2012 Lexus RX 350 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 23, 2012

A safe luxury-crossover choice for many good reasons, the 2012 Lexus RX 350 offers a serene driving experience and lots of cool tech features.

The 2012 Lexus RX 350 plays it safe and comfortable in the luxury crossover segments. It's been a longtime favorite because of its smooth performance and pleasant looks, not to mention Lexus' reputation for dealer service and reliability. It's essentially unchanged for the new model year, as is the case with its hybrid companion, the Lexus RX 450h.

The RX's shape is familiar for a reason--it's a careful evolution of the look that spawned the luxury-crossover class back in the 1990s. Redone in 2010, the RX still aims for pleasant rather than inspired. It has a more blunt nose now, and its shoulders sit higher, but the same smooth design essence is still present inside and out. The luxurious tall wagon adopted Lexus' latest interior design two years ago, too, and it's built around a single sweeping line that divides the dash into driver and passenger zones. Aside from that, there's isn't much visual drama, and when compared to the Lexuses of the past, the RX's interior materials seem just the slightest bit less rich than before.

Comfort comes before performance in the RX 350. It's relatively responsive and refined, but not at all exciting or nimble. Power comes from a 275-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission; front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive an option. Even with the heavier AWD system, the RX 350 steps off the line quickly and smoothly, with buttery transmission shifts. The RX doesn't offer serious drivers much feedback in the steering or brakes, though it's better than its hybrid counterpart in that respect--it specializes in muting the outside world as much through its controls as through its luxury accoutrements.

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The RX's cozy interior leaves no doubts as to why it's such a popular luxury wagon. It's easy to step in and out of the RX, given its ideal height, and four adults will be very comfortable, with good knee room in back and in front. The tallest passengers might find it a bit tight on headroom. The high standards for seating set by other Lexus vehicles is met with available leather upholstery that's less highly treated than in the past, giving it a more individual look and feel. An upgraded wood trim package is almost opulent.

Plush and well stocked, the RX 350 has standard power front seats; power windows, locks and mirrors; AM/FM/XM/CD player; Bluetooth; and dual-zone climate control. Major options include leather; a USB port; navigation with real-time traffic; a rear-seat DVD entertainment system; and a superb Mark Levinson sound system. Lexus has adopted a "Remote Touch" controller bundled with its navigation system; it acts like a computer mouse to control audio, climate, GPS and other systems. It's yet another distinct take on infotainment interfaces, albeit one that takes less time to learn than the knob-style systems from Germany, or the voice-command-driven MyFord Touch system.

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2012 Lexus RX 350

Styling

The RX's shape is familiar for a reason--it's a careful evolution of the look that spawned the luxury-crossover class back in the 1990s.

The 2012 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; but it's worth keeping in mind that over this model's long model run--going back to the 1990s, and one of the first true crossovers--its silhouette hasn't much changed.

In fact, the RX's styling appears to play it safe in most respects--aiming for 'pleasant' more than 'inspired.' 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."

Refinement remains the RX 350's focus inside. The interior was extensively redesigned, a couple of years ago, and it 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. Up close, the RX's interior materials don't seem quite as rich as before--at least relative to the steadily rising standards for cabin trims.

Hybrid shoppers might be a little disappointed to find that the hybrid RX 450h is almost identical to the gas-only RX 350; differences amount to blue-lit gauges, a tinted grille, and a tweaked front bumper, as well as some optional 19-inch wheels and a few small hybrid logos.

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2012 Lexus RX 350

Performance

Comfort comes before performance and excitement in the 2012 Lexus RX models, although it's plenty responsive for family use.

The 2012 Lexus RX 350 is relatively responsive and refined, but not at all exciting or nimble, and it's abundantly clear in even a short drive around the block that performance takes the second (or third) stage to comfort and refinement.

Power comes from a 275-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission; front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive an option. Even with the heavier AWD system, the RX 350 steps off the line quickly and smoothly, with buttery transmission shifts.

The RX tends to carry itself over roadways with the same muted, isolated feeling that its powertrains offer. Serious drivers will be dismayed that there's almost no affirming feedback through the steering or brakes,

In 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. In general, the driving experience is even more isolated in the Hybrid—numb, really—although you'll notice a few more vibrations and just a bit of engine noise.

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2012 Lexus RX 350

Comfort & Quality

The interior of the 2012 Lexus RX 350 caters to passenger comfort first and foremost.

There are a number of reasons why the Lexus RX 350 is a realtor's favorite. It feel plush, but not over-the-top lavish; its seating is roomy and accommodating for four adults; and it's supremely smooth, quiet, and refined in the way it rides and performance—all of which amount to a pretty positive passenger experience.

Also, it's easy for those in back to step in and out of the RX, and inside there's good knee room in back and in front. 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.

About the only bothersome aspect we've found is that the front seats have an odd contouring that digs into shoulder blades, and headroom overall is surprisingly tight; the upgraded seats in the RX—if you click the right option boxes—now have length-adjustable lower cushions, which taller drivers will love for their better long-distance support.

The high standards for seating set by other Lexus vehicles is met with available semi-anilene leather upholstery that's less highly treated than in the past, giving it a more individual look and feel. OLED gauges 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 is well-coordinated, almost opulent.

Ride comfort is superb, with motions that are as well-damped as a good luxury sedan—but we've noticed that models with the available 19-inchers are somewhat harsher on some surfaces (though still not rough). And perhaps it's because there's so little road noise that you do hear the engine during acceleration—especially in 450h hybrid models.

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2012 Lexus RX 350

Safety

Even in a class of overachievers, the Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h are among the safest picks.

The 2012 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h are among the best family-vehicle safety picks on the market, with a strong set of active-safety tech features to complement excellent occupant protection.

Ten airbags are included in all RX models, along with side-curtain airbags and side bags for the rear seats, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control. And there's even a hill-holder feature for safer take-offs on steep, slippery terrain. Among the RX's many advanced-tech accident-avoidance features are 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 are also on offer.

Outward visibility—especially toward the back, when parking—can be problematic for drivers of a particular height range, so we recommend the available rearview camera system for the RX, as it helps with rearward visibility.

Crash-test scores have been top-notch. 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 again for 2012. And in federal NCAP occupant-protection tests, the RX models earn four out of five stars overall, five stars for side impact and four for frontal protection. The RX's five-star side-pole rating is yet another positive sign that you and your loves ones will be well-protected in a crash.

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2012 Lexus RX 350

Features

The 2012 Lexus RX 350 offers some enticing high-tech upgrades, but the base package offers plenty of luxury appeal.

The 2012 Lexus RX models really won't leave you wanting; the standard-equipment list is exhaustive and comprehensive, and the options are reserved for interior and infotainment upgrades, largely.

The RX 350 is still sold in a single trim level and includes a twelve-speaker sound sytem, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, and ten-way power front seats.

Upgraded 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 are all among the extras. A head-up display is also available to cut down further on driving distraction. Watch the bottom line, though, as prices can rise significantly.

Lexus has adopted a "Remote Touch" controller bundled with its navigation system; it acts like a computer mouse to control audio, climate, GPS and other systems. It's yet another distinct take on infotainment interfaces; one one side, it takes less time to learn than the knob-style systems from Germany, or the voice-command-driven MyFord Touch system, but we're not all that convinced that keeping your eye on the mouse pointer while driving is a good idea.

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2012 Lexus RX 350

Fuel Economy

The RX 350 is no standout for fuel-efficiency, but get the 2012 Lexus RX 450h and you'll have one of the greenest large luxury wagons.

Considering that the roomy 2012 Lexus RX 350 can fit an entire family—in plush isolation, with confident, refined performance—its EPA mileage ratings of 18 mpg city and 24 or 25 highway aren't all that bad. Meanwhile, the RX 450h is one of the greenest family-sized vehicles, and with its well-coordinated powertrain and a pricetag that isn't all that much higher than the RX 350, it makes more sense to those who make keeping a little greener one of their priorities.

All RX 350 models now include an 'eco driving' light that simply highlights when you're driving mindfully.

That's what the EPA ratings say, but the last time we drove an RX 450h, over mixed driving conditions we didn't see anything close to the EPA rating—about 23 mpg overall, with all-wheel drive model. Although the last time we had an RX 350 we only averaged 17 mpg.

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July 16, 2015
2012 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door

The Rx350 is a very well built vehicle, the fourth Lexus we have owned in ten years.

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Over the past 45 years I have driven many upper end vehicles. The Lexus is the vehicle I enjoy the most. A very well built unit. It would nice if Lexus advertized more. GO LEXUS!!!!!
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