Lexus RX350: Meet Mighty Mouse
Toyota's upscale Lexus RX is a crossover benchmark. It's become the upwardly mobile automotive prescription for many families. Now, nearly every carmaker has an RX-like machine. Imitation is the sincerest form of affirmation.
Therefore, when Lexus revamped this vehicle transforming it into the RX350, it didn't stray too far from its proven formula: front-drive car-like chassis, available all-wheel drive, fastback/hatchback body and the stuff of dreamy goodies.
You'll notice that the RX is a feature creature; the owner's manual(s) are the size of a condo's cornerstone. The good stuff: side-view and backup cameras, automatic headlights that swivel and self-dim as needed, voice-operated navigation system, enfortainment system with three video screens, wireless headsets and two-zone remote control, power liftgate, heated and chilled seats, lots of airbags, and a trip computer with hybrid-style mpg calculator.
Guiding you through this crossover's electric-gadget maze is a computer-like mouse or track ball. Its smooth contours invite you to caress it and swivel a joystick-like pointer. Dedicated switches on the mouse's sides or front select menus, maps and enter. While it sounds like an IT professional's nightmare, it's easy to master due to pared-down-to-the-basics icons on the inset center-stack screen. This setup eliminates dashboard clutter.
One neat trick is a ‘sticky' wobble pad or joystick. It magically develops detents that correspond with "soft-button" menus. This aids locating and executing commands. It can be distracting, as you must eyeball the screen's hand-like indicator. On the other hand, once you've become familiar with it, you might like this Jetson-approved gizmo.
Lexus lines the interior with softly padded surfaces, polished wood inlays, and sensible glitz-free purple-haze flooded instruments. Lincoln please copy! The leather-trimmed heated and ventilated front thrones have power bottom extenders. Several little items enhance first-class motoring: a light-touch glove box lid, articulated overhead assist straps that would thrill Howard Stern's Leather Lady and a suede-like headliner. Even the spare tire cover lifts gracefully.
Rear passengers stare at uncanny LCD screens mounted behind the front heat rests. They're more theatrical when they're turned on; you can watch the navigation system's maps or check out the DVD player and surround sound system. Those in back can recline or slide their seats but thigh support is skimpier than front row at a vintage movie palace. The center position is firm with sufficient headroom. But it's missing a headrest, a major omission. Shoulder belt anchors are too far forward, requiring occupants to sit upright and forward. Absent: a center pass thru.
On the road, the 275-hp, four-cam V6 engine with variable valve timing is hushed. Aiding its ambulatory prowess is a slick six-speed automatic transmission with "Snow Mode." Shod with luxury-package 19-inch tires the RX tosses heads against the active headrests like paddleballs. It doesn't pamper like one would expect.
Road roving reveals this vehicle's heft. It doesn't like to be hurried. You aim it via electric power-assisted steering that's short on feedback. Nonetheless, there's enough effort for highway guidance. Regardless, it lacks the bespoke sense of command transforms an ordinary drive into an extraordinary one. The hill-holder brakes, which prevent rollbacks at the boat launch ramp, worked well. You press twice on the brake pedal to enable this function; it's confirmed by a beep.
Lexus' Canadian-built cruiser dispatches people and their luggage in a quiet cabin. It gets about 20 mpg overall. EPA numbers: 18 city and 24 highway. Premium fuel is required. Base price: a tad less than $40,000, with optional perks $53,314.