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2023 Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD

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Into The East Bay With The T-Rex Of Lexus SUVs

The Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD turned out to be the best vehicle to battle the urban terrain to and from the East Bay.

By Roy Nakano

Tue, Jul 25, 2023 11:31 PM PST

All images by the author: Roy Nakano.

The news out of Northern California hasn’t been very pretty lately. Nordstrom, Whole Foods Market, Amazon Go, Saks Off Fifth, and Office Depot have all announced they’re leaving Downtown San Francisco. The perception of rising crime is often cited as the main reason, even though the city officials insist its actual crime rate is significantly below that of other major cities.

In neighboring Oakland, there’s been a steady stream of news reports on elderly Asian Americans being attacked on the streets. This was mirrored by reports from the California Department of Justice citing increases of anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. However, its latest report showed a downward trend on anti-Asian violence.

And then there are my friends and colleagues citing examples of smash-and-grab in Northern California. One experienced it on more than one occasion. In all instances, the perpetrators smashed the glass on his SUVs, and they made out with items of varying value. Another guaranteed my car will be broken into if I left any bag showing in the passenger compartment.

mural in San Francisco
A mural of Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Bogs on 9th Street between Franklin and Webster by One of many murals that flank the buildings in Oakland Chinatown

So it gave me pause when the family said they wanted to take a road trip to Northern California, which would include the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.

One family member cited a visit to Angel Island as a long-standing bucket list destination. Another reason: to visit the Chinatowns in San Francisco and Oakland. One family member simply wanted to visit a cousin. For many years, they went cruising for burgers in the Southland. Cousin Arthur was now living in the East Bay, so a trip there provides an opportunity to have a hamburger cruising reunion.

LA Car would provide the vehicle to make this trip possible. Given the backdrop about the news regarding Northern California, I envisioned something inconspicuous. Maybe one of the new three-cylinder subcompact economy crossovers could fit the bill?

The news came from the front office: I’ll be provided a Lexus RX for the NorCal trip. And not just any RX; it would be the Tyrannosaurus Rex of RXes - the RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD. And when the car arrived, I saw that it was finished in a gleaming, newly minted copper color that could light up the neighborhood. Lexus calls it Copper Crest, and it’s identified as a special color option. At $595, it’s a bargain option.

side view of the 2023 Lexus RX500h by the Marriott in San Francisco
Lexus calls this color Copper Crest. It looks like something George “King of Kustomizers” Barris would have created. It looks like a million, but Lexus only charges $595 for this option.

The 500 in Lexus

In Indianapolis, 500 is the distance in miles of its famous race in May. In baseball, batting 500 means five hits out of 10 times at the plate. In traditional Lexus lexicon, it meant the car is powered by a V8. But the Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD turns it all topsy-turvy.  Instead of a V8, this vehicle sports a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder internal combustion engine with a high-capacity battery that powers a front-mounted electric motor and an 80-kW high-output rear electric motor.

engine compartment of the 2023 Lexus RX500h
The Lexus RX500h F-Sport Performance AWD sports a 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve turbo I-4, plus front and rear electric motors, providing 366 horsepower and 406 pound-feet at 2,000 rpm.

The combination yields 366 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 rpm. Lexus says it’ll propel the T-Rex of RXes from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. That is quick for an SUV with a curb weight of 4,750 pounds. It’s especially so for an SUV with a four-banger under the hood.

Mostly Dr. Jekyll and Just a Bit of Mr. Hyde

Many of the luxury cars have been turning to four-cylinder power plants as a way to become more fuel-efficient. The RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD is an example of this trend. The EPA rating of 27 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway shows that Lexus has succeeded in making this RX more fuel-efficient than its predecessors. No doubt, the hybrid electric technology contributes greatly to fuel economy dividends.

However, one cannot defy the laws of physics. There are times when it’s very clear the RX 500h is not propelled by a V8 or even a V6. It’s mostly confined to cold starts, when the big four drowns away in typical hybrid car fashion. It’s not very luxury car-like during start-up. Thankfully, things settle down once the engine is warmed up. In fact, it’s doubtful you’ll miss having a V8 or V6 at all on the road.

image of the Lexus RX500h
The Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD atop the hills of Berkeley. The RX is mostly Dr. Jekyll, but its Mr. Hyde personality does reveal itself every now and then.

On the highway, the car is utterly smooth and quiet. The ride is exceptional, and the experience is made even better with all the creature comforts that come with the vehicle - AC-ventilated front and rear seats, multi-zone climate control, Adaptive Variable Suspension, Dynamic Rear Steering, Power Rear Seats, and Traffic Jam Assist.

The car comes standard with Lexus Safety System+ 3.0, which includes Lane Tracing Assist, Road Sign Assist, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with Curve Speed Management, Lane Departure Alert, with Steering Assist and Intelligent High Beam Headlamps. It all works together to make for a very stress-free driving experience. The car’s ability to stay in lanes hands-free is particularly remarkable (you will need to touch the steering wheel periodically to let the car know you’re paying attention to the road).

interior of the 2023 Lexus RX500h
There are a lot of creature comforts that come with this Lexus RX, including AC-ventilated front and rear seats, Adaptive Variable Suspension, Dynamic Rear Steering, Power Rear Seats, Traffic Jam Assist and all the amenities that come with the Lexus Safety System+ 3.0 package.

The North

San Francisco, the city named after Saint Francis of Assisi, also known as The City, Frisco, Fog City, and Baghdad by the Bay; it’s the destination Angelinos think of when contemplating a road trip to The North. But there’s more to Northern California than the city Tony Bennett left his heart in (a fabulous song, but take a listen to “Mean Old Frisco” by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee).

The East Bay, which includes the counties of Alameda and Contra Costa and the cities of Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Oakland, among others, serves as an ideal hub for traveling the rest of the Bay Area cities - including San Francisco on the southern peninsula and Tiburon and Sausalito on the northern end. Moreover, a road trip to Oakland saves about an hour of driving for those road-tripping from Southern California.

image of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from one of the ferries that cross the Bay. Among its many nicknames, San Francisco is called Fog City for the frequent clouds that envelopes the metropolis.

The Five

Interstate 5, otherwise known as “The 5” to Southern Californians and “5” to Northern Californians due to variations in California English (not kidding). If you’re travelling by car or truck from the Los Angeles area, it’s the straightest and fastest route to The North.

When the Interstate 5 we now know first connected Los Angeles to the Bay Area in the early 1970s, it was a barren, lonely road, with few gas stations. Cars commonly became stranded due to running out of gas. Also common on the route: cars overheating while going up and down the Grapevine, just outside of Los Angeles County.

It’s been 50 years since those early years. Most of today’s cars can navigate the Grapevine without overheating. Alas, Interstate 5 is still pretty much a barren and lonely drive. Thankfully, there are now plenty of gas stations, rest stops, and even a few charging stations on the route.

image of the 2023 Lexus RX 500h at Harris Ranch in California
The Lexus RX 300h at Harris Ranch, the biggest and best rest stop between Los Angeles and the East Bay on Interstate 5. The 5 is still pretty much a barren wasteland, but at least there are plenty of gas stations and rest stops now.

Into The East Bay

We weren’t quite sure how our test vehicle would be received. On the one hand, it’s a luxury SUV sporting an eye-catching copper paint job that says “come smash-and-grab here.”

On the other hand, this RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD looks like a bad-ass machine, with Lexus’ signature scowl up front, its 21-inch black chrome wheels, and its dark-as-night tinted rear windows. Even if you left items in the back, no one can see through those tinted windows.

And that paint job? It looks like it was custom made for Death Row Records. There’s a slight reddish hue to the gleaming copper. Instead of “come smash-and-grab here,” it seems more like it’s saying “just try it motherf…er and see what happens!”

Our instincts later prove to be correct. Nothing happened to the Lexus. We receive lots of compliments on the color of the car, including from every valet attendant. “Is this a prototype?,” asks an attendant at the Oakland Marriott. “This paint job looks like a million bucks,” comments another.

image of the 2023 Lexus RX 500h, seen from the rear
The Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD at the Oakland Marriott City Center. The valets expressed their positive reviews on the Copper Crest color.

The Bright Sides of the Bay

Oakland, also known as Oaktown, O-Town, and the Bright Side of the Bay, proves to be the perfect hub. From the Marriott Hotel, we take the Lexus to pick up the cousin in Alameda and head over to Tiburon. From there, we take a ferry to Angel Island and visit its one-time detention center. The beauty surrounding the island is a stark contrast to the harrowing history of the center.

We enjoyed the ferry ride so much we decide to take the Oakland ferry to San Francisco. It turned out to be the right decision on the right day as we were greeted by the massive Saturday morning Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Between the walk from the Market to Chinatown, Fog City turned into another bright side of the Bay. The food was great, the people were friendly, and evidently the issues that made Nordstrom, Whole Foods, and the others run away were in another part of the city.

Jack London square in Oakland, viewing the boats in the marina
Jack London Square in Oakland is the location for the ferry to San Francisco. If you can make it there on a Saturday, Tuesday or Thursday, the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is one of the biggest and best around.

On the Road Home

We’re back on The 5, heading south to the Southland. We marvel at the exceptionally quiet and smooth ride of the Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD. It delivered the goods like a luxury crossover SUV should. The gleaming copper-colored T-Rex of Lexus RXes turned out to be the ideal vehicle to battle the urban terrain to and from the East Bay.

And what about the East Bay?

It turned out to be a great get-away for these Angelinos. Angel Island was both beautiful and eye-opening. The parts of San Francisco we saw (the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and Chinatown) were fun, delicious and full of pretty happy people, the burgers at Scolaris in Alameda were worth the cruise there, and Oakland was an ideal hub for it all.

interior of the 2023 Lexus RX500h, specifically the center console of the interior
The Lexus RX500h F-Sport Performance AWD’s exceedingly quiet and smooth ride, air conditioned seats, near-hands-free driving and steering capabilities, passing power, fuel economy (for an SUV of its size) and luxury amenities made it an ideal vehicle for the road trip.

Specifications (the ones that matter)

Name of car: 2023 Lexus RX 500h F SPORT Performance AWD
Prices: $61,600 (base), $70,680 (as tested, with 120V AC Inverter, Digital Key Digital Rearview Mirror, Power Rear Seats, Heated and Ventilated Rear Seats, Premium Triple-Beam LED Headlamps, Panorama Glass Moonroof, Lexus Interface with 14-inch Touchscreen Display Drive Connect with Cloud Navigation, Intelligent Assistant, and Destination Assist with 3-year Trial 4GNetwork Dependent, Power Rear Door with Kick Sensor, Special Color, Advanced Park, Panoramic View Monitor, Traffic Jam Assist, Rear Bumper Applique and $1,150 destination charge)
Type of vehicle: 4-door crossover SUV, hybrid electric propulsion
EPA fuel economy ratings: 27 MPG city/28 MPG highway
Propulsion: 2.4L 275-hp DOHC 16-valve turbo I-4, plus front and rear electric motors; 366 horsepower/406 pound-feet at 2,000 rpm combined
Drive configuration: DIRECT4 all-wheel drive
0-60 mph performance: 5.9 seconds (manufacturer estimate)

For more information on the Lexus RX 500h F-Sport Performance AWD, go to

About The Author

Roy Nakano's profile picture

Roy Nakano

Roy Nakano gave birth to LACar in the late '90s, having previously delivered LA Audio File back in the '80s. Aside from the occasional review, Roy likes to stray off the beaten automotive path: "Six Degrees of Reparations" reflected on the regretful ethical paths taken by car companies throughout history. "Traveling Through the Past and Present of the Green Book" looked at businesses that took a stand against racism and the man that wrote the book on where to find them. "Best Cars to Drive in Rush Hour Traffic" was an LACar guide published in the pre-GPS era. "In Search of the First Datsun 510 Tuner" looked at one of the milestones in the origin of import tuners.

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