2015 Lexus RX 350 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 8, 2015

The 2015 Lexus RX 350 and RX 400h deliver sensible luxury and excellent comfort -- boldness not necessarily included (or desired).

The 2015 Lexus RX has a lot to live up to—namely, its own reputation. The RX was one of the first luxury crossovers to hit the market, more than 15 years ago, and ever since then it's served as a benchmark for the segment.

Today it remains what it's been all along: a plush counter to rugged utes. Although today there are plenty of alternatives, the 2015 Lexus RX remains focused far more around suburban life than boulders and brawn, and it's a top pick for those who prioritize passenger comfort and a refined cabin.

While the upcoming 2016 Lexus NX takes a more daring path, the 2015 Lexus RX remains true to its original formula. It's a comfortable, understated utility vehicle, and its reputation for being trouble-free, for excellent dealership service, and for holding its value continues to convince shoppers to choose the RX over many models that are showier and sportier. On the other hand, that's part of the appeal, too; the RX is premium, but not garish, and it's understated in just the right ways to appeal to those who don't want to be too ostentatious.

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Last year Lexus gave its RX models a light refresh for the first time since these third-generation models bowed in 2010. That meant the substitution of the new 'spindle grille' and a somewhat more menacing look in front, while the snub-nosed, blunt-shouldered purposefulness--crossed with soft elegance--of the design otherwise remains. The changes last year also included LED running lamps, new rear taillights, and a few new colors, as well as a redesigned center console, a new steering wheel, and contrast stitching for the leather.

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.

There is one model in the lineup for which performance doesn't actually take second stage. Go for the 2015 Lexus RX 350 F Sport, and in addition to a more performance-oriented look inside and out you get an eight-speed automatic transmission instead, along with steering-wheel paddle-shifters, special twist-spoke 19-inch alloys, and a sport-tuned suspension. Although we haven't spent any time with this model yet, it should bring a more eager, responsive driving experience without all that much sacrifice.

As for the rest of the lineup, which includes the 2014 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h, expect plus (but not over-the-top lavish) interiors, and a wholesomeness to the overall design, with versatile and roomy seating and a passenger experience that's nearly as refined as what you'd fine in flagship sedans like Lexus' own LS. 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 filthy-rich. The only gripes about the interior remain that the front seats seem a little too flat and unsupportive for the mission, and that if you opt for one of the showier wheel options the ride can become somewhat busier.

The Lexus RX has been an impressive (although not quite top-tier) crash-test performer in recent model years, and it offers ten airbags, including side bags for the rear seats. A hill-hold function helps allow for smooth launches when stopped on slippery, steep terrain, and the rearview camera helps with parking and backing out of the driveway, especially since the rear pillar can get in the way of visibility. The PCS collision avoidance system uses radar sensors to detect a possible impact, and now pre-brakes the vehicle to potentially lessen the severity of a crash. Adaptive lighting and automatic high beams are optional.

Lexus vehicles have a reputation for being exceptionally well-equipped, as well as refined and comfortable. That's definitely the case here in the 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. There's also an AC outlet behind the rear seat.

The Remote Touch controller, which has been redesigned modestly this year (essentially still a mouse/trackpad that requires you to look at the screen a little more than other systems) 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. Last year Lexus introduced a "Siri Eyes Free Mode" for the system, allowing you to integrate some iPhone models with the RX's voice-command system. This year Lexus follows that with refreshed Display Audio systems across the model line.

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2015 Lexus RX 350

Styling

The 2015 Lexus RX is built on the idea of understated luxury -- and it's appealing for that.

Understated is probably the best way to describe the styling of the 2015 Lexus RX family. Although there are exceptions, these models remain some of the least bold and showy in their class. But in many respects, that's what shoppers like, and it's why the RX has been such a success with those who don't want to be so ostentatious.

Looking all the way back to the late 1990s, the RX's shape and silhouette hasn't changed much, which almost makes its styling iconic at this point. It's more conservative and innocuous than edgy or aggressive, and Lexus has played it safe with the RX since the beginning. Last year Lexus gave its RX models a light refresh for the first time since these third-generation models bowed in 2010. That meant the substitution of the new 'spindle grille' and a somewhat more menacing look in front, while the snub-nosed, blunt-shouldered purposefulness--crossed with soft elegance--of the design otherwise remains. The changes last year also included LED running lamps, new rear taillights, and a few new colors.

Refinement remains the focus inside--along with a matching level of understated luxury. The interior of the RX continues with the same design that divides driver controls visually from the passenger zone—leaving a large swath of silver-painted plastic in place of the previous-generation's more subdued wood-grained look. Likewise, Lexus appears to have addressed a complaint of ours--that the current RX didn't feel as rich inside as before--by adding contrast stitching, and adding new Ebony Bird's Eye Maple and Saddle Leather interior options. This year, the new F Sport model gains a rich Cabernet leather-trimmed interior, while all models get a redesigned center console, a new steering wheel, and contrast stitching for the leather.

A final note about appearances: Don't expect the RX 450h to flaunt your eco-conscious intent. In the hybrid it's mostly a matter of badging, with the differences amounting to some hybrid logos and badges plus blue-lit gauges and a few other subtle differences.

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7

2015 Lexus RX 350

Performance

The RX accelerates briskly, although steering and handling are soft, with lots of body lean.

Even though the performance of the 2015 Lexus RX 350 and 450h is entirely competitive in its class, it's clear that it takes second stage to comfort and luxury. Parents or empty nesters will find the RX plenty responsive in either guise, although 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 RX 450h 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. They pair 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. Drive it a little more rapidly, to go with the flow of traffic, and the V-6 thrums on and off in the background, with the continuously variable transmission generally keeping the revs well below 2500 rpm unless you're close to full throttle. A Sport Mode was new to the Hybrid a couple of model years ago, bringing revised throttle mapping (with more aggressive tip-in) plus different transmission shift points, and that might make some difference.

Otherwise, there's plenty to The RX carries itself over the road with the same sort of muted, comfort-oriented feel that you'll find in the brand's other conservative models like the ES and LS sedans; the down side of this is that there's really no feedback to speak of through the steering wheel.

There is one model in the lineup for which performance doesn't actually take second stage. Go for the 2015 Lexus RX 350 F Sport, and in addition to a more performance-oriented look inside and out you get an eight-speed automatic transmission instead, along with steering-wheel paddle-shifters, special twist-spoke 19-inch alloys, and a sport-tuned suspension. Although we haven't spent any time with this model yet, it should bring a more eager, responsive driving experience without all that much sacrifice.

Review continues below
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2015 Lexus RX 350

Comfort & Quality

A quiet, comfortable ride is a major asset for the RX, as is good space for four adults -- although we'd like a little more seat support.

The 2015 Lexus RX lineup is very popular with folks with a luxury budget, but don't want to appear filthy rich–they're plush and comfortable without appearing too ostentatious. There's plenty of room for four adults–and a fifth if you absolutely must–and something about the RX's practical design just feels sensible and wholesome. It's also supremely quiet and smooth, with a ride almost more fitting for cars like Lexus' flagship LS sedan.

Across the lineup, which includes the Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h, expect plus (but not over-the-top lavish) interiors, and a wholesomeness to the overall design, with versatile and roomy seating and a passenger experience that's nearly as refined as what you'd fine in flagship sedans like Lexus' own LS. With available semi-aniline leather upholstery (the softer, less treated hides), plenty of soft-touch surfaces, OLED gauges and plenty of soft-touch surfaces, the RX models feel almost opulent, with the upgraded wood trim that's optional in the RX 350 bringing a richer, better-coordinated look.

With the RX's relatively low ride height, getting in and out is easy. And while there may not be a ton of extra legroom in the rear seats, even with the front seats set all the way back, there's enough knee room for all but the tallest adults. Adult-sized passengers will feel right at home in the rear seats, and the seatbacks flip forward to haul larger items around on the weekend. There's also a useful under-floor storage bin that can help keep valuables out of sight.

Among the few things we wish for in the RX are better-contoured front seats. An odd contouring that digs into shoulder blades has made it difficult to get completely comfortable for our taller-than-typical editors and test staff, and in front headroom can be surprisingly tight. If you click the right boxes and ante up for some upgrades, the optional seats are worth it as they have the additional long-distance support of length-adjustable lower cushions.

Quiet, smooth, and isolated are all ways to describe the RX's ride. Motions are well damped, as they are in a good luxury sedan, and the only noise you do hear is during moderate to hard acceleration—more so in 450h models. The one caution is that we've noticed that with the available 19-inch wheels the ride gets somewhat harsher on some surfaces (though still not rough).

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8

2015 Lexus RX 350

Safety

Crash-test ratings for the Lexus RX family don't disappoint; and with some supplemental tech features, there's even more to help stay safe.

The Lexus RX has been an impressive (although not quite top-tier) crash-test performer in recent model years, and it offers ten airbags, including side bags for the rear seats.

Both models in the 2015 Lexus RX lineup include all the usual safety features–ten airbags, side bags for the rear seats, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes–but there's a least a handful of features that really stand out.

It's an IIHS Top Safety Pick, receiving a rating of "Good" in frontal, side and rollover crash tests. In tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the RX 350 received four out of five stars in frontal and rollover crashes, and five out of five starts for side impacts, for an overall rating of five out of five stars.

A hill-hold function helps allow for smooth launches when stopped on slippery, steep terrain, and the rearview camera helps with parking and backing out of the driveway, especially since rearward visibility isn't otherwise that good because of the rear pillar placement.

The available PCS collision avoidance system uses radar sensors to detect a possible impact, and now pre-brakes the vehicle to potentially lessen the severity of a crash. Other safety-related options worth considering include adaptive lighting and automatic high beams.

Review continues below
8

2015 Lexus RX 350

Features

Whether looking at the newly updated technology or the fine details, the 2015 RX remains a luxury vehicle in every respect.

Lexus vehicles have a reputation for being exceptionally well-equipped, as well as refined and comfortable. 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.

The Remote Touch controller, which has been redesigned modestly this year (essentially still a mouse/trackpad that requires you to look at the screen a little more than other systems) 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. Last year Lexus introduced a "Siri Eyes Free Mode" for the system, allowing you to integrate some iPhone models with the RX's voice-command system. This year Lexus follows that with refreshed Display Audio systems across the model line.

Every RX comes standard with a Bluetooth, ten-way power front seats, dual-zone climate control and a 12-speaker audio system–along with more creature comfort features than can be optioned onto most mass-market cars.

Options include a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, hard-drive based navigation, softer leather, rear seat entertainment for the kids, remote start, ventilated front seats, LED adaptive headlamps, and a head-up display that projects basic information about your trip onto the windshield to reduce distracted driving.

The RX also now comes with the Lexus Enform system, which has the capability to run apps for information or entertainment purposes—Pandora streaming radio, for example. Voice-command recognition is also included, as is a year of the Safety Connect concierge service (there's a subscription fee after that).

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6

2015 Lexus RX 350

Fuel Economy

The 2015 Lexus RX 450h remains one of the highest-mileage luxury crossovers on the market -- especially in city driving.

The 2015 Lexus RX 450h is the top choice in the lineup, of course, if you're shopping for a green family-sized wagon. With its well-coordinated powertrain and a price that's only modestly higher than the RX 350, the RX 400h might make good fiscal sense, too.

EPA ratings place the RX 450h at up to 32 mpg city, 28 highway; but the last time we drove an RX 450h, over mixed driving conditions, we didn't see anything close to that EPA rating—about 23 mpg overall, with all-wheel-drive model (rated 30/28).

As for the normal gasoline RX 350 models, they're a little more consistent with other mid-size crossovers in the segment. Keep in mind that it does only have two rows of seating, for a total of five, at a time when many vehicles around its size are offering a third row. But with true comfort for four adults and cargo, we don't see its mid-20s highway numbers as all that bad, comparatively.

RX 350 models now all include an 'eco driving' light that simply tells you when you're driving gently (and efficiently).

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August 23, 2016
2015 Lexus RX 350 FWD 4-Door

Beautiful car and sweet ride.

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This is a beautiful car and we love the drive. It has gret pick-up and Sheri features. I do have a bit of a problem seeing around the side-view mirrors especially going around corners as they are quite large... + More »
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June 5, 2016
2015 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door

Love this vehicle

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Nothing else to say......................................................
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April 2, 2016
2015 Lexus RX 350 FWD 4-Door

VERY GOOD SMALL FAMILY AUTO.

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VERY GOOD SMALL FAMILY AUTO AS NO 3 ROWS OF SEATS. QUALITY AND VALUE FOR THE MONEY. WE ARE BOTH 81 NOW AND HAD OWNED A 2007 NEW 350 RX FWD FOR 8 YEARS. THE 2015 IS MUCH ROOMIER AND MORE BEAUTIFUL IN AND OUT... + More »
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July 10, 2015
For 2015 Lexus RX 350

RX 350 the swesome.

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It's a great smoothly drive limousine. It consumes less gasoline than the RX 300. However, there some problem regarding the GPS which is not available in my country.
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April 29, 2015
2015 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door

It's a Lexus, what could go wrong?

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Information displayed on screen of navigation/communication system is confusing and difficult to navigate while driving. Changes made to radio tuning system are extremely difficult to navigate and are... + More »
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April 28, 2015
2015 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE LEXUS

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I had a 330 before and now I have 350. These suvs ride really really smooth have had no trouble. When I do take my car in for service the customer service is great.
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