A look back at testing Lexus' best-seller
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It’s been almost 20 years since we launched our Motor Trend SUV of the Year award, an honor that went to the first-generation Lexus RX. In a unanimous vote, we declared the RX a “stroke of marketing and engineering brilliance” and a “new standard by which all future SUVs will be judged.” It has dominated luxury crossover sales ever since. Now in its fourth generation, the RX hasn’t veered away much from its original formula—until now. New to the RX lineup is the 2018 Lexus RX 350L, which is essentially a stretched version of the normal five-passenger RX, allowing room for third-row seating for two more passengers.
Following our exclusive First Test of a new 2018 RX 350L, we revisited our previous test results through four generations of the popular crossover.
1999 Lexus RX 300 AWD
The first-gen RX nabbed our Golden Calipers, thanks to its combination of a carlike ride, decent off-road capability, and value. The sole powertrain was a 3.0-liter V-6 mated to a four-speed automatic. Front- and all-wheel-drive versions were available. With its 220 hp and 222 lb-ft of torque, we praised our RX 300 AWD tester for having “very good get up and go” with a 0–60-mph time of 8.8 seconds. That was on par with the Mercedes-Benz ML320 (9.0 seconds), one of the RX’s few competitors at the time.
2004 Lexus RX 330 AWD
Big changes to the next-gen RX included a five-speed automatic and a new, more powerful 3.3-liter V-6, rated at 230 hp and 245 lb-ft. Not only did the AWD model’s 0–60 time improve to 7.8 seconds, but fuel economy also jumped to an EPA-rated 16/22/19 mpg city/highway/combined versus 17/20/18.
2008 Lexus RX 350 AWD
For the 2007 model year, Lexus revised the second-gen RX with a larger 3.5-liter V-6 for a significant boost in power, to 270 hp and 251 lb-ft. We got our hands on a 2008 RX 350 AWD and saw improved numbers all around, including a 0–60 time of 6.7 seconds and a 15.2-second dash to the quarter mile, seven-tenths quicker than the 2004 RX 350 AWD.
2010 Lexus RX 350 AWD
Sharper sheetmetal, more passenger room, and new technology were the big highlights for the third-gen RX. Changes under the hood were relatively minor. The old five-speed auto gave way to a new six-speed gearbox, and power increased by 5 horsepower and 6 lb-ft of torque. Our test of a 2010 RX 350 AWD required 0.1 second longer to get to 60 mph compared to the 2008 RX, though EPA figures improved to 18/24 mpg city/highway.
2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The 2013 model year marked the debut of the RX F Sport. The RX 350 F Sport was offered exclusively with an eight-speed automatic (non-F Sport models kept the six-speed gearbox) and AWD. The ubiquitous 3.5-liter V-6’s power output actually dropped a tad (which likely explains the slower 0–60 time), but Lexus did attempt to improve handling with a revised suspension. The result was a slightly quicker figure-eight time of 27.9 seconds, 0.2 second quicker than the non-F Sport RX.
2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
The automaker’s spindle grille grabs most of the attention in the current fourth-gen RX, but Lexus also tweaked a few things under the hood. A 3.5-liter V-6 remains but now produces 295 hp and 267 lb-ft. The eight-speed automatic is standard across the lineup. That said, performance hasn’t changed much compared to the 2013 RX we tested, with a 0–60 time of 6.8 seconds. On the upside, fuel economy improves to 19/26 mpg city/highway compared to last gen’s 18/26 mpg.
2018 Lexus RX 350 L
With a 0–60 time of 7.5 seconds, the three-row RX 350L we tested isn’t as zippy as its two-rowed sibling, but that was expected. For starters, the RXL makes less power (290 hp and 263 lb-ft) than the normal RX because of the revised exhaust system, which was needed to relocate the spare tire from the cargo area to the RX’s underside. Additionally, our test car was a front-drive model, requiring us to minimize wheelspin at launch, something we didn’t have fuss with on the AWD models.
||Trap Speed (mph)
||60-0 mph (feet)
||Skidpad (avg g)
| 1999 Lexus RX 300 AWD
| 2004 Lexus RX 330 AWD
| 2008 Lexus RX 350 AWD
| 2010 Lexus RX 350 AWD
| 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
| 2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport AWD
| 2018 Lexus RX 350 L FWD