New & Used Lexus RX : In Depth
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The RX model line has been Lexus's bestseller since it went on sale, virtually creating the luxury crossover market with its launch. Until the NX arrived for 2015, the five-passenger RX was Lexus's smallest crossover offering.
The Lexus RX—called the RX 300 originally, later the RX 330, and most recently the RX 350—bridges the gap between the mid-size ES (ES 350) sedan and the more truck-like GX and LX sport-utility vehicles.
The RX is one of the many vehicles spun off from Toyota's mid-size parts bin. It's related mechanically to the Toyota Venza, the Highlander, even the Toyota Avalon.In the past ten years, it's become one of the benchmarks for crossovers, and a real minivan alternative. That makes it a rival for vehicles like the Audi Q5, the Acura MDX, and the Lincoln MKX.
MORE: Read our 2015 Lexus RX review
The first-generation RX 300, introduced for 1999, was offered in only one trim, with a limited number of options, and included the same 220-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 that was featured in the ES 300 sedan. Power was delivered with a four-speed automatic transmission through either front- or all-wheel drive. For 2001, the RX 300 saw slightly different styling plus a new list of options, with electronic stability control made standard.
For 2004, it was redesigned and renamed the RX 330, getting a larger, stronger 230-hp (or 223-hp), 3.3-liter V-6 plus a five-speed automatic. The RX's overall size and formula remained the same, though its styling inside and out was smoother, with substantially improved materials. For 2007 and 2008, the RX was renamed the RX 350, as it gained the higher-output 3.5-liter V-6 that was introduced on a number of Toyota and Lexus products. One of the key attributes of this second-generation RX is that quite early on it offered a number of high-tech features that weren't found on many other luxury vehicles in its segment or price range at the time, including the Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS) and Dynamic Laser Cruise Control.
The new Lexus RX
The current version of the RX made its debut for 2009. Although the RX was again completely redesigned, it carried over with the same engine, now making 275 hp, and didn't look all that much different from the outside than the models before it—particularly the 2004-2008 models—though the design of the instrument panel was significantly changed this time around, becoming more swoopy and curvaceous, materials again given a big upgrade. In a review of the 2009 Lexus RX 350, we called it "a dependable, luxurious isolation chamber that performs responsively though not lively." Top features on the latest RX include heated and ventilated seats, power heated mirrors, a heads-up system, and an updated navigation system with XM NavTraffic and NavWeather.
The RX isn't intended for heavy towing use or off-roading, but it will do light versions of both. All-wheel-drive RX models come with a diff-lock mode for deep snow or sand/mud, and most RX models will tow 3,500 pounds, which is good compared to cars but not close to that of mid-size truck-based SUVs. Neither is the RX intended as a minivan substitute; while many models its size and smaller have offered a third-row seat, the RX has always boasted good seating for five adults, in two rows.
Safety and reliability are strong reasons to choose the RX, as much as luxury and comfort. The current RX has achieved top ratings from both crash-test agencies. Also, the RX has been a very reliable vehicle its entire run, and resale value is strong no matter what the year.
The 2013 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h have been given an updated front-end appearance, with a new grille to bring the front-end design more in line with the GS sport sedans' look. Other than a few other smaller changes, the RX continues unchanged, although the RX 450h has been given a Sport mode, and its own F-Sport model, to offer better responsiveness. In the 2014 RX lineup, Lexus added a "Siri Eyes Free Mode" for the system, allowing you to integrate some iPhone models with the RX's voice-command system. For 2015, Lexus follows that with refreshed Display Audio systems across the model line.