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The Lexus RX is the vehicle that essentially created the U.S. market for luxury crossover utility vehicles--or at least it was among the first. Sixteen years later, it's been joined by the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLK, and loyal owners continue to buy new ones. And the RX was for many years the best-selling Lexus of any kind, far outstripping the sedans with which the brand was launched in the States.
Today's RX fits the same formula as the original 1990s version. It's a comfortable, understated, luxury-branded five-passenger SUV that's accompanied by the Lexus reputation for both dealer service and reliability that just can't be beaten. The RX is premium, but not garish. Instead, it's practical, typically more affordable, oftentimes more reliable, and it has a lot of technology packaged into a car that doesn't appear to be fiscally or environmentally irresponsible. For those who want to show their green credentials, the RX also pioneered the luxury hybrid crossover sector as well.
For the first time since the current third-generation RX models bowed, for 2010, they've received a light refresh. The 2014 Lexus RX models wear the new "spindle grille" found on most of the lineup, which makes it just a little menacing in our opinion, while all the snub-nosed, blunt-shouldered purposefulness--crossed with soft elegance--of the current generation's design remains. LED running lamps, new rear taillights, and a few new colors are the extent of the exterior changes, while inside there's a new steering wheel, contrast stitching for the leather, and a redesigned center console.
Lexus vehicles have a reputation for being not just refined and comfortable, but also for being exceptionally well-equipped. That's definitely the case here in the 2014 RX 350 and RX 450h; you'll find a comprehensive list of comfort and convenience features, while options are pretty much limited to interior upgrades and top-notch infotainment systems. 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. The Remote Touch controller remains a mandatory part of the interface that we're conflicted about, but nearly everyone will like that the new Enform system enables apps for Pandora streaming audio and other information services.
New for 2014 is "Siri Eyes Free Mode," which integrates the iPhone's Siri service into the RX's voice-command system. The PCS collision avoidance system now comes with pre-braking, and there's a 115-volt AC adapter behind the rear seat.
If there's a clear pronouncement to make about the RX 350 and 450h, it's that performance takes second stage to comfort and luxury. While parents or empty nesters will find the RX plenty responsive in either guise, it's seldom exciting, edgy, or nimble, and there's a muted feeling to all of the driving inputs. 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, and shifts during passing are quick yet downright seamless. Hybrid models perform nearly as well--in an absolute sense, though they manage to mute out even more of the outside world through the steering and brakes.
The 2014 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h are plush, yet not over-the-top lavish, and just a short ride in one is enough to see why it's such a popular choice for upscale realtors who don't want to look to filthy rich. There's a certain wholesomeness about the practical design, and its versatile seating is roomy and accommodating for four adults; at the same time, it's supremely smooth and quiet, with the passenger experience about as refined as you'll find in flagship luxury sedans like Lexus' own LS. Our only gripe remains that the standard front seats are a little flat and have odd back contouring, while the ride can be sharper (though still not rough) with the 19-inch wheel options.