2003 Toyota 4Runner by John Pearley Huffman (9/23/2002)
But Lexus has thoroughly twisted the RX for 2003 making it more powerful, more attractive, more useful and, well, more manly. The question for Lexus is how much testosterone do they dare cram into an RX? Can they build a muscular crossover without disaffecting core buyers who are swimming in estrogen? Can they attract just as many male as female drivers?
2004 Lexus RX 330
2004 Lexus RX330Enlarge Photo
Changes to the suspension are substantial. Now on standard 17-inch wheels (18-inchers are optional) with struts up front and dual links in the back, every RX330 rides well. But it gets better when the optional air suspension system is ordered. The driver adjustable system’s “normal” mode actually scrunches down about a third of an inch closer to the ground when the SUV exceeds 62 mph and rises back to its original height at lower speeds. In “low” mode, the suspension drops more than a half-inch down for better handling. Finally in “access” mode the suspension drops 1.2 inches to help getting people and stuff in and out of the vehicle. The system works, and the difference in ride quality and handling is instantly noticeable.
2004 Lexus RX330
2004 Lexus RX 330
The new engine’s variable valve timing has swollen its powerband, making it an extremely friendly companion. It’s easygoing, powerful, and perfectly matched to the transmission and all-wheel drive system (front-wheel drive is also available). In fact you have to pay close attention to notice any shifts at all. The RX330 isn’t the SUV you want if you’re towing a trailer full of dirt bikes to Mt. Inaccessible, but it handles urban life with ease. In acceleration it’s probably a close match for the MDX. Lexus claims a 0-to-60 mph sprint of 7.7 seconds for a front-wheel-drive RX330 and 7.8 seconds for the all-wheel-drive model.
With Lexus’ Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) working with the all-wheel drive system (the torque split is electronically controlled; the center differential is gone) to protect the vehicle from doing anything stupid the driver tells it to do, this isn’t a vehicle for spirited driving. But for cruising it’s outstanding and reassuring. There are side curtain airbags should the driver somehow trick the RX into crashing.
Two gadgets available on the RX330 rate a special mention. First is “adaptive lighting,” in which the high-intensity discharge headlights steer with the front wheels for improved visibility around corners (insert trite mention of the Tucker 48 here). And second is the rear-view video camera that displays what’s behind the RX in the navigation system’s LCD screen when it’s in reverse. You can’t throw away the rear view mirror because the camera is aboard, but it shoots relatively low where tots could be wandering behind the RX as it backs out of a driveway.
There is a manlier vibe to the RX330 than there ever was to the RX300, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s the sort of vibe one gets from a man of confidence and competence instead of one bent on conquest and domination. In other words, just the type of vibe women like.
2004 Lexus RX330
Base price: $39,000 (est.)
Engine: 3.3-liter V-6, 230 hp
Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 186.2 x 72.6 x 66.1 in
Wheelbase: 106.9 in
Curb weight: 4000 lb (est.)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags, side curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors, A/C, cruise control, CD player, keyless entry
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles