The most powerful Lexus RX SUV yet combines luxury and hybrid fuel economy

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The 2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD combines luxury and power.

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It’s amazing how far the SUV has come. It was originally a stripped-down off-roader for action, with no thought for creature comforts. Today’s 2023 models look nothing like their ancestors.

Consider the 2023 Lexus RX 500h F Sport Performance AWD with an estimated as-equipped price of US$70,620. It’s a mouthful of a name that conjures up a high-performance hybrid that’s nonetheless capable of off-roading with all-wheel drive. It’s actually the fastest Lexus RX ever built, with 366 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque available through the hybrid drivetrain. The 2.4-liter turbocharged four produces 275 horsepower, and then the electric motor/inverter on the rear axle delivers the package to the aforementioned 366. Power is channeled through a six-speed automatic.

Battery electrics achieve all-wheel drive by putting motors on both axles – all wheels are driven by the motors, in other words – but this Lexus has its own system, Direct4, which is able to move power quickly ( 70% forward, 30% reverse at 20/80). The car comes standard with four degrees (with or opposite the front wheels) of rear-wheel steering, which helps to narrow what is a fairly large vehicle in parking lots. The B-pillar provides a minor hindrance to the side view.

The interior is luxurious and has a 14-inch touchscreen (optional).

Lexus pictures

The test car was striking in copper, with a contrasting black interior and dark graphite aluminum interior trim. Is it a nice car? Not by conventional standards, but with its huge cascading grille and sharp lines, it has a certain brutalist appeal. Getting in and out is easy—the ride height is perfect—and the front and rear seats offer plenty of headroom and legroom. Technically, five people can fit, but four will be more comfortable.

The Lexus is by no means a hard-driving performance car. It’s a luxury SUV that takes off pretty well when you step on the gas. Yes, there are paddle shifters, but how many buyers will use them? The 500h reaches 60 miles per hour in 5.9 seconds. Because at its heart, it’s a fuel-efficient hybrid, with 27 miles per gallon combined (27 city, 28 highway). The standard RX 350h does better with 36 mpg combined, but the 500h has over 100 more horsepower.

On the road, the 500h strikes a good balance between performance and luxury. The vehicle has a smoother ride that soaks up bumps in the road and is quiet unless the right foot gets upset. There’s an Active Sound Control feature that gives the car an amplified engine note, or what Lexus calls “a pleasantly sporty intake roar”. Basically, the Lexus doesn’t encourage borderline driving, but the power is there when needed for passing or fast highway cruising. Remember, Montana has had 80 mph speed limits since 2015.

The Lexus has its own Direct4 all-wheel-drive system.

Lexus pictures

The Sport Performance AWD comes loaded, with a base price of US$61,600. The car’s main extras were the 14-inch touchscreen/21-speaker Mark Levinson audio combo (US$2,265) and tri-beam LED headlights (a whopping US$1,565). The touchscreen is huge and well integrated into the car, a valuable addition. But activating Apple CarPlay proved problematic – the authorization screen kept disappearing. The panoramic sunroof is a bargain at US$500, and 21-inch tires sit on matte black sport wheels.

Buyers won’t pay extra for a suite of safety tech, which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian (and motorcycle) detection, dynamic radar cruise control and lane-departure alert with steering assist . The car monitors driver alertness and notifies you when you enter a school zone.

Occupants are pampered with heated and ventilated front seats and a unique leather-trimmed heated steering wheel that is part of the F Sport package. The latter also adds aluminum pedals and other interior features. The doors are trimmed with suede, and require a bit of acclimatization. The power tailgate opens to a very spacious 29.59 cubic foot rear compartment even without the second row folded down. Drop the seats and you have 46.19 cubic feet.

Hybrid technology is hardly exotic at this point (the Toyota Prius appeared 22 years ago), and it integrates smoothly into SUVs like the 500h, with gain at the pump.

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