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2016 Lexus RX 350, 450h debut with (literally) sharp new design

The fourth-generation Lexus RX and RX hybrid debut with a new design that looks (literally) sharp.

NEW YORK -- Lexus claims that it created the midsize luxury SUV segment when it debuted the original RX 300 in 1998. The automaker also claims that it still dominates that class with the current RX accounting for about 25 percent of sales within its segment. Today, at the New York auto show, the automaker makes ready to defend its position going forward with the debut of the 2016 Lexus RX 350 and 2016 Lexus RX 450h.

The new, fourth-generation models feature a substantial redesign with a new style that still says "RX" but more deeply integrating the current hallmarks of Lexus' design language. Similar to the recently debuted NX crossover, the 2016 RX features an angular design with crisply defined shoulders, squared-off wheel arches, and -- perhaps most obviously -- the automaker's trademark spindle front end. The RX 350 fills that gaping maw with a mesh grille; the RX 450h hybrid uses wide, blade-like bars.

The new RX features the automaker's trademark massive spindle maw. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Beneath the sheet metal, the new SUVs ride on a 2-inch longer wheelbase than the previous generation RX did, and a stiffer chassis, too. The RX can be had with optional adaptive suspension and an available F Sport style and handling upgrade package that includes an active stabilizer system designed to keep the SUV flat when cornering. 2016 will also be the first model year that the hybrid will be available with the aforementioned F Sport package.

Under the hood, both the RX and RX hybrid will be powered primarily by 3.5-liter V-6 engines. The RX 350 uses a revised version of Toyota/Lexus' 3.5-liter direct injected V-6 with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The RX 450h uses an Atkinson cycle V-6 that is augmented by the automaker's Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Both power trains are targeting 300 horsepower, but final figures haven't been stated.

Around back the RX will feature a new touch-free power lift-gate that is activated by waving a hand in front of the Lexus badge. Showgoers and presenters alike seemed amused by the feature, but I think it'll be less useful than the foot-activated feature offered by the competition, particularly when approaching the vehicle with full hands.

Inside, the RX's infotainment system is headed by a large, 8-inch color display that sticks out of the dashboard according to the current automotive interior design trend. Interestingly, I noticed that the SUV retains the older Remote Touch joystick controller, not the laptop-like touchpad seen on the new NX and RC models. Personally, I prefer the joystick and was please to see that it's still around.

I was pleased to see the return of the Remote Touch controller. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Lexus didn't speak much about pricing, but the automaker did let us know about a new Lexus Safety System+ package, which rolls in such driver-aid technologies as precollision monitoring, dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beams, and lane-keeping assist for "under $650." That's an uncharacteristically good deal at first blush. Adaptive High-beam System (AHS), a Panoramic View Monitor (PVM) and Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) also available options, either a la carte or as part of other packages.

The 2016 Lexus RX 350 and 450h will hit dealerships in late 2015. We'll expect more details approaching the launch.

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