Compared: 2010 Lexus RX 350 vs 2010 Nissan Murano LE

October 23, 2009 has just updated our full review of the Murano for 2010 and thought it would be the perfect time for a little match-up...against the 2010 Lexus RX 350.

When the Nissan Murano was first redesigned for 2009, we wrote, "The 2009 Murano is just as smooth as the RX, definitely sharper in profile, and very nearly the Lexus' equal in interior refinement."

Then came an all-new 2010 Lexus RX 350, nearly a year later, and the rivalry was back on. Although the redesign the Lexus received kept its profile so intact that it might not even be perceived as a new vehicle, even a passing glance inside revealed a much richer cabin and more stylish instrument panel.

New with the Nissan's redesign was a Murano LE model, which was loaded with luxury features; today the LE costs just about as much as the base RX 350.

As it stands, both of these models have exterior designs that are the subject of more than a little criticism (the Murano's grille and exterior details have been panned by some), yet they're much more appreciated inside as stylish, luxurious conveyances, with some visual excitement and plush materials to satisfy occupants, even if there's not a lot of driving satisfaction for the driver.

We've had plenty of good seat time in both of these vehicles, so here's our comparison—both by the numbers, with some subjectivity thrown in to break an almost-tie:

2010 Lexus RX 350 AWD

The basics: 275-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, six-speed automatic transmission with sport shift mode, all-wheel drive. Seating for five.
Safety: Five stars, all frontal and side NHTSA tests; 'Good,' frontal, side, and rear IIHS tests; Top Safety Pick
Price: $38,200
Fuel economy: 18/24 mpg
Rating: 8.4 out of 10

The 2010 Lexus RX 350 driving experience is quite numb overall, but that conforms to expectations to some degree; the RX has found a strong, loyal following from luxury buyers—especially empty-nesters—because it's such a dependable, luxurious isolation chamber that performs responsively though not lively. Even with the optional Sport Package, you probably won't be inspired to hotfoot into corners.

The RX 350's adaptive torque split all-wheel drive system sends all torque to the front wheels except when needed at the back for traction, such as in a quick start. The RX 350 isn't meant for off-roading, but it does have a diff lock mode that might be useful for deep snow or sand.

The interior is extremely refined and quiet, but the cabin of the 2010 Lexus RX 350 isn't nearly as roomy as some shoppers might hope, in a mid-size crossover that doesn't try to cram a third-row seat in back. Front-seat headroom is a bit restricted, and there's not a lot of cargo space behind the second row. There are lots of great details, though, and found the new Remote Touch controller that's used in the RX 350 less distracting than rival controllers from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

With top crash-test scores from both agencies, along with ten airbags in all, plus hill-holder and optional dynamic handling and Pre-Collision Systems, the 2010 RX is about the best it gets for safety-conscious luxury shoppers.

The base Lexus RX 350 comes with all the trappings of a luxury vehicle, but you'll be tempted by the long list of extras. They include bi-xenon headlamps, adaptive front lighting, a moonroof, heated and ventilated seats, rain-sensing wipers, power heated mirrors, a premium sound system, a heads-up system, and a nav system with XM NavTraffic and NavWeather.

Bottom Line: The 2010 Lexus RX 350 leaves few owners wanting more luxury or practicality, but the "passionate pursuit of perfection" could use a little more passion.

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