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The 2011 Lexus RX is a sleek crossover wagon that plays it safe—and comfortable—in most respects, and that's one of the keys to its longtime popularity. Sized at the larger end of the two-row crossover class, the RX 350 and RX 450h share the familiar shape that spawned this entire class of vehicles back in the late 1990s. In its latest edition, the RX has adopted more of a blunt-nosed, high-shouldered look; but it hasn't lost its smooth, design essence—essentially a tall, luxurious hatchback.
Overall, the Lexus RX 350 feels refined and relatively responsive, yet not at all nimble or exciting. Comfortable, luxurious family transport is the priority, and it's clear that this comes before performance.
The 275-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission, with a choice of either front- or all-wheel drive, move the RX 350 quickly and smoothly, with good power both off the line and for highway passing. The transmission calibration is also excellent, with smooth, buttery shifts when puttering along replaced by rapid, businesslike ones when your foot is mashed to the floor.
There's also the Lexus RX 450h, which brings a hybrid halo to this very popular luxury crossover. It pairs a 275-horsepower, 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle V-6 with a version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive—one that, interestingly, electrically drives the rear wheels in all-wheel-drive form—and achieves up to 32 mpg city. You don't give up much in terms of performance or refinement with the hybrid, while outside or in, there's very little to distinguish the RX 450h hybrid model from the RX 350—other than small, subtle badging and a blue-outlined Lexus 'L' on the grille.
The layout of the 2011 Lexus RX models is perfect for passengers, and there's no doubt why this is a realtor's favorite for touring around in comfort. The interior design divides driver controls visually from the passenger zone—leaving a large swath of silver-painted plastic (at a time when silvery-painted plastic is played out, we might add) and a less sophisticated look in the place of the subdued, woody library feel of the last RX generation. Seating is mostly comfortable and interior materials are, for the most part, up to Lexus's high standards. New OLED gauges, semi-aniline leather upholstery, and plenty of soft-touch surfaces provide a rather lavish look, and the upgraded wood trim that's optional in the RX 350 and included in the RX 450h brings a better-coordinated, more timeless look.
If you're looking for a well-equipped luxury vehicle, the 2011 Lexus RX 350 doesn't really leave a lot on the table. Standard equipment for its single trim level includes a 12-speaker sound sytem, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, and 10-way power front seats. Options include leather seating, a side-view monitor, USB connectivity for MP3 players, a Mark Levinson sound system, a hard-drive navigation system, XMNavTraffic, a rear-seat entertainment system, ventilated front seats, remote start, LED adaptive headlamps, and a sport-minded suspension. Our best advice here is to watch the total; some of these options are only offered as part of packages that can in some cases add thousands to the bottom line.
One thing in the RX we that leaves us unsure is the Remote Touch controller that's included with the navigation system. Lexus says the mouse- or trackpad-like controller feels natural like a computer mouse, but it can require you to take your eyes off the road. A head-up display is also available, though, to cut down further on driving distraction.
- Soft, velvety ride
- Excellent seating
- Ease of ingress/egress
- Extensive array of tech options
- Extensive array of tech options
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- Dull driving experience
- Anonymous exterior
- Mouse-like Remote Touch interface
- Engine note is now noticeable