Three years into its current generation, the 2018 Lexus RX offers strong acceleration, an edgy design, and a wide range of standard advanced safety features. But fuel economy is only average, options can quickly boost its price, while the eye-catching exterior isn't for everyone.

Best Value

With two models offered in either front- or all-wheel drive, pricing for the Lexus RX starts at $44,265 for a front-wheel-drive model in base trim and can top out at over $61,000 for an optioned-up all-wheel-drive F Sport model.

Standard are LED headlights, fog lights, and brake lights, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, a power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, an eight-inch infotainment system, Siri Eyes Free voice control, push-button start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a power tilt-and-telescopic steering column. A wide range of active safety features including a rearview camera, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, and lane keeping assist are also standard.

Since all gasoline-powered RX models have the same engine and transmission, we believe the base model is a better value than the firmer-riding and slightly noisier F Sport. We'd ratchet things up with the Premium Package which adds real leather and either walnut or bamboo trim. The Cold Weather Package is a cheap option for driver's in wintry climates, while heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel – oddly, packaged separately – are also musts (and affordable ones, at that).

Here’s how we’d build it:

  • Model: 2018 Lexus RX 350
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6
  • Output: 295 hp / 267 lb-ft
  • Transmission:Eight-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
  • MPG: 19 City / 26 Hwy
  • Options: All-wheel drive ($1,400), Premium Package ($1,110, leather interior trim, matte bamboo trim, rear armrest storage, auto-dimming power folding outside mirrors, memory for driver's seat, steering wheel, and outside mirrors, driver's easy exit auto away/return seat), Power tilt and slide moonroof and aluminum roof rails ($1,350, required with the Premium Package), Cold Weather Package ($315, windshield wiper de-icer, fast-response interior heater, headlight washers, rain-sensing wipers, auto-leveling headlights), Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert ($1,065), Heated and Ventilated Front Seats ($640), Heated Leather Steering Wheel ($150)
  • Base Price:$44,495 (including a $1,025 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$50,525

Performance

Lexus RX 350

The RX steps off the line nicely with smooth, composed handling up to and including freeway speeds. Three driving modes – Normal, Eco, and Sport – vary powertrain performance, while opting for the F Sport trim adds adaptive dampers that stiffen up the ride on smooth roads, but automatically relax on rougher pavement to maintain a supple ride quality.

Although the current version handles more sharply than past models, even the RX 350 F Sport is more of a highway cruiser than back roads corner carver. More pointedly, our RX 350L tester with a few hundred extra pounds of mass – carried in the rear third of the vehicle – felt sloppier in corners than the standard model with more pronounced body lean in corners. Those extra pounds also affect acceleration as well as passing at highway speeds.

In addition, while not a gas guzzler, the RX 350's EPA-estimated 20 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg on the highway, and 23 combined on rear-wheel-drive models is only average for the class. A RX 450h hybrid variant is available for improved fuel economy, which comes out to 31/28/30 mpg (city/highway/combined).

Style

The fourth-generation Lexus RX finally booted the previous model's jellybean-on wheels design to the curb with a jet-inspired roofline that's both adventurous and, at times, unquiet to the eye.

The love/hate conundrum begins up front with a massive spindle grille, continues along its flanks with deeply sculpted body panels, and terminates with a floating canopy C-pillar that sits above a sculpted and flared rear quarter. The rear window on models like our 350L tester is more upright, while wide chrome strips between the taillights and across the lower valance accentuate the spindle theme of the rear fascia.

That bold sheetmetal is wrapped around a luxurious interior – a place of calm and order, nearly bereft of exterior noise – that features soft, supportive front seats that offer a comfortable perch even after hours of freeway driving. F Sport models feature bigger and firmer seat bolsters, while Luxury models get 10-way adjustment, cooling, heating, and extendable thigh cushions. Three adults can sit in back where the seats are just as comfortable and also split, fold, and recline.

350L models that are 4.3 inches longer are equipped with a third row replete with heating, air conditioning, the requisite cup holders, and the choice of six-passenger (via second-row captain's chairs) or seven-passenger (courtesy of a second-row bench) seating configurations.

Cabin instrumentation is straightforward and easily understood. The various buttons and knobs are silky smooth to operate, and the controls, aside from the infotainment interface, are intuitive and within easy reach of the driver.

But like many vehicles this size, the 350L's third row is little more than a jump seat, and cargo space behind the third row is a parsimonious 16.3 cubic feet. In addition, despite the added personality, the RX's new design may or may not age well, the various options and packages can add up quickly, the haptic-feedback infotainment joystick is irritating and often too distracting to be used when driving, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay aren't even offered.

The Best and Worst Things

Overall, the RX is a slick package; we're just not sure how well that polarizing sheetmetal will age.

Right For? Wrong For?

Lexus RX 350

In a break from the past, the RX's edgy design should finally attract style-conscious crossover buyers to Lexus showrooms.

The RX 350's middling fuel economy, however, will have eco-friendly shoppers looking elsewhere – perhaps at the pricier RX 450h.

The Bottom Line

Despite average fuel economy and a love-it-or-hate-it design, the 2018 Lexus RX is a top choice in the mid-size luxury crossover class thanks to its serene ride, strong performance, and breadth of advanced safety features.