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2016 Lexus RX Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Lexus RX 350 front quarter view
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Introduction

During the 1990s, car buyers surprised the auto industry by purchasing more and more SUVs. Did these people really want trucks?

Toyota didn't think most did. Instead, they hypothesized many people would prefer a vehicle that combined SUV-like styling with car-like construction (for car-like ride and handling). The RAV4 was the first of what came to be known as "crossovers."

A few years later Lexus introduced the first premium crossover. The 1999 RX 300 was a hit. Though, wanting a piece of the action, every competitor has since developed its own crossover (some much sooner than others), Lexus has continued to dominate the class it created. To sustain this dominance, Lexus has continously improved the RX, with redesigns for 2004, 2010, and now 2016.

Cadillac and Lincoln also have redesigned their midsize crossovers for 2016. Does the XT5 (which replaces the SRX) or the new MKX deserve to steal buyers from the redesigned Lexus? I drove all three back-to-back to find out.

RX Reviews: Lexus RX 350 front quarter view

ISO younger buyers, Lexus has added drama to its exteriors. A lot of angles. more RX photos

RX Reviews: Lexus RX 350 interior

Sophisticated and luxurious, or overly busy? The shiny wood is the real thing, but appears fake.

Tested: 2016 Lexus RX

4dr SUV 295-horsepower 3.5L V6 8-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Compared: 2017 Cadillac XT5

4dr SUV 310-horsepower 3.6L V6 8-speed shiftable automatic FWD

Why the 2016 Lexus RX?

  Compared to the XT5
Reliability & durability
Reliability & durability: Much better Better Worse

The longer someone intends to keep a car and the higher the priority they place on reliability, the more likely I am to recommend a Toyota or Lexus no matter what I think of the car itself. No other manufacturer has as consistently produced cars that tend to require few repairs for ten-plus years.

Cadillac and Lincoln have mixed records. Sometimes their cars are fairly reliable, sometimes they are awful. Previous MKXs have been reliable, but the new one shares little with them. The related 2015-2016 Edge has been pretty good so far.

Based on a new platform and with a new engine and a new transmission, the XT5's reliability is entirely unknown. The previous all-new Cadillac, the 2013 ATS, has been troublesome. Risk-averse buyers who prefer the XT5 should wait for the 2018.


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Better Better Worse

Lexus shocked the auto industry with the smoothness and quietness of the 1990 LS sedan. Smoothness and quietness have continued to be key strengths for the brand's vehicles, but in recent years Lexus has sacrificed some of this advantage in a quest for sportier, more engaging handling.

Yet the new RX has the smoothest, most composed ride of any to date. Though the regular model's suspension tuning remains fairly soft, pitching it into a curve or hitting an uneven patch of pavement no longer induces significant swaying, pitching, or bobbling.

A small amount of residual float over some bumps is further reduced in the RX F Sport, but no longer at the expense of a harsh ride. With the redesign, even the F Sport rides well. The difference in suspension tuning between the two variants is no longer night-and-day.

The new Lincoln MKX rides about as well as the non-F RX, and feels about as soft. Setting the adaptive dampers to "sport" tightens motions up just a tad, and affects ride quality more than handling.

The Cadillac XT5 has the firmest, sportiest suspension tuning, but still rides well, if not as plushly.


RX Reviews: Lexus RX 350 rear quarter view

The side glass cuts through the rear pillar for a floating roof effect.

RX Reviews: Lexus RX 350 instrument panel full

Missing the point: infotainment display mounted in a depression on top of the dash.

Quietness
Quietness: Better Better Worse

The Lexus and the Lincoln are both very quiet. A little more road noise and tire thumping intrudes into the Cadillac's interior, at least with the 20-inch wheels standard on the upper trim levels. With the lower trims' 18s the XT5 should ride more smoothly and quietly, but probably won't handle as crisply.


Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Better Better Worse

For 2016, Lexus has increased the output of the RX 350's 3.5-liter V6 engine from 270 to 295 horsepower and has increased the automatic transmission's ratio count from six to eight. The Cadillac XTS and base Lincoln MKX are both a little more powerful, with 310 and 303 horsepower, respectively. The Cadillac also has an eight-speed automatic, while the MKX continues with a six-speed.

The Lincoln can also be purchased with a 335-horspower twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 engine. Aside from this engine's 40-horsepower advantage, it kicks out over 100 more pound-feet of torque, indicating a far stronger midrange. In theory, this should make the MKX feel much more powerful than the others in typical driving. In reality, it feels only a little stronger and not quite as responsive.

GM's engineers did an outstanding job reducing the weight of Cadillac's crossover, such that the XT5 is the lightest of the three, while the Lincoln is the heaviest. No one's posted acceleration times for the XT5 yet, but it could be as quick as the MKX with the turbo engine.

If the RX 350 is the least quick of the three, then why is powertrain performance among the reasons to buy one? Because the RX 350 is as quick as the great majority of buyers will ever need it to be, and its engine sounds more sophisticated and feels more more responsive than the others. For upscale crossover duty, this powertrain sounds and feels pretty much perfect.

Fuel economy? The RX 350 earns EPA ratings of 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway with front-wheel-drive and 19 / 26 with the tested all-wheel-drive. In my real-world driving I observed high-teens to low-20s in the suburbs and high-20s on the highway.

The Cadillac's EPA ratings are slightly lower (19/27 with FWD, 18/26 with AWD). The Lincoln's EPA ratings are the worst of the group (17/26 with FWD, 16/23 with the base engine and AWD, 17/24 with the turbo engine and AWD).

If you want better fuel economy, Lexus also offers the RX 450h hybrid (31/30 with FWD, 30/28 with AWD).


Why Not the 2016 Lexus RX?

  Compared to the XT5
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Worse Better Worse

A few years ago, noticing that its customer base was aging and that younger buyers were buying something else (usually German), Lexus decided to take far more risks with styling. The RX's exterior design is easily the most controversial of the three crossovers, with complicated surfacing and a huge spindle-shaped grille. Some people find the surfacing interesting, but beautiful is a stretch. Hardly anyone likes the grille. The rich brown paint of the tested RX could prove popular, though.

I haven't yet warmed to the styling of the Cadillac XT5. In some ways I liked the SRX's exterior better. The new front end strives to make a stronger visual impact, but it appears jumbled to me. What do you think of it?

Clearly inspired by the Audi Q5, the Lincoln MKX is the most conventionally attractive of the three, but by the same token will most easily fail to attract attention. Might Generation Y even see it as stodgy?


Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: About the same Better Worse

Both Cadillac and Lincoln have been working hard to improve their touchscreen-based infotainment interfaces, and both are considerably easier to use than before. By adding actual knobs and buttons the MKX's controls are the easiest to reach and operate of the three.

Lexus hasn't done as much to improve its interface, which includes a mouse-like toggle on the console. The "remote touch" system remains a taste many people will never acquire. I personally didn't have much trouble with the toggle, but never did sort out what the two buttons flanking it are for. They seemed to do different things at different times. Perhaps I should have RTFM?

Unlike an increasing number of cars (such as the XT5), the new RX does have a tuning knob. Channel surfers might rejoice, but the knob is too far away to reach without leaning out of the seat.

I experienced much difficulty getting the Lexus voice command system to recognize even a word as simple as "phone." It much more readily recognized numbers. The Cadillac and Lincoln systems work better.


RX Reviews: Lexus RX 350 front view

Now that it's been around for a few years, are you warming to the Lexus spindle grille?

RX Reviews: Lexus RX 350 back seat

The RX's back seat is roomier but less comfortable than those in the XT5 and MKX.

Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Worse Better Worse

The Lexus RX has the roomiest back seat of the three, the Lincoln MKX the tightest. Very tall people will prefer the RX's. At 5-9, I'm not tall, and found the other two back seats much more comfortable, with higher, better shaped cushions providing better thigh support and seat backs that were not overly reclined. The RX's rear seat back felt overly reclined to me even in its most upright position. Since it adjusts, why didn't Lexus engineer it to adjust over a wider range?


Other features of the 2016 Lexus RX

  Compared to the XT5
Interior styling
Interior styling: Worse Better Worse

Lexus also has been getting more adventurous with interior styling, but the results haven't been as polarizing. While some people might find the interior of the new RX a little busy, or overly festooned with silver plastic trim, it includes some interesting details and appears sportier than past RX interiors.

One design choice puzzles me. The infotainment display looks like a tablet sticking out of the top of the instrument panel. This is increasingly common. Many people feel such displays appear tacked-on, and would prefer a display more completely integrated into the instrument panel. I'm okay with the tacked-on approach as it can permit the display to be positioned higher than it otherwise would be, so that it can be viewed more easily and safely while driving.

In the case of the new RX, though, a multi-level instrument panel is scooped out beneath the display. Towards the base of the windshield the instrument panel is nearly as high as the top of the display. So the benefit to forward visibility from not fully integrating the display into the instrument panel is minimal.

I initially disliked the Cadillac XT5's interior design, as I sat in one that was almost entirely dark gray. In an unusual touch, the base of the center stack and the top surface of the center console are covered in a soft-touch dark gray material rather than trimmed in wood, aluminum, or plastic with the appearance of wood or aluminum. When the rest of the interior is also dark gray, the XT5's interior seems oppressively monotonous. In the tested XT5, though, much of the rest of the interior was beige. This second, lighter tone eliminates the monotony. Beyond color, there's a lot of design going on with a chevron theme. I cannot decide if I like it.

I can decide whether or not I like the Cadillac's electronic shifter. I don't. Maybe I'd eventually get used to pushing the shifter forward and to the left to engage reverse?

As with the exteriors, the Lincoln MKX's interior is the most conventionally attractive of the three, with relaxing, fluid forms and nothing to jar the eye. While the knobs and buttons of the center stack are welcome, they and the push buttons that operate the transmission look and feel like they belong in a cheaper vehicle. The matte-finished wood trim, on the other hand, looks and feels far more expensive than the glossy timber in the Lexus.


Front seat support & comfort
Front seat support & comfort: Better Better Worse

All three crossovers have deep instrument panels. The Lincoln's design best disguises this depth, while the Cadillac's is least effective in this regard. You gaze across a vast expanse of stylishly stiched upholstery from the XT5's driver seat.

The Cadillac XT5's driver seat is easily the firmest of the three and feels the least comfortable to me. The Lincoln MKX's standard driver seat, in contrast, could be a little too soft, but overall I found it very comfortable. (Highly adjustable front seats with massage, not present in the tested car, are a recommended $1,500 option.) The RX 350's driver seat best strikes a balance between support and cushiness, but it didn't fit my form the best. That honor goes to the more cupped seat in the RX 350 F Sport. Even without a zillion adjustments the F Sport bucket provides excellent comfort and support. If I'd primarily tested the F Sport front seat support and comfort would be a "why to buy."


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: About the same Better Worse

The cargo floor is about the same size in all three crossovers. None excels in cargo capacity. In the Lexus, the second row doesn't fold nearly flat and the raked rear window severely cuts into cargo space above its base. In the Cadillac, there are no seat releases in the cargo area. To fold the seat you must open each rear door, an unexpected inconvenience.


Handling
Handling: Worse Better Worse

The Lexus RX has never been a sporty vehicle. Even in F Sport form it still isn't. But the latest iteration handles dramatically better than its predecessors. Even the base version doesn't lose its composure or plow excessively when hustled. I enjoyed my week with it. The F Sport feels more buttoned-down at little expense in ride quality (a very welcome improvement over the previous RX F Sport).

The Lincoln handles much the same as the non-F RX, but with even less steering feedback. I hoped for sportier handling given how much fun some other Fords are to drive. Perhaps I shouldn't have, since Lincoln currently positions itself as the "quiet luxury" alternative to the German paradigm.

Even with the tested XT5's front-wheel-drive, the Cadillac has the sharpest steering and sportiest handling of the three. An optional sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, which employs clutch packs to distribute torque side to side as well as front to back, should increase this advantage. But some German offerings are sportier still.


Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

Whether the Lexus RX or the Cadillac XT5 is the less expensive of the two depends on the level of equipment. With no options, the Cadillac undercuts the Lexus by $2,850, $39,990 vs. $42,840. With even a modest number of options, though, they swap positions. When equipped with most of the features on the tested Lexus RX, the XT5 lists for $6,375 more, about $2,500 of which can be attributed to additional content. When both are fully loaded the difference is about the same, the Lexus topping out at $61,705, the Cadillac at $68,180.

Priced from $39,025, the Lincoln starts considerably lower than either the Lexus or the Cadillac. When equipped like the tested Lexus RX 350, though, the MKX lists for about the same. Load them both up, and the Lincoln again costs less, $55,830 vs. $59,210. About half of this $3,380 difference can be attributed to additional content on the Lexus. In these comparisons, the MKX is fitted with its base engine. Add $2,000 for the turbocharged 2.7-liter V6.

You might not need a vehicle as large as these. The Lexus NX is large enough for most people and handles with more agility. Compared to the RX 350, the NX 200t is nearly $5,000 less before adjusting for feature differences and about $3,000 less afterwards.


Conclusion

With the latest redesign, the Lexus RX is no longer only for people interested in cushy, reliable transportation from Point A to Point B. Though still not the best-handling vehicle in the class, the new RX 350 is much more capable around curves, while still riding quietly and smoothly even in sporty F Sport form (which I now prefer). The only major "why not to buy" could be the dramatic exterior styling. And you might like how the new Lexus RX looks.

Cadillac and Lincoln have also updated their crossovers well. The Cadillac is the best-handling of the three, but some people won't care for the firmness of its suspension or of its front seats. The Lincoln has the softest tuning and the most conventional styling of the three. It might be the quietest, but it feels the least agile. Both are worth a look. But since the likely superior reliability of the Lexus now involves fewer and smaller tradeoffs, the RX should continue to greatly outsell both.

RX Reviews: Lexus RX 350 engine uncovered

The Lexus V6 isn't the most powerful, but it sounds better and feels smoother than the others.

RX Reviews: Lexus RX 350 cargo area seats folded

The back seat doesn't fold flat. Steeply raked rear window cuts into cargo space.

See more 2016 Lexus RX photos

Lexus provided an insured car for a week with a tank of gas. Comparison vehicles were helpfully provided by Maria D'Aigle (Meade Lexus, 248-372-7155), Mitch Reese (Cadillac of Novi, 248-476-4466), and Nick Zoccola (Varsity Lincoln, 248-465-8238).

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2016 Lexus RX pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2016 Lexus RX. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from MT

11:31 am May 3, 2016

Two questions:


1. Have you driven the Mercedes GLC? If so, how does it compare?


2. Did you get a chance to try the radar cruise control with lane keeping? How does it compare to competitors' systems?

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Response from mkaresh

2:06 pm May 3, 2016

I haven't driven the GLC yet, but while priced like the RX it's sized more like the NX. I expect it to drive much like a raised C-Class, so it probably feels even more solid and refined than the Lexus, but could ride more firmly.


The lane keeping system doesn't maintain the center of the lane as actively or as effectively as some others.

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Response from Garibaldin

9:22 am May 13, 2016

This Lexus inherits the mantle of ugliest auto design since the Pontiac Aztek. Bass fishermen might like the front end.

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Response from David J

1:18 pm May 13, 2016

I despise the baleen-snout looks of new Lexi and Toyotae. This one is even worse than most--even the new Nissan Murano-with the squished roof behind the c pillar. Lumps, slashes, gapes...bah!

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Response from tom

3:02 pm May 31, 2016

The Lexus RX is the ugliest new vehicle on the road today. In trying to be more daring, Toyota and Lexus designers have sadly lost their way.

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Response from thyservant

11:15 pm May 31, 2016

Lexus has made it apparent they are going after the young Asian (Chinese, really) market with their latest designs. Not kidding.

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Response from deilenberger

7:06 pm August 29, 2016

The new RX in black, from the 3/4 rear-view looks disturbingly like a hearse. The unneeded chrome spear waffling down toward the tailgate is the primary cause. It overall is ugly enough that I'd almost suspect Chris Bangle had something to do with the styling - it's beyond "flame surfacing" - it's more like large origami sculpture. Several of the new Japanese SUV's - from both Lexus and Infinity are so ugly that many people simply won't even consider them. Reliability may be an important factor in car purchases, but attractive styling are what will get people to walk into the showroom - something these cars are missing. Somehow they've managed to make them look cheap. Don't really know how - but they don't look like an expensive car. They look like a cheap car trying to look like an expensive car.

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Response from mkaresh

7:33 pm August 29, 2016

The Toyota organization never seems to have had much of a sense of design. No doubt they employ talented designers. But they clearly don't listen to them.

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