2016 Lexus RX 350 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 28, 2016

The new 2016 Lexus RX is edgier and more focused than before—more of a style-conscious statement of indulgence—when your luxury car also has to be a very practical everyday driver.

The Lexus RX is the luxury brand’s best-selling model; and for 2016, it enters its fourth generation with more interior space, a more lavish look and feel, and a suite of new safety-tech features.

The look of the 2016 Lexus RX is described as bolder—a bit of a cliche in today’s automotive-design terms, perhaps. Yet here—especially considering the precedent of previous "jellybean" RX designs—it’s the most adventurous Lexus crossover design to date. Factor in the edgier F Sport versions that are now offered for both standard and hybrid versions of the RX, plus some noteworthy tech and performance upgrades, and it’s far more driver-centric yet still in check with all the comfort, quiet, and versatility than shoppers of this five-passenger luxury crossover expect.

The new RX starts with some familiar details, with an especially dramatic version of the spindle grille in front, with a so-called "triple-L" headlamps, LED fog lamps, and LED daytime running lamps. With its floating roof design that tapers near the back, teasing a C-pillar that isn’t quite continuous, some swoopy, flared rear fenders, and a relatively level, flowing beltline, coupe-like wouldn’t be an exaggeration based on what we see there, and the Nissan Murano might have a rival with nearly the head-turning design.

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More than any other design from recent years—excluding sports cars and exotics—this is a design that really plays with surfacing, and based on the responses to the RX we’ve seen so far, you’re either happy that Lexus has made a brave move and gone bold, or you’re left wondering

That said, the 2016 RX doesn’t sacrifice interior space or versatility for its racier form. It’s actually nearly 5 inches longer, with about a 2-inch longer wheelbase, than its predecessor. It remains a five-passenger model, with two rows of seating, and width and height are essentially unchanged. The layout in front has been reconfigured for an airier, more open feel, with the shifter moved away from the instrument-panel area, a streamlined series of controls, and a new head-up display. Atop the center stack there’s now an available 12.3-inch infotainment screen with full-size map. The driving position has been lowered slightly, while the rear seat can be split 60/40 and is now power-folding.

There’s also a new rear-seat entertainment system available, with 11.6-inch screens at the back of the front headrests, and a huge panorama moonroof for skylight above front and rear passengers.

There are again two primary models of the RX. The RX 350—all versions now, not just the F Sport—is powered by a 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter direct-injection V-6, with a new 8-speed automatic transmission for all models. RX 450h models include a special Atkinson-cycle version of the V-6 tuned for reduced emissions and better fuel economy, but with an electric motor-generator system—a version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. The hybrid RX makes 308 hp altogether. The F Sport is all-wheel-drive-only, but for the first time it’s offered on 450h models in addition to the RX 350.

The RX rides on MacPherson struts in front and a double-wishbone setup in back, and it’s been tuned for better responsiveness—though at no reduction in ride comfort. The Adaptive Variable Suspension system that’s newly offered on the RX will adapt both damper firmness and steering behavior for better responsiveness or improved comfort. And the RX now runs on special tires that have a so-called EverGrip technology that doesn’t lose grip as the tread wears. The emphasis—as it has always been for the RX—is toward performance on the road, not at all off-road.

The AVS system is standard on F Sport models, which get a special Sport S+ mode with more aggressive settings. Otherwise the F Sport gets a special mesh grille design (as opposed to horizontal slats on standard models), new graphite-finish 20-inch wheels, a sport steering wheel with perforated leather trim, and steering-wheel paddle-shifters, plus an F Sport instrument cluster with a multi-function TFT display.

Trims and materials in the RX family are especially inviting and warmer-looking than what you see, for the most part, in German alternatives. But technology, and safety tech, are an important part of this model’s appeal. The available head-up display is now colorful and larger, while Mark Levinson surround sound, a rear HDMI entertainment system, and a whole suite of available active-safety features—called the Lexus Safety System+—can help keep accidents from happening, or reduce their severity.

The car takes a big step forward in technology too. Through the Navigation Package you get an expanded app suite with which you can also take advantage of Bing search; Pandora, iHeart Radio, or Pandora streaming audio; or Yelp, among others. We still aren’t in love with Remote Touch controller, but Lexus has improved the RX’s voice controls. The Lexus telematics suite and apps-based services—some of them subscription-based—has been expanded for 2016, with offerings now including automatic collision notification or stolen vehicle location, as well as new remote functions like remote start, locking and unlocking, and climate pre-conditioning (all through an app).

The RX 350 is rated at 20 mpg city, 28 highway, 23 combined with front-wheel drive, or 19/26/22 mpg with all-wheel drive, according to the EPA. Meanwhile, RX 450h hybrid models achieve 31/30/30 mpg with front-wheel drive or 30/28/30 mpg with all-wheel drive.

8

2016 Lexus RX 350

Styling

The 2016 Lexus RX trades its ubiquity in for a whole lot of (love-it-or-hate-it) attitude.

The Lexus RX has always been predictably ovoid and utilitarian in its fundamental design, yet glossy in the details. For 2016, with the introduction of the fourth-generation RX, this predictability has been overthrown. The fourth generation is not just a daring departure for the RX, but also a strong hint that moving forward, not even the comfort- and utility-oriented models from this vaunted luxury brand will be staid.

All that grand posturing aside—and Lexus noting that the new look is bold—if you don’t see a cohesive design in the RX, you’re not alone. We think it looks like a mashup—a seemingly merged result of two or three design inspirations, and one that somehow works when it’s all together. As a sum, it’s a glorious, expressive design on the outside, and even after seeing this model on auto show floors, in pictures, and in a day of driving, we still see it as engaging and alive—technical, organic, and teasing odd influences of the SUV designs the RX has always eschewed.

The exterior—especially the RX’s roofline, and its appearance from the side and rear angles—is a daring departure for Lexus. From the front, the RX is at its most unified with the rest of the Lexus lineup. The front end offers up a version of the familiar spindle grille in front, with so-called "triple-L" headlamps, LED fog lamps, and LED daytime running lamps, plus various angles that combine to form a geometry we’ll just call menacing. Follow the profile and the roofline and it seems just a little more arched than before—coupe-like wouldn’t be an exaggeration—as it tapers in the back, teasing a C-pillar that’s blacked out so that it isn’t quite visually continuous.

The sides are by far the most challenging to take in at first look. Chunky, flared-then-planed wheel wells have dark matte-trim lips, combining with blacked-out lower-body trim to establish more of a rugged look than the RX has had before (it’s bucked that in the past). Cast your eyes higher up—above the rising rippled, indented flow at the lower doors, and you’ll reach a complex series of lines. One of them starts at the vehicle corners, just below the headlights, and flows seemingly under the wheel wells to continue through the

If you’ve been perplexed by how some of the angles look in pictures, you’ll have to trust us that they work better in the flesh—and out in the real world the RX somehow fits in much more easily than you might guess. It’s at its most dramatic from some of the rear-angle views, where if you quint, the sculpting and various upkicks together serve to make it look almost as if the rear wheels were larger than the fronts—obviously not true, but not a bad design target if that’s it.

Inside, the look is rather normalizing—it’s a place of order, calm, and precision; it’s not too busy, and it lets you forget that you’re in a vehicle that’s so involved from the outside. The dash and door trims of the new RX follow the look established by the latest GS and IS sport sedans—thankfully much more than the somewhat over-the-top, edgy-and-layered look of the smaller NX crossover. Just like nearly every other vehicle in the Toyota and Lexus stable, the dash makes a move to follow more of a horizontal orientation, and some nicely drawn, asymmetrical curves frame the center stack (which is canted toward the driver) and the center console, which has its own unusual upkick and curve on the right side, angling it over toward the driver.

Altogether, this offers plenty of cues that the RX is focused a little more toward the driver this time around. Otherwise, the RX cabins feel neat and well-designed—definitely less cluttered than some of Lexus’s other interior efforts of the past few years—with subtle colors, matte-black and matte-metallic trims combining to have the intended effect of being luxurious, as well as a good deal sportier than before.

Both RX 350 and RX 450h lines are offered in performance-oriented F Sport guise for 2016. They add a special dark-mesh grille, a more aggressive lower front spoiler and rear bumper trim, 20-inch alloy wheels, and F Sport badging—as well as exclusive F Sport seats, a unique steering wheel with paddle shifters, aluminum pedals and scuff plates, and F Sport gauges. There’s also an F Sport-exclusive Rioja Red interior leather hue.

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8

2016 Lexus RX 350

Performance

The 2016 Lexus RX family provides a little more happiness from the driver’s seat, without cutting into passenger comfort.

With so much attention paid to stance and styling, you might expect that the new 2016 Lexus RX family has some completely new performance bones—and a newfound attitude from the driver’s seat. Well, in this respect, you’d be wrong and you’d be right.

The 2016 RX lineup definitely cranks up the driving experience and feels more communicative than it ever has—especially when you opt for one of the F Sport versions. Yet at the same time, it’s by no means edgy, and there’s no mistaking that this is a model aimed at comfort, utility, and pragmatic needs.

There remain two engines in the RX lineup, as well as front- and all-wheel-drive versions of each—for a total of four powertrain combinations. And then there are also performance-oriented F Sport versions of both.

The V-6 in the RX 350 is new, making 295 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It has a new variable valve system that allows a wider range of intake-cam timing and the fuel-efficiency-enhancing Atkinson cycle, and there’s also direct injection. In all models, the RX 350 now gets an 8-speed automatic transmission—with F Sport models getting steering-wheel paddle shifters. Also, in the M mode, the torque converter locks up fully in third through eighth gears when accelerating and second through eighth gears when decelerating.

A pre-loaded front differential also helps with stability and performance off the line. And in RX 350 models with all-wheel drive, the system uses clutches to vary the torque distribution up to 50 percent to the rear wheels (or up to 100 percent to the front wheels).

Altogether, the RX 350 can get to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds (or 7.9 seconds with all-wheel drive).

Head over to the RX 450h hybrid model instead, and you get a different version of the 3.5-liter V-6, here making 259 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, with the compression ratio bumped up to 13:1. With its planetary drive system and twin-motor hybrid assistance, it operates as a full hybrid, with the vehicle capable of taking off in low-speed, low-load conditions on electric power alone. All-wheel drive versions of the 450h get a separate electric-motor drive unit for the rear wheels that supplements what’s happening in the engine bay and functions as an over-the-road hybrid system.

The RX 450h’s planetary gearset and lack of defined gears are part of what makes this setup feel less convincing in F Sport guise. You can also click steering-wheel paddle-shifters, although even then the transmission doesn’t seem to hold ratios with any predictability.

RX 350 and RX 450h models get Normal, Eco, and Sport modes—all affecting powertrain responsiveness, power steering effort, and the degree of air conditioning use. F Sport versions get additional Customized, Sport S, and Sport S+ modes. In Hybrid models, turning that controller over to Sport changes the gauge layout, with the "Power Meter" replaced by a tachometer.

Also, with the RX 450h, you now get an EV Mode that lets you (if the charge is adequate) run the RX in a quieter all-electric mode, for somewhat longer times than it would otherwise allow at low speeds.

The RX models keep their layout entirely car-like, with a MacPherson strut front suspension with lower control arms and a double-wishbone rear suspension. Lexus has softened the front suspension somewhat while aiming for a firmer rear-suspension tune—balancing that out with a larger anti-roll bar in front. All versions of the RX include four-wheel ventilated disc brakes.

Lexus engineers aimed for enhanced steering feedback this time around, and they achieved it, albeit with a big asterisk. Just as in a number of other newer vehicles with electric power steering, the RX’s steering actually transmits more feedback about the road surface back to the driver when it’s in its lightest (comfort-oriented) setting, counterintuitively. Beneath it all, the Lexus RX remains a pleasant-driving mid-size crossover, and the harsh impacts that could upset a true sport sedan or high-performance model are damped out.

F Sport models add the Adaptive Variable Suspension system that adjusts the damping force at all four wheels depending on the driving and road conditions. The Sport S and Sport S+ modes provide even firmer control, while the system has a rugged-surface sensing system that will aid ride comfort when you do get to a particularly rough surface.

Wheels are 18-inch, seven-spoke alloys in base models, upgradeable to 20-inch high-gloss machined alloys or super chrome alloys with color inserts. The RX uses a new Michelin Premier LTX tire that’s designed to improve its characteristics for wet-road performance somewhat as it wears.

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9

2016 Lexus RX 350

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 Lexus RX family hasn’t lost any of its versatile, space-efficient goodness in the translation to its ‘bolder’ look and feel; it’s actually more comfortable than ever.

For more than 15 years, the Lexus RX has carried a well-deserved reputation for ride quality, versatility, and general passenger comfort—in a vehicle that has truly impressive materials.

It’s easy to get into and out of the RX because of its ideal ride height that’s neither too high nor too low; plus front-seat comfort is great, the ride is smooth and well-controlled, and you’ll never feel like back-seat passengers are getting anything less than those in front.

The driving position in the 2016 Lexus RX feels a bit more car-like than it has in previous versions—or compared to many other mid-size luxury rivals. That’s in part because Lexus has made the steering-column angle 2 degrees closer to horizontal and lowered the seat height by 0.75 inches.

F Sport models get somewhat more deeply bolstered sport seats, while a Luxury Package adds 10-way adjustability and a (thigh) cushion extender, among many other extras.

Backseat accommodations are ample for just about any passenger sizes, with all models offering a 60/40-split arrangement with recline. Although it’s worth noting that the seat height is different between RX 350 and RX 450h models; the hybrid positions riders an inch or more higher, which might mean that taller passengers will find themselves closer to the moonroof enclosure, if so equipped. In RX 450h versions, the hybrid system’s nickel-metal-hydride battery is placed underneath the rear seat and split into three units (to accommodate cooling and fit the rear seat’s track/mounting).

In back, there’s a fold-down armrest with retractable cupholders, while there are several open and covered bins in front. If you have one of the smaller smartphones (and not a "phablet") it should fit in the smartphone compartment that’s behind the Remote Touch controller. Inside the center-console box there’s an aux-in jack plus two USB ports.

A heated steering wheel is optional, and the climate control uses a some smart temperature and flow systems that take into account more variables than ever—and should result in better comfort for all. Luxury Package models also get pull-down rear sunshades.

The RX 350 and RX 450h are very quiet-riding vehicles. RX 350 F Sport models add some piped-in intake noise, but it’s barely enough to hear the difference when accelerating hard and thankfully doesn’t disrupt the understated, refined ambience of this model.

Upholsteries range from a standard NuLuxe vinyl-like material to natural leather (Premium Package) and semi-aniline leather (Luxury Package). They’re complemented by several interior trims, including a simple but elegant striated black look, or Espresso Walnut, Matte Bamboo, or Matte Linear Dark Mocha Wood (Premium Package) or Grey Sapele Wood with aluminum in the Luxury Package models.

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8

2016 Lexus RX 350

Safety

The 2016 Lexus RX has an up-to-date set of active systems and doesn’t lose any grip on safety-minded families.

The verdict is still out on the 2016 Lexus RX family, as it’s been completely redesigned, and built on a revised platform and entirely new body structure—one that emphasizes the use of high-tensile-strength steels, and with some new assembly methods that help improve the body’s crash performance.

The 2016 RX family already has earned a place on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list, based on its top "Good" ratings in all areas of crash-testing, and including a top "Superior" rating for front crash prevention, with the available Lexus Safety Sense package and its pre-collision system.

All the expected occupant-safety items are here in the 2016 RX—with 10 standard airbags, including a driver knee bag and a passenger-side cushion-mounted anti-submarine airbag.

Lexus has packaged the top active-safety systems—adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist and departure warning, and automatic high beam headlamps—for the RX as an option group, at a lower price than such systems are given in other luxury models. A blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert system is also available.

Outward visibility is actually a bit better than the outgoing model. You might not guess this given the tapered look of the profile near the back of the vehicle, but thanks to thinner pillars all around, a wider rear quarter window, and higher rear seatbelt mounting, it does deliver on the promise of a cleaner look and better field of vision from the inside.

The rearview camera that’s included in all RX models includes dynamic sightlines, and the available panoramic view monitor combines camera views around the vehicle, to help spot nearby bicyclists, pedestrians, objects, or other vehicles.

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9

2016 Lexus RX 350

Features

From performance to connectivity and good ol’ comfort, the feature set of the 2016 Lexus RX boldly covers familiar territory, plus some new ground.

The feature list for the 2016 Lexus RX lineup doesn’t tread over to radically different terrain. If you’re willing to check some option boxes, you’ll get a luxury vehicle that embraces this lineup’s somewhat sportier, more tech-savvy direction.

Keep in mind that there's more of a pricing jump from the RX 350 to the RX 450h hybrid than there has been in the past—around $10,000 now. That's because a number of items that are optional on the RX 350 come standard on the hybrid. Remove the factor due to that equipment difference, and the pricing gap between these two powertrains, all else the same, is closer to $5,000.

In addition to F Sport models and all of their performance-oriented upgrades, you have a few major packages from which to choose. A Premium Package adds aluminum roof rails, driver seat memory settings, leather front seats, rain-sensing wipers, rear armrest storage, and special Espresso Walnut, Matte Bamboo, or Matte Linear Dark Mocha Wood trim. The Luxury Package adds to that 20-inch super chrome wheels with color inserts, Gray Sapele Wood and aluminum trim, heated-and-ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, power folding heated rear seats, rear sunshades, and semi-aniline leather upholstery.

There’s also a towing package, which includes a heavy-duty alternator and radiator plus a transmission cooler. Additional standalone options include a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, triple-beam LED headlamps with LED cornering lamps, the touch-free hatch release, and park assist.

Audio and infotainment systems leave you with a few choices. In base models, an 8.0-inch Display Audio system adds a new single-panel home-screen layout, and you can toggle between navigation, audio, air conditioning, and fuel economy displays. The base audio setup includes a nine-speaker system with HD Radio with iTunes tagging, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, an in-dash CD player, two USB ports, an aux input, Bluetooth hands-free operation and audio, and a 15-minute audio cache. Mark Levinson surround-sound audio is available and it includes 15 speakers, 835 watts over 10 channels, a 12-channel amp, and Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology to make MP3s sound better.

The display that the new RX’s dash feels designed to host is the 12.3-inch widescreen, with the Lexus Remote Touch interface, a mechanical controller that’s partway between a mouse and trackpad. For this latest version Lexus has added "Enter" buttons to either side of the controller.

Also, a rear-seat entertainment system offers two large 11.6-inch LCD screens and HDMI connectivity.

We still aren’t in love with Remote Touch, as even with its haptic feedback it requires looking at the screen while making selections. Likewise, the horizontal orientation to the expanded map view is counterintuitive, as most people want to see what’s along the road ahead. We can't help but wonder aloud: Wouldn’t a vertical orientation be better?

Also available in the RX is a new, larger head-up display; it offers several views and now can cover up to four times the display area of before, including inputs from active-safety systems, parking clearance, navigation directions, warnings, and gauge displays.

Lexus has also, across the RX lineup, improved the voice recognition system, so that it now allows more natural inputs, like “Please speak louder”—and it’s trainable. Most processing (including standard POI search) is onboard, but the destination search uses an app and connected smartphone.

The Lexus telematics suite and apps-based services—some of them subscription-based—has been expanded for 2016; new items include a new feature that shares vehicle diagnostics with nearby service centers. The safety system also includes automatic collision notification or stolen vehicle location, as well as new remote functions such as remote start, locking and unlocking, and climate pre-conditioning (all through an app). Through the Navigation Package you get an expanded app suite with which you can also take advantage of Bing search; Pandora, iHeart Radio, or Pandora streaming audio; or Yelp, among others.

The power rear hatch operates with just a swipe over the Lexus logo in back, provided the keyfob is in your pocket. That’s better, we think, than systems that require temporarily standing on one foot.

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6

2016 Lexus RX 350

Fuel Economy

The 2016 Lexus RX lineup is at its most fuel-efficient in RX 450h hybrid guise; but you might not see a payback in the hybrid if you drive mostly on the highway.

The 2016 Lexus RX lineup offers two ways of quite frugal highway driving. Yet the RX 450h hybrid models are far more fuel-efficient in the city.

The RX 350 now has a more efficient V-6 with direct injection plus a variable intake system that enables lean, Atkinson-cycle operation. It’s rated at 20 mpg city, 28 highway, 23 combined with front-wheel drive, or 19/26/22 mpg with all-wheel drive. The new 8-speed automatic transmission that’s standard throughout the lineup helps with that, as it offers a wider span of gear ratios than the former 6-speed.

Meanwhile, RX 450h hybrid models achieve 31/30/30 mpg with front-wheel drive or 30/28/30 mpg with all-wheel drive, according to the EPA.

In either model, if you click the Drive Mode Select knob at the center console (Normal or Eco in standard models or Normal, Eco, Customize, Sport S, and Sport S+ in F Sport models) over to Eco, you’ll get a mode that softens throttle response, reduces air conditioning operation, and reduces fan airflow in Auto mode—all things that should help save fuel.

We’ve seen high real-world mileage in hybrid models if you can use a lot of restraint; it’s a system that responds well to smooth inputs and lower speeds (there’s an EV mode for quiet, short-distance electric-only operation, too).

Curiously, gasoline models don’t include engine stop-start, a fuel-saving feature than many rivals to the RX now include.

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April 12, 2016
2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door

excellent vehicle

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I am pleased with every aspect of this vehicle. Criticisms of non working features are generally the result of not reading the owner's manual. For example, I thought that the hatch opening feature did't work... + More »
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April 2, 2016
2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door

Top in my book

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I have had a Lexus before but this new 2016 RX 350 is the best
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March 28, 2016
2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door F Sport

Where is the Seek feature?

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I like everything about my new Lexus but the audio seek feature need to be more accessible. Other issue with the 2016 model is the crash avoidance feature in not working yet, therefore Lexus disable it... + More »
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February 6, 2016
2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door F Sport

Very happy with the 2016 RX

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There are some polarizing reviews of the new RX, so I'll share my thoughts on the F-sport AWD trim we purchased. It is a very nice suv and is everything I expected it to be. I have waited for over a year for... + More »
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January 4, 2016
2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door

I am not consent with this car

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I recently purchased a 2016 Lexus RX350. I am not consent with this car at all. 1. Entering the car – I find myself have to crawl in the car every time. 2. Not durable (cheap leather) 3. Hard to use command... + More »
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April 28, 2015
2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4-Door F Sport

RX350 is a great buy when using your head and not your heart

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If my first 3 must-haves (in this order) for a entry lux SUV were NOT long-term reliability, safety and comnfort, I would have bought something German. However, since these were my 3 must haves, the Lexus... + More »
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Styling 8
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 8
Features 9
Fuel Economy 6
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