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In testing, the 2023 Lexus RX500h F Sport Performs Quickly Rather Than Stylishly


For nearly a quarter century, the Lexus RX has enjoyed enviable success prioritizing passenger comfort over behind-the-wheel engagement. Lexus, though, wants to expand the fifth-generation model’s skill set in a dynamic direction with the 2023 RX500h F Sport Performance.

The RX is the second vehicle in the brand's lineup to bear this recently introduced sub-F moniker, the first of which was the IS500 F Sport Performance. Like that sedan, the RX500h distinguishes itself from its lesser kin with a powertrain specific to the F Sport Performance.

The RX500h Accelerates Ahead

Whereas the rear-wheel-drive IS500 features a burly 472-hp 5.0-liter V-8, the all-wheel-drive RX500h employs a hybrid powertrain that combines a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motors to produce 366 horsepower—91 more than the RX350 gets from this same engine acting alone. A nickel-metal-hydride battery pack lives under the rear seat and sends electricity to the two motors, one of which Lexus sandwiches between the RX500h's engine and six-speed automatic transmission while the other directly powers the rear axle.

The electric drive motors' instant thrust masks any lag from the turbocharger, while the gas engine's plentiful low-end torque, all of which is available from 2000 rpm, means the powertrain never feels overburdened pushing this 4793-pound SUV about. At its peak, the gas-electric powertrain produces a total of 406 pound-feet of torque, enough grunt to accelerate the RX500h to 30 mph in 2.0 seconds and on to the mile-a-minute mark in 5.5 seconds, figures that almost exactly match those of the 355-hp Acura MDX Type S.

Highs: Comfortable ride, quiet cabin, torque-rich powertrain.

The Lexus is no less eager on the move, motoring from 30 to 50 mph in 2.7 seconds and from 50 to 70 mph in 3.7 seconds, its prescient gearbox seemingly hardwired to the accelerator pedal's position. To put this in perspective, the Lexus SUV's times are nearly identical to those of a 1328-pound lighter, 315-hp Volkswagen Golf R with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Better yet, the RX500h maintains the miserliness expected of a hybrid. The gas-electric Lexus matched its 28-mpg EPA highway estimate on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test. That's 5 mpg better than the aforementioned MDX Type S. The RX500h also has an EPA city estimate of 27 mpg, which is 5 mpg better than the nonhybrid RX350.

Can't Stop the RX500h

Lay off the right pedal, though, and the RX500h's driving dynamics seem less impressive. Even with its new GA-K underpinnings—which it shares with the likes of the Toyota Camry and Highlander and Lexus NX, among others—the RX500h is neither particularly capable nor exciting in any performance setting that does not involve booting the accelerator on a straight piece of tarmac.

Goad the RX500h too hard through twisting turns, and the SUV's heft overwhelms its available 21-inch Bridgestone Alenza Sport A/S rubber. As its 0.80-g skidpad run reflects, the RX500h simply lacks the grip necessary to play the part of a performance SUV. Factor in the RX500h's muted steering feedback, and it's easy to unwittingly push this Lexus past its narrow limits.

We suggest sticking with the standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4 SUV summer tires (as featured on our photo vehicle), as the stickier compound ought to noticeably improve the RX500h's middling lateral grip and braking performance. As is, the RX500h's 195-foot stop from 70 mph—three feet longer than our 6072-pound long-term Toyota Tundra—borders on unacceptable.

RX for Comfort

By contrast, the RX500h hits its stride in everyday driving. Keep its adaptive dampers in their Normal setting, and the RX500h offers a cosseting ride that's still firm enough to keep excessive body motion at bay. Switching to the dampers' Sport mode does little more than butcher the ride quality.

The low-effort but direct rack-and-pinion setup includes an RX500h-exclusive four-wheel-steering system that can turn the rear wheels up to four degrees, trimming 1.7 feet from the turning radius. As a result, this 192.5-inch Lexus has a turning radius better than the two-foot-shorter Fiat 500X.

Lows: Dull handling, subpar stopping performance, uncomfortable front seats for the wider-waisted.

The latest RX offers plenty of stretch-out space for two passengers in its cushy 40/20/40-split rear bench. There's enough shoulder room for three passengers to sit in reasonable comfort on short jaunts too. Lexus makes the space even more welcoming with available heated and ventilated outboard rear seats, optional power reclining rear seatbacks, and an available panoramic moonroof. The RX500h is no Rolls-Royce Cullinan or Mercedes-Maybach GLS-class, but like those ultra-luxury machines, its rear seating area is at least as appealing as the driver's and front passenger's space.

That's certainly true for those with wider waistlines, given the front seats' confining bolsters. The narrow and heavily bolstered front buckets seem to belong in a vehicle with much greater sporting intent. Nevertheless, those with thin-enough waists will find the front seats provide great long-haul comfort and support.

The RX interior is nicely finished, but we weren't enamored of the multimode steering-wheel buttons or the infotainment system's quirks. The latter include the lack of a proper home screen and a menu structure that makes typically simple tasks (such as switching between the drive modes) needlessly complicated.

Surprisingly, Lexus fits its flagship RX trim with the model's smaller 9.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Nabbing the larger 14.0-inch display, which is included on the cheaper, sub-$60,000 RX350 and RX350h Premium+ and Luxury trims, adds at least $1105 to the RX500h's $64,145 starting price.

By appending the F Sport Performance designation to the RX500h, Lexus seems to be trying to convince consumers that this variant of its bestselling mid-size SUV offers something different from the sleepy driving dynamics that have long characterized the RX. Really though, the RX500h continues in the tradition of its forebears with its comfortable ride, quiet cabin, and spacious accommodations while adding an extra dose of horsepower.

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Specifications

VIDEO: 2023 Lexus RX500h F Sport Performance Is Speedy, Not Sporty
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Specifications

2023 Lexus RX500h F Sport Performance
Vehicle Type: front-engine, front- and rear-motor, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door wagon

PRICE
Base/As Tested: $64,145/$75,065
Options: Mark Levinson stereo, $2265; premium triple-beam LED headlights, $1565; 360-degree camera system, $800; running boards, $725; heated and ventilated outboard rear seats, $680; cargo tray, mudguard, and door edge protective film, $640; Traffic Jam Assist, $620; Copper Crest paint, $595; 120-volt inverter, $550; power rear seats, $550; panoramic moonroof, $500; illuminated cargo sills, $300; digital key, $275; Advanced Park; $250; digital rearview mirror, $200; puddle lamps, $175; power liftgate with kick sensor, $150; Cold Area package, $100; rear bumper applique, $90; 21-inch wheel credit, -$110

POWERTRAIN
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 2.4-liter inline-4, 271 hp, 339 lb-ft + 2 AC motors, (combined output: 366 hp, 406 lb-ft; nickel-metal hydride battery pack)
Transmissions, F/R: 6-speed automatic/direct-drive

CHASSIS
Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 15.7-in vented disc/13.4-in vented disc
Tires: Bridgestone Alenza Sport A/S
235/50R-21 101V M+S

DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase: 112.2 in
Length: 192.5 in
Width: 75.6 in
Height: 67.3 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 52/45 ft3
Cargo Volume, Behind F/R: 46/30 ft3
Curb Weight: 4793 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.5 sec
1/4-Mile: 14.2 sec @ 97 mph
100 mph: 15.0 sec
120 mph: 23.8 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.4 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 6.0 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 2.7 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 3.7 sec
Top Speed (mfr's claim): 130 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 195 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.80 g

C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 23 mpg
75-mph Highway Driving: 28 mpg
75-mph Highway Range: 480 mi

EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 27/27/28 mpg

C/D TESTING EXPLAINED

Headshot of Greg S. Fink

Despite their shared last name, Greg Fink is not related to Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's infamous Rat Fink. Both Finks, however, are known for their love of cars, car culture, and—strangely—monogrammed one-piece bathing suits. Greg's career in the media industry goes back more than a decade. His previous experience includes stints as an editor at publications such as U.S. News & World Report, The Huffington Post, Motor1.com, and MotorTrend.

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