- The TX is an all-new family hauler from Lexus.
- As the name suggests, it's about as big as the state from which it hails.
- But with all that extra size come some interesting packaging and powertrain decisions that might hinder what is otherwise a very compelling package.
2024 Lexus TX First Drive Review: Does More Car Mean More Better?
Does Lexus' new people mover make as big an impression as the name suggests?
Making Texas-sized jokes because of the new 2024 Lexus TX's obvious relation to the state where Toyota Motor North America is headquartered is about as low hanging as fruit gets. In fact it might have already fallen off the tree, so we're going to spare you the babble. More important than the name is what the TX has to do for Lexus: It has to take the fight to the likes of the Acura MDX, Lincoln Aviator, and Audi Q7 and vie for your dollars in an evermore crowded three-row SUV space.
It's a logical addition to the lineup for Lexus. Families or five may find the RX too small, the three rows in the GX too confining (they're crammed into a 4-inch-shorter wheelbase than in the TX), and the $90,000-plus super-luxe LX too pricey. The base TX, on the other hand, starts at a much more agreeable $55,050 for a front-wheel-drive 350-badged model. Prices go up from there, and the more potent TX 500h can be driven to north of $76,000. Not to mention, Lexus hasn't even released pricing for the top-spec 550h+ model yet (which we expect to top $80,000 when all is said and done).
How does the TX drive?
There are three distinctly different powertrains on offer for the TX. The base 350 is powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 275 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. It sends its power through an eight-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels, but all-wheel drive can be had for an extra $1,600. Our first experience with the TX was in the base model with all-wheel drive. The base model is most at risk of feeling like a Toyota Grand Highlander (which shares the Lexus’ underpinnings) with some more bourgeois bits thrown in, but right as you crack open the door it becomes apparent the TX is more than just an exercise in badging.
We mean that literally, by the way. Lexus' digital latch — essentially a small button on the back of a stationary door grab handle — is standard on all TX models. Can't get that on your Grand Highlander. Inside the TX further separates itself from its Toyota-badged cousin with a unique dash and door design, a much higher volume of soft materials (most of which are coated in a faux leather trim that is surprisingly nice to the touch), and a unique center console area. The only visible part the TX and Grand Highlander share is the shift knob.
Once you're up and running, the base TX's powertrain comes off as just fine. The four-cylinder isn't exactly a powerhouse and it shows. It can feel labored on occasion (especially when pulling up steeper grades), and power dies off quickly as the revs rise. The transmission doesn't help matters either, occasionally picking the wrong cog at the wrong time. Taking manual control with the paddles at the back of the wheel doesn't remedy the situation, and requested shifts often take whole seconds before they're addressed. In the end it's all down to tuning, and a little refinement would have made a big difference on the road.
But the rest of the TX 350 experience is where refinement shows up in spades. The base 350 rides on the smaller 20-inch wheel option (yes, 20 inches is "small" now, and 22s can be had as an option) and the cushion from the larger tire sidewall affords a well-damped ride. It's quiet inside, too, with very little road or tire noise making its way into the cabin. The TX can be caught out by bigger undulations in the road that make the body float around on its suspension for too long before settling back down, but a cushy ride is exactly what a big people hauler like this is supposed to have.
And then there's potentially the best part of the base TX: sheer value. Its attractive starting price comes with a ton of "Oh I want that" type niceties. Some of the standard kit includes heated front seats, a wireless phone charger, 14-inch touchscreen, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and seven total USB C ports. It also comes as standard with Lexus' Safety System+ 3.0 (which includes adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, blind-spot warning and automatic high beams).
Options for the base TX are few, but the higher-spec TX 350 Premium comes with real leather throughout and can be had with captain's chairs in the rear, a head-up display, and a 21-speaker Mark Levinson audio system to really jazz it all up. If a lackadaisical powertrain isn't an issue for you, a top-spec TX 350 with a smattering of choice options — and a price tag that just barely touches $65,000 — is the one to have.
But wait, why is the base TX the best?
It's easy to assume more always equals better. More power, more exclusivity, more tech: It can all only lead to improvement, right? Well, the rest of the TX's powertrains are a showcase of why sometimes more isn't always the way to go. Take the next step up in the powertrain lineup for example. It's called the TX 500h F Sport Performance and it pairs the same 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with two electric motors, one at the front and one at the back to power the rear wheels. There is no physical connection between the front and rear, meaning all of the power that's sent to the rear wheels is controlled by that rear-mounted e-motor. It's what Lexus calls the Direct4 all-wheel-drive system.
Of the three, this powertrain is easily the most cohesive. Combined, the system makes 366 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. The engine is connected to a smarter, more responsive six-speed automatic with a hybrid electric motor sandwiched within the bell housing of the transmission. While there's plenty going on, it all translates to a smooth, linear power delivery. Under hard acceleration you can feel the motor on the back axle surge the SUV forward in tidy lockstep with what the gas engine is doing at the front of the car. Acceleration isn't ferocious, but it does feel much quicker than the 350. And when decelerating the brakes present no weirdness in the regen-to-friction handoff — it's one linear motion all the way to the bottom of the pedal's travel.
Don't forget, either, that this is an F Sport Performance model that's supposed to exude the "Lexus Driving Signature." What that means is this TX comes with a unique wheel and tire combo, a much stiffer suspension and Dynamic Rear Steering. All of this combines to make the most connected-feeling version of the TX. The steering is direct and quick, and direction changes are much snappier thanks to that rear steer. It's the most agile and most enjoyable version of the TX to drive quickly.
The firm ride in the 500h undoes a lot of what makes the base car so great. It's jittery over small road imperfections, and the rear steps out unpredictably when thumped over larger recesses like potholes and manhole covers. On top of that, there's a lot more noise being fed into the 500h's cabin because of the bigger wheels and more aggressive tires. We applaud the attempt to make an SUV that's more than just a box on wheels, but that's the issue — big three-row SUVs like this aren't supposed to masquerade as sports cars. For people who crave a ride that's too firm and a cabin that's too loud for the type of car they're supposed to be driving, this will be the pick of the litter. However, we can't help but think this powertrain in a vehicle that was quieter, more compliant on the road, and more comfortable would have made for a near class-leading machine.
Plug-in hybrid head scratcher
The king of the TX range is the 550h+. It's a powertrain setup completely unique to the TX — it combines a V6 paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and plug-in hybrid battery/electric motor combo. The result is the most powerful version of the TX you can buy, with a total of 404 peak horsepower. It's also destined to be the most niche choice of the lineup, as PHEVs are far less popular than regular hybrids and gas-engine-only powertrains.
But if you want the most powerful (and what will likely be the most expensive) TX on offer, the 550h+ is it. It does feel the quickest in a straight line, with comfort levels and that little bit of extra float we found in the 350. The big difference is that CVT. Because there are no gears, the V6 never quiets down when you're accelerating. It constantly rumbles its way through the firewall, and after just a few minutes we were bemoaning the constant interruption in the 500h+'s cabin and resorted to putting in EV mode for most of our drive.
Just like in the 500h, the more serene surrounding of the TX's cabin is broken up, but this time by irritating engine drone. We asked why Lexus opted to use a CVT (something that's typically reserved for economy cars) and we were told the company's plug-in hybrid system was designed to work with a CVT. Changing up the formula would require a powertrain redesign and that means both extra time and money spent on R&D for the TX. In the end, the 550h+ doesn't feel like a flagship model. It's the nicest inside, with the plushest materials and highest levels of equipment, but the 550h+ is the version of the TX that ended feeling the most compromised, and we can't shake the feeling that a traditional automatic transmission would have fixed that.
Diving Through Menus
As with most modern cars, the TX is ladened with tech, and nearly all of it is configurable through the central touchscreen display. There are more settings here than we expect to find on Apollo 11, but Lexus' contemporary setup is leaps and bounds ahead of its tech from not so long ago. In fact, Lexus has almost caught up to the German competition when it comes to usability.
Our lone gripe with the system is how dense it is. The TX too frequently requires you to stop, make your desired changes, and then get going again. It must be said, however, a slightly more intuitive menu structure that requires fewer taps to get to key functions is a wish we make of many modern information systems found in Luxury cars, and this is as good as it's been in any Lexus product.
It might seem wrong to think of a luxury car as a value proposition, but that's truly where the TX excels. Our pick is the 350 Premium with as many luxury options as you want or need to zhuzh it up a bit. If you insist on picking the driver's choice, the 500h is worth a look as well, but we think it's best to avoid the 550h+ until Lexus finds a way to further refine its formula.