Lexus does a superb job of designing steering wheels. The wood used on the RX350’s wheel feels luxurious and gives the impression that the vehicle is very substantial and smooth. It feels as if it were taken out of an LS460 and all of the positive tactile sensations came along with it. It’s a good thing the steering wheel itself feels so good, because not a lot of feedback makes its way from the wheels that touch the ground to the wheel in your hands.
I spent most of my time in the Lexus RX350 thinking about how small the original RX looked and how big the new one looks and feels. It’s easy to see why the RX has been on top of the sales charts since it debuted — it gives a good mix of power, luxury, and comfort, and it carries the Lexus name. No, it isn’t terribly exciting to drive, but that’s not what buyers in this class want or need. All of the insulation that Lexus is famous for works well in this class. Buyers looking for a little more involvement would be wise to drive an Infiniti EX35, although there isn’t nearly as much room in the back seat. If fashion is your thing, consider a Cadillac SRX and its edgier design. All of the other players in this segment fail to distinguish themselves from the Lexus in any positive ways.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
The new RX is an incredibly nice small luxury SUV. It’s definitely not for me, though: not at this crazily optioned price, not with this lack of involvement behind the wheel, and not with the RX’s ubiquity. It’d be much easier to find a less-common Mercedes-Benz GLK or Lincoln MKX in a crowded mall parking lot than an RX350.
Actually, this particular RX doesn’t blend in as much, due to its rich, deep red paint. This color definitely brings out the best of the RX’s lines, especially at the back end of the vehicle. The refined look continues inside the cabin, where nice leather and materials help create a very cozy, insulated atmosphere. The well-padded, supercomfortable armrests on the front doors are particularly impressive (hey, the little things matter). I also found the driver’s seat to be more comfortable than the many flat-bottomed Lexus and Toyota chairs I’ve occupied in the last few years. The RX’s seat was almost Lincoln Town Car cushy, though, which means that it might be better suited to a long nap than a long drive. I was disappointed by the poor fit of the plastic surrounding the center stack; it’s not terrible, but it’s clearly noticeable if you run your finger along the seams.
Speaking of details, the new mouse controller for the navigation/climate/audio/etc. systems works quite well and is very intuitive for anyone who’s ever used a computer mouse. There’s even helpful feedback when you roll over the “buttons” on the screen. My only complaint, and it’s a fairly big one, is that there’s no hard button to easily and quickly move back one step, unlike other manufacturers’ similar multimedia systems.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Solid. That’s the best way to describe the RX350 and may go a long way toward explaining why so many people buy it. Certainly, they are not after style. I actually admired the original RX (it was pretty rare back then to see a car from the factory with clear tail lights), but this latest model looks pinched in all the wrong places.
Neither is it all that luxurious feeling, with lots of matte black surfaces made of decent, but not necessarily premium, soft-touch plastic. Other crossovers we’ve sampled recently, including the Cadillac SRX, the Audi Q5, and the Lincoln MKX, offer more design flare, both inside and out.
But where the Lexus beats them all is in its vaultlike solidity. As Phil noted, much of this feeling comes from the beautiful wood-trimmed steering wheel, which turns with surprising heftiness. In serene silence, the RX tames Michigan’s pothole-infested roads with nary a squeak. The closest comparison might be the BMW X5. But whereas the Bimmer’s solidity translates to athleticism, the Lexus feels overwhelmingly secure. Considering that many crossover customers are looking for the passive safety of a truck, Lexus does well to make its medium-sized RX feel like it owns the road.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
What’s nice about getting into the RX350 is that you’re immediately immersed in the lovely Lexus luxury cabin. It just hits you in the face as soon as you open the door, and it makes you feel glad to be climbing in. Our test car had a black interior trimmed in a dark, mahogany-type wood, and the combination looked fabulous. I like the asymmetrical sweep to the center stack. I appreciate the superb Lexus/Toyota navigation screen, the completely intuitive radio controls, plus knobs for volume and tuning. There’s a great feeling of solidity to this vehicle. You get into it, and you realize why Lexus sells so many RXs. The RX has an extraordinarily smooth, refined, and powerful powertrain, and it goes down the road beautifully, as long as the road doesn’t have too many curves in it. That’s what most buyers want.
I also like the little triangular windows inside the A-pillars (the front pillars of the vehicle), as these aid visibility. The driver’s seat has really good adjustments; the seat bottom adjusts in many directions, which makes it easier to find a comfortable position. This sounds obvious and simple, but by comparison, the driver’s seat in the Ford Flex I drove recently didn’t adjust nearly as well and was never as comfortable for me as the one in the RX. That’s just one of the many things Lexus does right in this vehicle.
The mouse controller on the RX was a surprise; it’s very intuitive and makes a nice little “ding” noise.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
When the RX was introduced a little more than ten years ago, there were those (including the then-editor of Automobile Magazine) who said that a vehicle that didn’t hew to the sport-utility formula of rough-and-rugged, go-anywhere off-roaders wouldn’t succeed. But Lexus knew better, and the RX is now a seemingly ubiquitous presence on American roads. Never mind that it isn’t intended for off-road use and that it’s not aimed at enthusiastiastic drivers, the RX is a vehicle that is comfortable, practical, and luxurious. Everything in it feels solid and well put together. Of course, it doesn’t come cheap. The seemingly reasonable sub-$40,000 base price is just a starting point, as the vehicle we tested was larded up with more than $15,000 of extras, including a $4980 rear seat entertainment package, which seems really pricey but is apparently worth it to those who want to keep the youngsters occupied. As with all Lexuses, the seats are comfortable, the controls are well-designed ergonomically, and the driving experience is a no-drama affair. As has been Lexus’s custom, they’ve hit the mark square on the head.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
It shouldn’t be surprising that this Lexus RX350 logbook is relatively sparse on driving impressions. This isn’t a driver’s car – and was never meant to be – and that’s just fine. Instead, the RX does comfort, and it does comfort quite well. The cabin is luxurious without being lavish, and the seats are well suited to long trips. The engine is stellar. It is quiet and smooth when cruising, but provides excellent acceleration when you need it. The ride is generally quite nice, but I was occasionally surprised by how much the body moves up and down over bumps. The motion is never harsh or jarring, but it can get a bit annoying.
I do have a few complaints. The climate controls look quite outdated, as they do on several modern Lexuses. Additionally, at night, there was no backlighting to identify the temperature and passenger temperature buttons. Instead, the only glowing elements are uncolored arrows. Could be fan speed, could be temperature. Who knows? Finally, there’s the token Toyota digital clock, which looks like it was adapted from a McDonald’s Happy Meal digital watch. This element deserves better integration into the interior and should have been done ten years ago.
I was surprised by how intuitive the mouse/joystick navigation controller was. Lexus has integrated a trick feature that creates detents for the joystick that correspond to the buttons showing on the screen at any given time. The natural tactile feedback makes the system very easy to use – much like reaching for the preset buttons in a car you live with everyday. Compared to the touch screens and complicated menu structures offered by many automakers, this is an innovative solution. Despite my appreciation for this technology, I can’t let Lexus off the hook for the bland, outdated look of the navigation screen. The dull gray color scheme and the poorly executed digital textures make it like a Windows 98 computer. Why not have the software to back up your premium hardware?
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Base price (with destination) : $39,075
Price as tested: $54,545
Comfort package – $2000
-Adaptive front lighting w/intelligent high-beam
-Rain sensing wipers
-Heated and ventilated front seats
Dual-screen rear-seat entertainment package – $4980
Luxury package – $4800
-Semi-aniline leather trim
-One-touch open/close sunroof
-Wood and leather steering wheel and shift knob
-Wide-angle side-view monitor
-19 in. aluminum alloy wheels
-Illuminated side plates
Mark Levinson 15-speaker audio system – $1610
Pre-collision system w/radar cruise control – $1500
Glass breakage sensors – $205
Remote start – $375
18 / 24 / 20 mpg
Size: 3.5L VVT-I V-6
Horsepower: 275 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 257 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Weight: 4343 lb
19 x 7.5 in. aluminum alloy wheels
235/55 Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400 tires