New Lexus RX 500h 2023 review
Lexus calls the RX 500h a performance SUV but this isn’t entirely accurate
The Lexus RX takes a different approach to the premium SUV genre and it’s worth a look over the usual German offerings. With the 500h there’s plenty of impressive technology which is both the car’s strength and weakness, but there’s no arguing it feels like a quality product throughout.
We’ve tried the new RX in entry-level 350h+ and 450h+ guise but now it’s time for the most powerful RX ever: the range-topping RX 500h. Now in its fifth generation, the RX has always been a competitive rival to the likes of BMW’s X5 and the Mercedes GLE, thanks to hybrid technology and refinement, but it now apparently has another weapon in its arsenal with Lexus calling the 500h an outright ‘performance SUV’.
We don’t think Lexus would suggest the RX 500h is a rival to super-SUVs such as the X5 M nor the Mercedes-AMG GLE 63, but the RX has never been particularly fun from behind the wheel and we’ve not found this to be any different with the new version, so labelling the 500h as a performance SUV seems to be a strange decision.
Especially when you consider the engine. The new RX comes with three different forms of hybrid powertrain; the 350h+ is a self-charging hybrid and the 450h+ is a plug-in hybrid, both with CVT automatic gearboxes. The 500h, however, is self-charging hybrid with a turbocharged 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (the first turbo hybrid from Lexus), which sends power to a six-speed automatic transmission. The 500h also gets an electric motor on the rear axle for a combined power output of 366bhp and 550Nm of torque.
Differentiating the 500h even further from its siblings is the DIRECT4 torque distribution technology which is also offered on the all-electric RZ SUV. It’s a four-wheel-drive system that helps restrict pitching under acceleration and braking, as suffered by the RX 450h+.
That sounds pretty promising on paper and in reality it does have an effect on the way the RX 500h handles. Compared to the 450h+, the 500h contains its weight a little better when you’re entering a corner, with the adaptive suspension and its independent damping keeping body roll relatively in check. Crucially though, the RX 500h never feels like it’ll get away from you in the bends, you can lean on it and it won’t respond with any nasty surprises.
When pushing on you have to account for the vague steering, with inputs having to be made that little bit earlier, but you can get a decent rhythm going with the 500h. There’s standard-fit rear-wheel steering here and while it doesn’t chime in too abruptly it takes a bit of getting used to at lower speeds, causing the body to noticeably roll that much more because of the tighter turning circle. Larger, 400mm front disc brakes come to the 500h, compared to the 340mm discs on the other models. The six-piston calipers provide enough stopping power without feeling too harsh.
The complex powertrain comes across as very straightforward from behind the wheel. The petrol engine is well matched to the hybrid system and gearbox in day-to-day driving, delivering a smooth surge of power when required and sometimes imperceptible gearchanges. It’s a good thing the transmission’s shifts are well-polished because the car rarely responds to the manual paddles behind the steering wheel. The augmented sound of the powertrain piped through the speakers is also a little strange because it’s a deep bass noise and doesn’t feel realistic.
Where the RX 500h really excels (which is at odds with the ‘performance’ billing) is the way it rides. The only trim level you get on the 500h is F Sport, which brings with it some sportier exterior design tweaks and 21-inch wheels over the lower-powered RX models. Even so, the comfort on offer is exceptional and even puts some of its German rivals to shame. Wind and road noise is kept at bay but rough roads upset the overall refinement slightly. However, the suspension deals with larger imperfections well. The bolstered sport seats are also wonderful – they’d be just as at home in the LS limousine as they would be in the LC sports car.
Poking and prodding around the interior of the RX and the build quality really impresses. We don’t think the cabin has been used to its full potential in terms of practicality - there’s a big section behind the central screen that would’ve been perfect for another storage cubby and the centre console space could be deeper (although we love the clever split-opening lid).
Lexus has ladeled technology onto the RX. You’re not left wanting in terms of safety systems, although in some areas it’s a little nannying. The dynamic cruise control is one of the best systems we’ve used, particularly when the car in front slows down because the RX almost starts braking immediately - but not too harshly. The lane-keep assist is also pretty gentle with its inputs. On the flip side, the pre-collision warning system alerts far too often, thinking you’re going to crash into a parked car when you’re just driving around it. The worst is the speed limit recognition, because it beeps endlessly when you’re 1mph above the speed limit but also when the speed limit changes.
The central 14-inch touchscreen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as you’d expect, but Lexus’s own infotainment has improved greatly with the latest generation. The menus are easy to navigate and the system is responsive, although the light-coloured roads and background for the integrated sat-nav make it a little hard to read at times.
Although cabin space is perfectly acceptable, we’d recommend opting for the panoramic sunroof to make it feel a little less dingy for back-seat passengers, especially if you have people sitting back there often. The boot space is an issue for an SUV of this size. The sloping roofline and high boot floor means at 461 litres it’s way off the BMW and Mercedes rivals.
At £77,165, the 500h is just over £10,000 more than the 450h+. The main positives of the 450h+ are that the ride comfort and overall build quality are pretty much the same with the 500h, but the more expensive car does come with welcome improvements to driving dynamics and a greater kit list.
|Model:||Lexus RX 500h|
|Engine:||2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder + 2 electric motors|
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