PHOENIX, Arizona — Unless you’re caning Ferrari’s newest drop top up the Italian coastline or sliding around icebound Finland in the latest Aston Martin, the driving portion of automotive press events is usually the least compelling portion of the event. Us pampered writers don’t deserve an ounce of pity, but know this–driving the latest mid-size hybrid sedan on a predetermined route is about as thrilling as renting one for yourself.
Lexus clearly took this into consideration when putting together its latest drive program. As part of the RX 450hL and two-row LX 570’s launch, the automaker gave participants a shopping list, a gift card, and a fueled-up SUV to pack full of items purchased for charity, a welcome change of pace from the usual cut-and-dry routebook.
2018 Lexus NX 300h
My initial charity beast of burden was a loaded NX 300h, the most diminutive of Lexus’ SUV family—at least until the subcompact UX arrives later this year. Despite the NX’s small-ish proportions and 16.8 cubic feet of donation space to fill, my assignment was at Bed Bath and Beyond, so that cash was going to go quick, and the payload wouldn’t be substantial enough to necessitate folding the rear seats to access the NX’s full 53.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
An empty gift card and a cartful of baking dishes, silverware, measuring cups, aprons, dinnerware, and other assorted culinary accouterments later, the rear cargo space was brimmed. Back on the hot Phoenix tarmac, the NX was as smooth and easy-to-drive as the segment demands, with an adequate 194 hp from the hybridized 2.5-liter four-cylinder.
The drive to the lunch stop was neither dynamic nor exciting, but that’s how a Lexus SUV should be. In spite of the NX’s comparably stiff ride, the plates and cups arrived without fracture. It was quiet, refined, and an easy way to haul a chunk of kitchenware.
2018 Lexus NX 300h AWD Specifications
|ENGINE||2.5L DOHC 16-valve inline-4/154 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 152 lb-ft plus two electric motors/141 hp and 67 hp; combined/194 hp|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||33/30 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||182.6 x 73.6 x 64.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.1 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||112 mph (est)|
2018 Lexus RX 450hL
With lunch finished and charity goods dropped off, it was time for a trans-city hike in a 2018 Lexus RX 450hL. The destination was Taliesin West, the wintertime haunt of Frank Lloyd Wright, nestled in the sandy rocks at the base of the McDowell Mountains.
The RX is in its fourth generation, but the 2018 RX L is the first variant to incorporate a third-row. Although I only had myself to haul around AZ, it makes a whole lot of sense. The RX isn’t the compact SUV from 1999 anymore, and the popular midsize market segment necessitates an additional row. Still, even with an additional 4.3-inches of sheetmetal, the L is the smallest of the three tri-row SUVs in Lexus’ arsenal.
Engineers worked hard to ensure the third row is nearly as comfortable as the middle row (or in the case of the RX 450hL, a pair of standard captain chairs). For headroom, the liftgate glass is steeper, and for improved legroom, the third row sits slightly higher than the second row. Third-row passengers in Phoenix will be particularly fond of the tri-zone climate, including third-row vents and A/C controls.
Say what you want about Lexus’ current design language, but you can’t say it doesn’t stand out. It’s a bit heretical to say, but the RX wasn’t entirely out of place parked outside of Taliesin. Wright’s sprawling half-habitation, half architectural school is a collection of sharp edges, jutting angles, and hard corners. The RX isn’t nearly as groundbreaking or historically significant as Taliesin, but it’s one of the more striking options in the segment.
2018 Lexus RX 450hL AWD Specifications
|ENGINE||3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6/259 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 247 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm; three electric motors, 67 hp/165 hp|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||29/28 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||196.9 x 74.6 x 67.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||112 mph|
2018 Lexus LX 570 Two-Row
The next day, I had a few hours to myself before I flew back to a decidedly more temperate Los Angeles. I commandeered the latest LX variant for sightseeing duties, specifically opting for the more spacious two-row.
With the extra chairs donated to the RX L, the two-row LX packs six cubic feet extra in the storage area, now up to a maximum of 51 cubic feet. I hardly needed the space for my carry-on roller and a backpack, but I never need excuses for driving this gussied-up Land Cruiser.
Beyond the vacant space in the rear, that’s it. It’s got the same plush, cavernous interior, gutsy 5.7-liter V-8, soft suspension, and if you need it, weapons-grade 4×4 system as the regular LX. Thankfully, there’s no Germanic influence here – get less, pay less. It stickers for $5,000 less than the three-row for a heady $86,575. Each two-row LX arrives monospec with leather seats, power tailgate, leather upholstery, and a moonroof.
2018 Lexus LX 570 Two Row
|ENGINE||5.7L DOHC 32-valve V-8 /383 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 403 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/18 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||200.0 x 78.0 x 75.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.3 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||137 mph (est)|