Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lexus RX 350: The first, and still among the best

The Lexus RX 350 gets a makeover for the 2010 model year, but the changes are definitely more evolutionary than revolutionary.

There have been two previous versions of the RX, which was introduced in 1998 as a 1999 model and was the first luxury crossover.

The RX has defined the segment ever since, and is among the leaders of the large crossovers.

This edition, which we recently tested at lovely St. Simons Island, Ga., maintains the familiar Lexus heritage, with its high roofline and attractive dimensions.

Lexus officials say the RX was designed with four Cs in mind:




-Customer first.

While we agree that this vehicle possesses those qualities, or at least we can attest to the first three, we're not sure how those have been enhanced in this latest version.

It's not that we think the new RX is better or worse, it's just subtly different.

The drivetrain has changed a bit, with the 3.5-liter V-6 engine now making 275 horsepower, an increase of five.

That power plant is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, with front- or all-wheel-drive being available.

Lexus says the awd system has an adaptive torque split for when driving conditions change quickly.

A sport-shift mode is also featured in the transmission.

But if you're more concerned with fuel economy than peppy driving, check out the "eco driving" light, which informs you of when you are driving in the most fuel-efficient manner.

The RX 350 gets 18 mpg city, 24 highway.

Lexus has also updated the hybrid version, the 450h, and it gets 30 mpg city, 27 highway.

The ride remains as smooth and quiet as ever.

This is not a thrill machine, but most people who buy these types of vehicles aren't looking for thrills, but rather comfort, luxury and functionality.

Eighteen-inch wheels are standard and 19-inchers are optional.

Lexus said it has increased the size of the brake rotors for improved braking.

On the interior, the new RX gains 5 percent more cargo room behind the rear seats, which is a nice change.

The bonus is that the rear seats don't seem to lose any of their roominess; three adults can fit there with relative comfort.

Up front, the driver controls have been condensed, leaving more blank space on the dash that is covered with an unoffensive plastic.

The previous version had more of a wood-grain theme, so if you liked that, you might be a bit disappointed.

Safety remains a key attribute, too.

There are 10 airbags, standard anti-lock brakes, and stability and traction control on each model.

There is now a hill-holder system that prevents you from drifting backward when you start off from an incline.

Other safety options feature automatic high-beam lights, adaptive lighting, a dynamic-handling system that blends traction and stability regulation, and a pre-collision system that senses, using radar, when you might be about to hit something and applies some braking control.

The new thing that we found most impressive on the RX is the Remote Touch system, which is a user interface that Lexus officials implied was designed to be much easier to use than BMW's much-maligned iDrive.

The controller is more akin to a regular computer mouse, both driver and passenger can get access to it, which helps the driver avoid distraction, and it doesn't take long to pick up on how the system works.

If this is well received, it could be a game changer for user-interface systems.

The list of standard amenities is what you would expect: CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, and 10-way power front seats
Optional goodies are the hard-drive navigation system, XMNavTraffic, a rear-seat entertainment system, ventilated front seats and remote start.

Lexus says it sold about 80,000 RX models last year, and even in this unpredictable market, says it thinks that number will increase slightly this year.

The RX 350 starts at $36,800 for the front-wheel-drive model, and $38,200 for awd.

While there are a fair number of competitors in today's luxury crossover segment, it's hard not to view the RX as one of the best.

No comments: