younger audience) while keeping their loyal customers (many who are aging baby boomers) happy as well. Considering that the RX generates more repeat buyers than any other Lexus, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

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At first glance, you can’t help but notice the emboldened version of the Lexus brand’s signature spindle grille, featuring a chrome-plated border, along with a more aggressive front bumper and available triple L-shape-LED headlamps. Muscular front fender flares also add to the vehicle’s sporty attitude. When seen from the side, the sharp character line that runs from the front fenders to the rear end, together with a flowing roofline courtesy of blacked-out C-pillars, give the RX a dynamic profile.

While the RX’s rear-end doesn’t get quite the same radical transformation that the front-end does, it has been sharpened with LED L-shaped taillights that wrap around the side of the vehicle, and integrated dual exhaust pipes on the gas model. It all works together to give a high level of aesthetic balance and consistency.

The interior of the Lexus RX reflects an impeccable balance of functionality and opulence, and it is quite an improvement over the outgoing model. There os a wide variety of high-quality interior trims to choose from, along with an available 12.3-inch navigation system that is a total game changer, bigger than any screen you’ve seen before. Option your RX with the available color heads-up display (HUD), and pertinent vehicle information is displayed on the windshield, so you never have to take your eyes off of the road.

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The 2016 RX 350 is powered by a 3.5L V6 that delivers 295HP and 267 lb-ft of torque, an increase of 25HP and 15 lb-ft over the 2015 model. A new eight-speed automatic transmission replaces the old six-speed auto. The car delivers excellent punch off the line and robust passing power, especially in Sport+ mode.

The 2016 RX 450h’s 3.5L V6 hybrid engine produces a combined system output of 308HP and 247 lb-ft of torque. Despite the fact that the hybrid’s batteries increase the curb weight by 353 pounds, the RX 450h felt plenty fast around town. Of course, the issue I struggled with was the $10K price premium of the hybrid over the regular RX, which few will be able to make up from fuel savings..

On the road, the new RX handles like a dream. A number of structural and suspension enhancements were made to deliver better steering response, ride comfort and less body roll. Move up to the F SPORT, and the Adaptive Variable Suspension system takes it to another level, controlling the damping force of the shock absorbers at each individual wheel in response to road surface conditions and driver inputs.

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In my opinion, regardless of which model you choose, getting the F SPORT package seems like a no-brainer to me. It includes a number of special visual (black-out mesh grille, lower spoiler section, satin-finish chrome-plated lower protector with black side mirrors to match the grille, 20″ 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels) and performance (like the aforementioned Adaptive Variable Suspension) features that set them apart from the rest. There’s also an exclusive interior color choice on F SPORT models, Rioja Red, which is pretty wild.

All in all, we were really impressed with the 2016 Lexus RX. They’ve once again dramatically raised the bar in the luxury crossover segment, flawlessly combining bold luxury styling and engaging driving performance. They’re arriving in dealerships as we speak, so if you’re in the market for a luxury crossover, be sure to visit your local dealer and take one for a test drive. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!

Sujeet Patel is the founder of Guys Gab, and one of the biggest automotive enthusiast you'll ever meet. He's been fortunate enough to turn his passion for cars into a full-time job. Like they say, "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life."