2004 Lexus RX 330 Review

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John Pearley Huffman John Pearley Huffman Editor
January 17, 2003
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2003 Toyota 4Runner by John Pearley Huffman (9/23/2002)

The exact same teenage girls whose parents gave them VW Rabbit Cabrios during the Eighties have been, as young mothers and professionals, driving Lexus RX300s during the late Nineties and early 2Ks. Having survived their journeys through the Greek system at the University of Southern California, they’ve married the men of their dreams (all of whom are securely employed as senior vice presidents in their fathers’ construction firms) and now live in 4500-square foot mini-mansions along the shore in California cities like Laguna Niguel, Dana Point, or Palos Verdes. Their kids are undeniably cute, their hair is perfect, and they don’t want anyone screwing around with the design of their Lexus.

But Lexus has thoroughly twisted the RX for 2003 making it more powerful, more attractive, more useful and, well, more manly. The question for Lexus is how much testosterone do they dare cram into an RX? Can they build a muscular crossover without disaffecting core buyers who are swimming in estrogen? Can they attract just as many male as female drivers?

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Something new, something borrowed

Actually, while everything about the RX330 is new, including where it’s built (Canada, not Japan), it’s clearly designed around the same idea as the RX300, which debuted back in ’98. The sheetmetal is more crisply styled and is free of the over-styling that’s currently infecting so many crossovers. This is probably the only crossover SUV on the market that has the self-confidence and elegance to not look like it’s pretending to be a “tough” truck.

2004 Lexus RX 330

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2004 Lexus RX330

2004 Lexus RX330

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As is to be expected, the unibody structure is stiffer, the sound insulation materials are better, and the aerodynamics have been tweaked to reduce wind noise. It’s slightly larger than its predecessor (the wheelbase is up about four inches and overall length has grown more than six), and a bit roomier (more legroom and more luggage capacity). It’s also slightly more powerful with its 3.3-liter 24-valve V-6 making 230 horsepower, as opposed to the RX300 3.0-liter V-6’s output of 220 horsepower. The engine is also quieter and smoother, and benefits from one more gear in the new five-speed automatic transmission. So a machine that was already refined, quiet, and composed is better in all those ways.

Changes to the suspension are substantial. Now on standard 17-inch wheels (18-inchers are optional) with struts up front and dual links in the back, every RX330 rides well. But it gets better when the optional air suspension system is ordered. The driver adjustable system’s “normal” mode actually scrunches down about a third of an inch closer to the ground when the SUV exceeds 62 mph and rises back to its original height at lower speeds. In “low” mode, the suspension drops more than a half-inch down for better handling. Finally in “access” mode the suspension drops 1.2 inches to help getting people and stuff in and out of the vehicle. The system works, and the difference in ride quality and handling is instantly noticeable.

Thematic progression

2004 Lexus RX330

2004 Lexus RX330

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Inside the new interior continues with themes established by the RX300. It’s a classy interior with subdued wood accents, and gorgeous electro-luminescent instrumentation. The seats are all comfortable, the materials used are top notch, and the ergonomic hiccups are minimal. New features include a power-operated tailgate (not that anyone was really asking for one), an oversize multi-panel sunroof (because if a little sun is good, a lot is better), an improved DVD and GPS-based navigation system (should the world’s maps suddenly disappear), an on-board DVD entertainment system for the rear seat passengers (that’ll shut the precious children up) and a truly awe-inspiring Mark Levinson sound system. Whoever Mark Levinson is, he sure can tune a sound system. This one sounds so good it’s like New York Philharmonic is in the spare-tire well. It’s sounds so good you’ll wish the in-dash CD changer held 60 CDs instead of just six. It would also be nice if the sound system had a jack for hacking in an MP3 player. Not available at all is a third row seat. If you want one, buy a minivan… or an Acura MDX.

2004 Lexus RX 330

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The new engine’s variable valve timing has swollen its powerband, making it an extremely friendly companion. It’s easygoing, powerful, and perfectly matched to the transmission and all-wheel drive system (front-wheel drive is also available). In fact you have to pay close attention to notice any shifts at all. The RX330 isn’t the SUV you want if you’re towing a trailer full of dirt bikes to Mt. Inaccessible, but it handles urban life with ease. In acceleration it’s probably a close match for the MDX. Lexus claims a 0-to-60 mph sprint of 7.7 seconds for a front-wheel-drive RX330 and 7.8 seconds for the all-wheel-drive model.

With Lexus’ Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) working with the all-wheel drive system (the torque split is electronically controlled; the center differential is gone) to protect the vehicle from doing anything stupid the driver tells it to do, this isn’t a vehicle for spirited driving. But for cruising it’s outstanding and reassuring. There are side curtain airbags should the driver somehow trick the RX into crashing.

Two gadgets available on the RX330 rate a special mention. First is “adaptive lighting,” in which the high-intensity discharge headlights steer with the front wheels for improved visibility around corners (insert trite mention of the Tucker 48 here). And second is the rear-view video camera that displays what’s behind the RX in the navigation system’s LCD screen when it’s in reverse. You can’t throw away the rear view mirror because the camera is aboard, but it shoots relatively low where tots could be wandering behind the RX as it backs out of a driveway.

There is a manlier vibe to the RX330 than there ever was to the RX300, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s the sort of vibe one gets from a man of confidence and competence instead of one bent on conquest and domination. In other words, just the type of vibe women like.

2004 Lexus RX330
Base price: $39,000 (est.)
Engine: 3.3-liter V-6, 230 hp
Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 186.2 x 72.6 x 66.1 in
Wheelbase: 106.9 in
Curb weight: 4000 lb (est.)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags, side curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors, A/C, cruise control, CD player, keyless entry
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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November 1, 2016
2004 Lexus RX 330 4-Door SUV AWD

The Lexus RX330 most likely has the best combination of luxury and utility out of its grouping.

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After owning the car for over 10 years now, we have come across few minor issues and only one larger malfunction which was fixed. The body style has barely aged since 2004 and the interior, if taken care of... + More »
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