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Driven: 2010 Lexus RX 350

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2010 Lexus RX 350

2010 Lexus RX 350

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The RX was one of the first crossovers and arguably the first luxury crossover when it was introduced for 1998. Since then it’s become the long-time bestseller for the brand, and it’s easy to see why. The 2010 Lexus RX 350 is nearly as practical as a minivan and more fuel-efficient than an old-style SUV, yet serenely refined, with enough luxury features to feel a little indulgent.

But at the same time the RX has become, in some places, ubiquitous.

From the outside, those who aren’t RX owners or habitual automotive Web site visitors probably aren’t going to notice the difference between the previous second-generation RX and the redesigned 2010 model. RX 350s are still a dime a dozen in the parking lots of upscale malls. But the new model does change significantly on the inside. The instrument panel is much more interesting to look at, with broad arcs and curved panels that distance the RX from minivans or more affordable, non-luxury-brand crossovers.

2010 Lexus RX 350

2010 Lexus RX 350

Enlarge Photo

At the front of the center console and next to the driver is the new Remote Touch controller—a cross between joystick and trackball—that controls screen-based menus and features. The screen seemed quite far away, but we appreciated the broad hood over it, which kept reflections from ever being an issue. Although the menus aren’t that much easier than in other screen-based systems like BMW’s iDrive or Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND, we found the controller less distracting than others that needed to be rotated or those that provided haptic feedback.

Lexus has boosted power from the 3.5-liter V-6 in the 2010 RX 350 to 275 hp, up from 270, and mated it to a new six-speed automatic. Shifts during light and moderate acceleration are seamless and almost impossible to detect without listening for them or watching the tach; we also liked the softer, more linear throttle calibration which gives takeoffs a more precise, luxurious feel. EPA fuel economy ratings stand at 18 mpg city, 24 highway,

2010 Lexus RX 350

2010 Lexus RX 350

Enlarge Photo

The 2010 RX 350 includes a green ‘Eco’ light in the instrument cluster, but it proved more of an annoyance than an aid. We wondered if the calibration was wrong, as you could still accelerate at what we felt was a moderate pace and it would just stay illuminated the whole time. Only in jackrabbit starts it would go off for a short time.

The driving experience is, to put it bluntly: very numb. Admittedly, many RX buyers will be looking for exactly that. Even with the available Sport Package, which our RX was equipped with (including a sport-tuned suspension), it’s capable in corners but by no means eager.

Over several days and about 100 miles of driving, we averaged about 17 mpg overall in the RX 350,

Our test RX 350 had all-wheel drive; for 2010 it’s a new adaptive torque split system that sends all torque to the front wheels except when starting up from a stop or when the traction is needed in back. Compared to last year’s system it doesn’t create nearly as much driveline drag, which should also go to help improve fuel economy overall. And though the RX isn’t built for off-roading, the AWD system has a diff lock mode that might come in handy in deep snow, sand, or mud.

Seating and seating space were the subject of many small gripes throughout the week we had the RX. The heated and ventilated seats were upholstered in a nice albeit slightly plasticky leather, but their cushions were on the short side. The hard, contoured headrests, when down, dug into shoulder blades but when up tilted this driver’s head uncomfortably forward. Otherwise, the RX is surprisingly short of headroom in the front seats. With the seat bottom adjusted all the way downward, taller drivers will skim the headliner beside the moonroof. Visibility is good outward, thanks to a rather low beltline, but rearward visibility is still impaired by the thick rear pillar and an issue when changing lanes.


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