2009 Lexus RX 350 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
April 21, 2009

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 is a well-liked, competitive utility vehicle that has everything but personality.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Lexus RX 350 in order to give you an expert opinion in this Bottom Line. TheCarConnection.com's SUV experts also researched available road tests on the new Lexus RX 350 to produce this conclusive review and to help you find the truth where other reviews might differ.

The RX 350 remains the best-selling Lexus model and outpaces competitors at a rate of nearly three to one. For 2009 the Lexus remixed the color palette of the RX 350 but otherwise left the SUV alone in preparation for its replacement in 2010.

When Lexus originally launched the RX series, there were precious few SUVs and even fewer crossovers, so the Lexus RX was an immediate hit. Based on a unit-body car platform rather than a heavy-duty truck frame, Lexus can be credited for pioneering the crossover-style SUV. Crossover utility vehicles offer a better ride, as well as improved handling and fuel economy compared to truck-based SUVs, but they still deliver many of the features buyers want in an SUV: more cargo space than a car, a better view over traffic, and a sense of security that accompanies an elevated driving position. The 2009 RX 350 is a good-looking car in its own right. But because of its careful, conservative design evolution, it can be hard to tell the difference between a current and previous-generation RX.

The RX last received a redesign in 2007, but the most significant changes were under the hood. The RX got a new, larger-displacement engine: a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 teamed with a standard five-speed automatic transmission. The RX 350 accelerates from 0-60 mph in 7.3 seconds for the front-drive model and 7.4 seconds for the all-wheel-drive model. Fuel economy checks in at 18 mpg city, 23 highway for the FWD model, 17/22 mpg for the AWD version. There’s also a more fuel-efficient but more expensive hybrid version of the 2009 Lexus RX, called the RX 400h; it’s covered in a separate review.

Review continues below

Handling is perfectly predictable and a little unengaging in the 2009 Lexus RX 350 compared to the likes of the Nissan Murano. Stability control is standard, as are a driver's knee airbag and front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags. The RX doesn't offer the big towing capacity or off-road capability of a true truck, but an all-wheel-drive RX 350 handles gravel and snow with ease, and it can tow up to 3,500 pounds with the optional trailer package. Crash-test results have been unanimously good.

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 also offers an available factory-installed rear-seat DVD entertainment system with a new-design 9-inch screen. Its optional navigation system comes with Bluetooth wireless technology. Other optional equipment for the 2009 Lexus RX 350 includes a power-tilt/telescoping steering wheel with memory, an illuminated entry system that lights the door handles, scuff plates, and front footwells—and a wide-opening, multipanel moonroof.

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2009 Lexus RX 350

Styling

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 sports rakish lines and a sophisticated take on utility.

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 hits a sweet spot of luxury and utility with its interior and exterior styling, and there’s a host of new colors from which to choose.

TheCarConnection.com finds that reviewers from around the Web are pleased the styling of the 2009 RX 350. Car and Driver says it’s "easy on the eyes," and Edmunds calls it “smooth and sophisticated.” Kelley Blue Book notes that the Lexus RX 350 avoids "harder angles and squared-off edges favored by traditional SUVs" in favor of "matching rounded body contours with well-defined accent lines." Cars.com remarks “the RX 350 harkens back to an earlier Lexus—not quite cutting edge, but still elegant to my eyes.”

According to Truck Trend, "inside, the Lexus RX 350 2009 offers an additional wood trim color, Black Bird's-Eye Maple, on units with a light gray interior." Kelley Blue Book adds, "cloth upholstery, signature Optitron electroluminescent gauges and real wood trim are complemented by a major assortment of comfort and convenience touches." Car and Driver sums it up: “This is 'sport' as in something off the Ralph Lauren rack.” Edmunds says, “you'd never guess this is an entry-level luxury SUV,” and reports that "real wood and leather trim on the console, door panels and steering wheel come standard and make for a rich ambience." Automotive.com notes "the instrument cluster in the Lexus RX 350 features three large, round gauges trimmed in silver, with legible script and near-perfect backlighting," and mentions "a new interior wood trim option...the Lexus RX 350 has splashes of walnut on the doors and center console and on its steering wheel."

7

2009 Lexus RX 350

Performance

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 accelerates briskly and maneuvers well but isn’t very exciting to drive.
 

A versatile all-purpose vehicle, the 2009 Lexus RX 350 performs best as a plush everyday hauler.

According to Edmunds, the performance of the 2009 RX 350 “is swift and silent.” Truck Trend notes that the V-6 "harnesses the benefits of advanced technologies to optimize performance, fuel economy and low emissions...enabling the Lexus RX 350 to sprint from zero to 60 mph in just 7.3 seconds for the FWD model and 7.4 seconds for the AWD model." Automotive.com reports that the Lexus RX 350 is "powered by a 3.5-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 engine that delivers 270 horsepower...[which] takes the RX beyond snappy to a feeling of real power without sacrificing the trademark smoothness...[it] is so powerful that it responds aggressively, even abruptly, to anything more than a bit of gas [and] takes a bit of practice to adjust to the throttle response." According to Kelley Blue Book, it only gets better from there: "smooth and free-revving, it makes a very enthusiastic 251 pound-feet of torque.” Kelley Blue Book tells us that "included in the Lexus RX 350 2009 Performance Package is sequential shifting."

The RX 350 is a maneuverable vehicle, if not an especially nimble and outright sporty one. "A relatively compact 37.4-feet turning circle makes the RX 350 fairly easy to maneuver in tighter confines, while the available four-position air suspension can raise itself to clear obstacles, lower itself for cruising and even dip for easier entry and exit," says Kelley Blue Book. Automotive.com reports that "it's easy to drive and easier than most SUVs to park, with light steering and responsive brakes...RX 350 is smooth in just about any situation, [and] travels over rough, broken, pavement without jostling whoever is inside, but it does not float." Cars.com is in agreement on this point: "it handles deep rush hour with light and lively controls and feels nimble." Edmunds suggests "the suspension is tuned more for a plush ride than sporty handling," advising that "those seeking a firmer dynamic should consider the 2009 Lexus RX 350 Performance Package." The Lexus RX 350’s handling is perfectly predictable, but a little unengaging compared to the likes of the Nissan Murano.

Surprisingly, the 2009 Lexus RX 350 features stellar fuel economy. According to Edmunds: "fuel economy estimates are down this year due to revised EPA testing procedures, but the RX is still efficient for such a powerful SUV...ratings are 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway for the FWD model and 17/22 for the AWD version."

The RX doesn't offer the big towing capacity or off-road capability of a true truck, but an all-wheel-drive RX 350 handles gravel and snow with ease, and it can tow up to 3,500 pounds with the optional trailer package.

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2009 Lexus RX 350

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 may not be at the very top of its class in terms of comfort and quietness, but it comes close.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com conclude that there’s little in the area of comfort and quality that eludes the 2009 Lexus RX 350.

Kelley Blue Book notes that the 2009 RX 350 "pairs supportive 10-way power seats with a 40/20/40 rear bench that splits, folds, slides, reclines, and will comfortably handle two full-size adults or a trio of kids." However, no third-row seat is available. Car and Driver says, "the Lexus RX 350 2009 supplies five adults an immaculate interior, prolific luxury appointments...a very comfy middle ground for many." According to Automotive.com, "The Lexus RX 350 feels spacious when you settle in...luxurious and inviting...optional leather upholstery is luxuriously soft and slightly bunched...the seat bottoms are relatively flat, making it easy to slide in and out." As if this were not enough, Edmunds reports, "the second-row seat reclines, slides fore and aft and is split 40/20/40 to optimize both passenger comfort."

According to Edmunds, "behind that [rear] seat there are 38.3 cubic feet of luggage space; flip the seat down and cargo capacity increases to 85 cubes...highly refined it its operation, the standard power liftgate makes life easier when the Lexus RX 350 2009 is used as a beast of burden."

ConsumerGuide states simply, "RX models feature exemplary cabin materials and workmanship." Edmunds praises its “rich ambiance.” Automotive.com deems "the switches and controls to be among the best." Kelley Blue Book says the Lexus RX 350 cabin "has a quality appearance with an impressive level of fit and finish."

Kelley Blue Book notes that the 2009 Lexus RX 350 "cabin is well isolated from wind and road noise," confirming what TheCarConnection.com’s editors also register.

9

2009 Lexus RX 350

Safety

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 emerges from crash tests with great scores.

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 scores highly in crash tests, and it has ample safety features and some interesting options.

The demanding Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards the RX 350 2009 its top rating of "good." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Lexus RX 350 five out of five stars for front impact protection and four out of five for side impact.

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 is "equipped with the latest in passive safety features, including seven airbags...safety features that come standard include the mandated front airbags, plus a smaller airbag to protect the driver's knees, [while] front passengers get side-impact airbags for torso protection... curtain-style head protection airbags span both rows and deploy to offer head protection if the vehicle senses the possibility of a rollover,” says Automotive.com. In addition, "advanced ABS, traction control and electronic stability control come standard" in the Lexus RX 350 2009.

Safety options, according to Edmunds, include a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, and rain-sensing wipers.

TheCarConnection.com finds only a single complaint about visibility in the Lexus RX 350, although it hits on an observation that TheCarConnection.com’s editors think is quite common among crossover utility vehicles such as the RX 350. ConsumerGuide says the "bulky rear-roof pillars and narrowish tailgate window impede vision astern" in all Lexus RX models.

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2009 Lexus RX 350

Features

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 gets a good roster of features, but many of the best options are bundled into expensive packages.

The 2009 Lexus RX 350 offers the luxury features buyers expect from a Lexus—and one of the best audio systems on the market. Edmunds notes, “a stunning Mark Levinson audio system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones” are offered, "but the Mark Levinson system is only available as part of a pricey package.”

Expensive packages are about the only way to upgrade the RX 350. According to Automotive.com, "the Premium Package includes leather upholstery, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, a roof rack, power moonroof and entry lights that illuminate the ground below the doors," while "the Premium Plus Package...adds high-intensity discharge headlamps that turn in the direction of travel...the Lexus RX 350 2009 Performance Package includes 8-inch graphite-colored aluminum alloy wheels with wider tires, height-adjustable air suspension, sequential-shifting transmission, and rain-sensing wipers." This source also notes that "heated front seats can be ordered as a stand-alone option" for every Lexus RX 350.

When it comes to standard equipment, Edmunds says, "The Lexus RX 350's level of standard equipment is impressive and includes a power rear liftgate, auto-dimming mirrors all around, wood interior trim, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, four one-touch power windows and second-row seats that slide and recline." According to Automotive.com, "cloth upholstery, automatic dual-zone climate control, a 132-watt AM/FM/cassette stereo with eight-speakers and an in-dash, six-CD changer, cruise control, privacy glass, automatic headlamps, 10-way power adjustment for both front seats, and leather trim for the steering wheel and shift knob" are all standard equipment.

"Available Lexus RX 350 2009 features such as a rearview camera, adaptive headlights (which swivel slightly in the direction you are turning) and a voice-activated navigation system mean that this midsize luxury sport-ute gives up nothing to the more expensive prestige-brand SUVs when it comes to technology," reports Edmunds.

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February 4, 2016
2009 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door

Lexus lives up to it's reputation

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Bought this wonderful SUV new and did most of my dealing on the internet with the sales person. Ride is terrific and pick up and performance is great. Highest MPG for a SUV in this category and I get almost... + More »
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Styling 8.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 9.0
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