2011 Lexus RX 350 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 13, 2011

Much of the appeal of the 2011 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h rests in the way they provide comfort and security to driver and passengers while sealing out the world.

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.

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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.

7

2011 Lexus RX 350

Styling

The 2011 Lexus RX doesn't stand out in any way, and it's the epitome of practical, understated luxury. To some, that's a good thing.

The 2011 Lexus RX is a sleek crossover wagon that plays it safe in most respects. Sized at the larger end of the two-row crossover class, the RX 350 shares the familiar shape that spawned this entire class of vehicles back in the late 1990s. In its latest edition, introduced just a year ago, it's become even a bit more conservative-looking, which a slightly more blunt-nosed, high-shouldered look. But it hasn't lost its design essence—the tall roofline and handsome proportions are still in evidence, as is a bit more sculpturing to fit with the latest Lexus theme of "L-finesse."

Inside, the Lexus RX 350 has given up a touch of its refinement, with a newly styled interior that 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.

It can be difficult to tell the hybrid RX 450h from the gas-only RX 350, too; differences amount to blue-lit gauges, a tinted grille, and a tweaked front bumper, as well as small hybrid logos and optional 19-inch wheels.

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2011 Lexus RX 350

Performance

The 2011 Lexus RX models accelerate quickly and handle competently enough, but there's little else to provide any excitement.

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 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. Drive the hybrid gently and you'll glide from stops in electric-only mode, with the V-6 almost imperceptibly kicking on at 20 or 25 mph, typically. Drive it a little more rapidly, to go with the flow of traffic, and the V-6 thrums in the background, with the continuously variable transmission generally keeping the revs well below 2500 rpm unless you're close to full throttle.

The steering and brakes have been significantly improved in the new RX, but it's all relative. While there's still not much steering feel and too much body roll to take quickly to a mountain road, the steering feels better-weighted and the brake feel more confident than previous models. However next to most rivals in this class, the driving experience feels quiet detached. RX 450h models are especially numb, with the steering quick and responsive but not relaying any feel of the road.

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2011 Lexus RX 350

Comfort & Quality

In nearly every respect, the 2011 Lexus RX models provide top-notch comfort for driver and passengers.

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 front seats have an odd contouring that digs into shoulder blades, and headroom overall is surprisingly tight, but the optional seats in the RX now have length-adjustable lower cushions, which taller drivers will love for longer distances. Back seats have adult-size contouring—and you can even fit three across when needed—while the rear seats fold down for larger items and there's underfloor storage for smaller items you'd prefer to keep out of sight.

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.

Otherwise, the Lexus RX has the same understated but competent and comfortable feel. Ride motions are damped very well, and the ride is about the same between the standard 18-inch wheels and available 19-inchers. You hear the engine when accelerating—a surprise in a Lexus—but that might be because the cabin is so well-isolated from wind and road noise.

9

2011 Lexus RX 350

Safety

The 2011 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h continue to be safety standouts, offering active-safety tech features to complement excellent occupant protection.

The 2011 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h are among the safest vehicles in a class of high achievers.

To start, there are 10 airbags in all, including curtain airbags and side bags for the rear seats, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control on all models, and even a hill-holder feature for safer take-offs on swoopy terrain. Optional safety equipment includes a dynamic-handling system that weaves together traction and stability control; a Pre-Collision System that uses radar sensors to detect a possible impact, then readies the brakes and seatbelts for an imminent crash; adaptive lighting; and automatic high beams.

And as proof that the RX is robust and secure, it scores very well in crash tests from both major agencies. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the RX has achieved top 'good' results in frontal, side, rear, and roof strength tests, and earned Top Safety Pick status for 2011; and in the new federal NCAP tests, which are more stringent for 2011, the RX models earn four out of five stars overall, including four stars for frontal and five stars for side impact.

Additionally, the RX earned five stars in the new federal side pole test, which isn't yet being figured into the overall score; however, it's a very positive sign for this vehicle's occupant protection.

We recommend the available rearview camera system for the RX, as it helps with rearward visibility, which can be an issue for some drivers.

8

2011 Lexus RX 350

Features

The 2011 Lexus RX models are well-equipped and offer a lot of opportunity for high-tech sophistication—but options can add significantly to the price.

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.

The most controversial feature in the new RX is likely to be the available Remote Touch controller, which Lexus compares openly to the iDrive system from BMW and Audi's MMI, but we're not entirely convinced as you need to lay eyes on the screen in order to tap into many functions. The controller is shaped more ergonomically than those click-wheel setups, and Lexus says it feels natural like a computer mouse. It can be used to control the navigation system—which is mounted farther away on the dash than in prior versions for better visibility. A head-up display is also available to cut down further on driving distraction.

8

2011 Lexus RX 350

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Lexus RX 350 is just average in its class, but the RX 450h is one of the greenest large luxury vehicles.

The 2011 Lexus RX 450h is one of the greenest family-sized vehicles, and one of the greenest luxury vehicles. And with its well-integrated powertrain, it provides performance that feels mostly on par with that of the RX 350.

However, in a drive of the RX 450h last year, in mixed driving, we didn't see anything close to the EPA rating; we saw only 23 mpg overall in an all-wheel drive model—but we should add, that's considerably better than the 17 mpg we last averaged in an RX 350 in similar conditions.

The RX 350, on the other hand is just average in this respect. Its fuel economy numbers of 18 mpg city and 24 or 25 highway aren't embarrassingly low, but they're barely good enough for a green-minded shopper to accept. All RX 350 models now include an 'eco driving' light that highlights when you're driving most economically.

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July 16, 2016
2011 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door

Best car ever

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Starting with a 1938 Chevcoach,this Lexus IS the best car I have ever owned,quiet,powerful and roomy also quite reliable and inexpensive to maintain atthedealership. It is a great road car and can easily rack... + More »
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