If you’re currently shopping for a luxury SUV, you’ll be pleased to discover that it’s really a buyer’s market. Automakers around the world are shifting production away from traditional sedans so that they can build ever-increasing numbers of crossovers and sport-utility vehicles, which are flying off of dealer lots across America.
Leading the charge is the 2016 Lexus RX 350, the most popular model in the Japanese luxury brand’s line-up. The RX 350 comes from a long and distinguished line of premium people movers that have served as the Lexus linchpin in its gradual colonization of U.S. suburban driveways since it first appeared on the scene in the late 1990s.
The redesigned 2016 Lexus RX 350 highlights everything that’s made the SUV such a perennial contender while introducing a few new tricks to keep the faithful interested and help fend off the growing tide of competitors that have crowded into the luxury people mover market.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Lexus RX is that you notice it. Extroverted is perhaps too soft a word to describe the crossover’s aggressively-styled sheet metal, but while some might find it over-the-top, others will appreciate the way it breaks up the monotony that often creeps into the mid-size SUV segment. Inside, the RX features an exquisitely-detailed, leather-wrapped cabin that feels every bit the equal of its price tag (which ranges from just under $42,000 all the way up to $49,000 for the F Sport edition), along with a respectable amount of passenger room front and rear and a helpful, although not class-leading 56.3 cubic feet of total cargo space.
There are a few too many buttons on the center console and dashboard to call the vehicle’s control surfaces ‘intuitive’ – and the mouse-like controller for the Lexus infotainment system can be frustrating to use at times – but that’s really the only misstep to be found within the RX.
Under the hood you’re looking at a 3.5-liter V6 that’s good for 295 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, and all-wheel drive is available as an option. You can upgrade to the F Sport’s adaptive suspension system and even more striking design cues if you desire but there’s no power bump to go with that, and given that the standard RX 350 is a competent-enough handler it’s hard to recommend the F Sport package unless you really crave the image it brings with it. Fuel efficiency for the Lexus is listed at 20-mpg city and 28-mpg highway, thanks in part to its eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 2016 Lexus RX 350 is certainly good enough to defend its status as the most sought-after Lexus, but how does it measure up against the current crop of also-excellent luxury sport-utility vehicles? Let’s take a closer look.
2017 Cadillac XT5
Killer Features: The 2017 Cadillac XT5 is an all-new premium SUV that replaces last year’s popular, but aging Cadillac SRX. It brings with it an elegantly simple interior, a very quiet cabin, a strong suite of active safety features, and strong yet conservative styling.
Better Than The RX 350? Buyers who aren’t interested in the over-styled aspects of the RX 350 will find a home in the XT5’s classic lines, while its simplified control set keeps the dashboard clean. It’s also priced just below the Lexus at the low end.
Worse Than The RX 350? Cadillac’s own CUE infotainment system is not without it’s own pain points, although it has been improved for this year. Power from the XT5’s 3.6-liter V6 is rated higher than the RX 350 – 310 horses versus 295 – and yet acceleration feels dead-even.
2016 Acura MDX
Killer Features: The 2016 Acura MDX is a mid-sizer that comes with a third row of seating, which isn’t all that common amongst luxury SUVs. Blessed with a new nine-speed transmission for the current model year, the MDX also upgrades its available all-wheel drive system to improve performance.
Better Than The RX 350? If you need seven passenger capacity you won’t find it in the Lexus, as the MDX’s extra row trumps its homegrown competitor. SH-AWD is also better at shuttling torque front-to-back, and side-to-side, than its rival’s design, and its 68.4 cubic feet of cargo space dwarfs that offered by the Lexus.
Worse Than The RX 350? Fuel mileage for the heavier MDX is listed at one mile per gallon less for each respective measure. It’s also worth noting that if you pack the Acura full of passengers there won’t be much room left behind the third row for any luggage – 15 cubic feet, which is about the same as the trunk in a full-size sedan. Finally, you’ll pay close to $4k more for an entry-level MDX, and close to $60k at the high end of the trim spectrum.
2016 Audi Q5
Killer Features: The 2016 Audi Q5 delivers something neither Lexus, Acura, nor even Cadillac can: choice when it comes to drivetrain selection. Standard with the Audi is a 2.0-liter, 220 horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but you can also order supercharged 272 horsepower 3.0-liter V6 if you crave additional performance. Interior design for the Q5 is also top-notch, while its quattro all-wheel drive system is tenacious in poor weather conditions.
Better Than The RX 350? Despite offering less power, the six-cylinder version of the Audi Q5 is quicker in a straight line than the Lexus. It also offers a more connected ride when the road gets twisty.
Worse Than The RX 350? Although it may have a cleaner interface, the Q5’s infotainment options have fallen behind those of the Lexus RX as a result of its older design. The same is true when taking a look at the level of active safety offered by the Audi versus the Lexus SUV.
2016 Lincoln MKX
Killer Features: The 2016 Lincoln MKX is by far the mightiest member of our luxury SUV comparison, boasting a twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 that churns out 335 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque. It’s also a looker, with fashion-forward design that finally separates it from its Ford Edge platform-mate, and it’s packed with high-tech features.
Better Than The RX 350? Even the base MKX motor – a 303 horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 – is beefier than the RX 350, giving it a double performance edge. MyLincoln Touch is more divisive than the Lexus infotainment system, but the touchscreen is much easier to use while the vehicle is in motion. Finally, there’s 68.8 cubic feet of total cargo space inside the Lincoln, which is a big step up from the RX 350.
Worse Than The RX 350? The Lincoln’s ride is competent, but not quite as composed as that of the Lexus. Interior trappings aren’t at the same level, either: while the MKX is good, the RX 350 is honestly great, elevating it past its domestic competitor especially when it comes to the quality of the materials used throughout the passenger compartment.