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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.
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.