The Art of the New Lexus RX

Had Lexus been super smart, it would have done a deal with the Picasso family and badged the latest RX crossover “Design by Picasso.”

That way when someone walked into a Lexus showroom, took one look at the new RX, and said, “Darn, that is the ugliest thing I’ve seen since the Elephant Man,” the salesman could smugly reply, “But sir, it’s a nouveau Picasso.”

Gaze at some of Picasso’s wilder cubist masterpieces like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and you can see where Lexus got the idea for its crazy-angled spindle grille and Mark of Zorro body styling.

Just seeing it in the metal gives me a headache. And parked alongside the softer, more rounded previous generation RX, this latest version looks as if the designer handed the crayons to a 6-year-old and said, “Draw me a crazy sport-ute.”

But then again what do I know? Lexus sells more than 100,000 RXs a year, making it the top-selling mid-size luxury crossover. And everything indicates that this new version will hit the same kind of numbers.

If you can get past the polarizing design, this newest RX is one terrific luxury automobile that answers many of the shortcomings of the previous model.

Stretching the wheelbase by almost 2 inches provides more space in the back. It also ensures the RX stays best-in-class when it comes to rear cargo space.

Slide behind the wheel and the front compartment feels huge. Lexus designers played a neat trick by keeping the front seats narrow and moving them closer to the center console. That leaves plenty of open space between shoulders and doors, heightening the illusion of interior width. It feels like sitting in the cab of a Peterbilt.

Lexus all but perfected the art of sumptuous, leather-clad interiors. But leather isn’t in all RXs—standard cars come with faux NuLuxe pleather. You need to splash out $1,085 for the Premium Package to get leather, but it does look and feel gorgeous.

Don’t expect lashings of timber either. To get the optional Espresso Walnut interior wood trim over the standard Striated Black trim will cost you $400.

Penny-pinching at Lexus? Seems to be the case.

But thankfully the splendid 3.5-liter V-6 hasn’t been replaced by some wheezing turbocharged 4-cylinder. For this latest version, there’s a new cylinder head design and a new fuel-injection system.

The result is 295-hp—25 more than the previous engine—and a muscular 267 pound-feet of torque. Coupled to a Teflon-smooth 8-speed automatic, the RX can scoot to 60 mph in about 7 seconds and averages 28 mpg on the highway.

Like its predecessor, this new RX has few sporting aspirations. The focus here remains on delivering a smooth, luxurious, near-silent driving experience. That said, the 8-speed auto works hard to keep the V-6 in its power band so the car feels faster than the bare numbers suggest.

Pricing for the front-drive 2016 RX 350 kicks off at $42,840. Want sharper handling? The RX 350 F Sport starts at $50,065. Want hybrid power? The RX 450h runs from $53,175, while the flagship RX 450h all-wheel drive F-Sport is yours for $56,585.

If 2016 is the year you shake things up and go bold in your automotive choices, then this latest RX definitely has your name on it. Just tell your friends it’s what Picasso would have driven had he still been around.

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