Lexus RX 350 – still leader of the pack

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Competition has exploded since Lexus invented the car-based luxury sport utility in 1998 with the breakthrough RX300.

Eight years ago, the RX300 was the only player in a segment known today as premium crossover. The Lexus set the standard for a slew of vehicles that followed with a pleasant ride, a luxurious and Lexus-quiet interior, bad-road capability and a smooth and powerful drivetrain. Darn good if not inspiring.

Additionally it was a smashing success propelling Lexus past American luxury standards Cadillac and Lincoln in annual sales.

Even in the last full year of its first iteration in 2002 — the all-new 2004 RX330 reached showrooms in March 2003 — the RX300 sold nearly 73,000 copies, representing 31 percent of all Lexus sales in the United States.

No wonder competing manufacturers were quick to jump on this train before it left the station. Now there seems to be no end to the car-based luxury SUV market.

The current list of mid-sized luxury crossover vehicles reads like a Who’s Who of the upscale industry — Infiniti FX35 and FX45, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, BMW X3 and X5, Acura MDX, Porsche Cayenne, Volvo XC90, Cadillac SRX, Volkswagen Toureag, and all-new for 2007, the Audi Q7. And close to introduction the Lincoln MKX.

It’s a wonder RX sales have held so steady over the years. In 2005, Lexus sold nearly 109,000 copies of the RX, representing about one-third of its North American market.

If you think the competition has caught up with the RX, compare these 2005 sales figures with the Lexus — BMW X5, 37,000; Cadillac SRX, 23,000; Infiniti FX35/45, 27,000; Mercedes M-Class, 35,000; Porsche Cayenne, 13,500.

Now Lexus has updated the RX with a bigger and more powerful engine and in so doing the name becomes the RX350 for the 2007 model year.

We predict the competition, some better, some worse and some that make your heart pitter-patter, will continue to eat Lexus dust.

Even with the current RX body style profile, streamlined with a slant to the rear glass and an arching C-pillar it is well into its fourth year and it’s as sleek and rakishly handsome as anything on the market. We studied a side view of the all-new BMW X5 the other day and darn if it doesn’t bear a striking resemblance to the RX.

Although the RX350 retains the five-speed automatic, it is now mated to a 3.5-liter V-6 generating 270 horsepower, a whopping 47 more than the 2006 model.

The shifter is silky smooth and acceleration is brisk.

The new RX moves nicely from 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds. Of course, that’s not the way to achieve the very respectable EPA gas mileage rating of 20 city and 25 highway for front-drive models, but it points up the vehicle’s proclivity to move quickly when necessary.

This new-found performance comes at virtually no penalty at the gas pumps. The pervious engine was rated at 20/26. All-wheel drive models are actually more efficient, rated at 19/24 compared to 18/24 in 2006.

For those people who desire this tasty package, but tow small boats or jet skis, the RX is up to the task with a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.

The all-wheel drive models feature a 50-50 front and rear torque split in normal driving conditions. Nearly all the torque can be shifted front to back as conditions warrant. At the same time, Vehicle Stability Control limits wheel spin side-to-side.

By the way, Vehicle Stability control is standard equipment on front-drive models making the necessity for all-wheel drive in warm-weather climates not as crucial for peace of mind.

Hand Lexus an A-plus for the interior layout. It’s one of the few vehicles with navigation that has gotten it close to right. In many vehicles when you include the Nav system, all the stereo and climate controls are embedded in the screen. This arrangement can be aggravating, not so in the RX. Here the stereo controls are separate and climate controls can be regulated with switches on either side of the center stack.

The dashboard is attractive with big swathes of aluminum accents. The gauges are backlit in usual Lexus fashion which means there is no washout from bright sun and they can be clearly deciphered even with sunglasses on.

The new RX continues with just two rows of seating and we applaud that decision in the face of a growing trend to stuff as many seats into a vehicle as possible. What’s the use of cramming a third unusable seat into a mid-sized vehicle? Furthermore, Lexus has the GX470 for buyers who absolutely demand more seat space.

The RX350 comes in just one trim line with a price difference for front-wheel or all-wheel drive. The front-wheel drive model starts at $38,095 and all-wheel at $39,495.
As you might expect, the base version is well equipped. But a large number of goodies can be added as taste and pocketbook dictate.

Our test vehicle had two rather costly packages, navigation at $2,650 and a premium package at $2,960. The navigation system comes with Bluetooth, voice activation, compass, and backup camera. The premium package includes a myriad of things — leather trimmed interior, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, moonroof and high intensity discharge headlamps.

We have a problem with Lexus bundling so many things in expensive packages. For instance, we would enjoy the Mark Levinson sound system — there isn’t one better in the automotive world — but it comes bundled in a $6,190 package with the navigation paraphernalia.

A stand alone top-of-the-line audio system option would be welcome if we were making the purchase.

There’s just not much to fault in this vehicle. Emotion in driving is sparse but a week behind the wheel convinced us again that Lexus is unsurpassed in building quality segment-leading products. The new RX350, we predict, won’t have to break a sweat to continuing running far ahead of the pack.


Base price: $38,095; as driven, $45,183

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6

Horsepower: 270 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 251 pound-feet @ 4,700 rpm

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Drive: front wheel

Seating: 2/3

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds

Maximum payload: 1,179 pounds

Wheelbase: 106.9 inches

Length: 186.2 inches

Curb weight: 3,870 pounds

Turning circle: 37.4 feet

Fuel capacity: 19.2 gallons

EPA mileage: 25 mpg highway, 20 city

0-60: 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver)

Also consider: Acura MDX, BMW X5, Infiniti FX35

The Good:

• Impeccable fit and finish
• Impressive combination of performance and comfort

The Bad:

• High-priced option packages

The Ugly:

• Ubiquitous crossover without emotion