The 2010 Lexus RX 350 has come a long way from the 1998 incarnation that wowed the press with its outstanding ride quality and luxury. At that time, other than a really trucklike BMW X5 and a notably harsh Grand Cherokee, not many midsize SUVs could lay claim to anything close to a luxury target.
Just a decade ago, with SUV sales skyrocketing, all you had to do was get the cab shell on a frame, any frame, stretch some leather across the interior, offer a multi-disc player and call it luxury. That was until the RX 300 did it just a little different - and a little better.
With all that trucklike hardware on the market bouncing things around, it is not hard to understand how the 1998 RX 300 managed to make its mark. This was a vehicle that showcased a cutting-edge exterior design. When all the trucklike SUVs were still boxy and full of hard edges, the RX 300 had soft, gentle curves and a signature angular C-pillar. Add Lexus' brand of luxury and it made for one hard-to-match combination.
So, with more than 1 million RXs sold - the most in the class - why change? Well, as in any competitive market, once the bar is set others follow suit. The third-generation RX 350, not unlike its previous incarnations, has kept the distinctive exterior styling, luxury accommodations and high-tech gadgetry that puts it at the top of this class.
The 2010 RX 350 is a bit longer and wider than the previous model. My tester sported the classy, upgraded 19-inch alloy rims and a new look wrap headlamp assembly. From the side, the profile still swoops with the distinctive angular C-pillar dashing toward the back taillamps. The roof-mounted spoiler now has the rear wiper hidden beneath it, rather than out in the open. This not only looks cleaner, but it gives the driver more glass to see out of.
Lexus owners may not be defined by their quarter-mile times, but they do demand their vehicles respond on command and the RX 350 is no slouch.
Offering an enhanced 3.5-liter V-6 engine (275 horsepower) mated to a silky-smooth six-speed automatic transmission (with snow mode), RX 350 owners can expect to get 18/24 mpg (all-wheel drive model) and 18/25 mpg (front-wheel drive).
Inside the cabin of the RX 350 you will predictably find fine interior surfaces. From soft, supple leather seating and well-crafted wood and leather accents to soft dash surfaces and easy-to-read display screens, the interior is top-notch. Two optional packages on my RX 350 (base priced at $38,200) were a dual-screen, rear seat entertainment system with navigation upgrades (add $4,980) and a luxury package ($4,800) that included the larger alloy rims, power side mirrors, parking assist, a giant moon roof and loads more electronic "must-haves."
As expected, the driver has a seemingly endless number of combinations of positions made possible by the 10-way power seat and standard tilt/telescoping steering column. The center stack design is a dramatic departure from previous models.
Housing the main controls for cabin climate and the audio system, it is easily reached and viewed from the driver's seat. The 9-inch screen is set high and further recessed than other models. This cuts down on glare.
Audio controls are conveniently located on the steering wheel and an optional heads-up display projected key driving information onto the windshield, helping me keep my eyes on the road. With my upgraded nav system, turn-by-turn directions were projected onto this space. It takes some time to get accustomed to all of these wonderful electronic conveniences.
The RX 350 will comfortably seat five adults. Behind the second row there is plenty of cargo space, from 40.3 to 80.3 cubic feet, depending on how many seats you fold down. I really loved the one-touch levers mounted in the luggage compartment that allowed for instant and easy folding of seats.
The RX 350 offers a new system called remote touch in which an optional "joystick" controlling audio, navigation and phone replaced touch screen controls on the navigation system. This system takes some time to get used to (I never really got the hang of it during my test week). The system is pretty intuitive, but it's hard to learn any of this while you are driving.
Living in Chicago, it's wise to drop the extra coin and get the all-wheel-drive model. Lexus' AWD system is new for 2010. The electronically controlled system varies the torque distribution from 100 percent to the front wheels to as much as a 50/50 front/rear split, according to road conditions.
The system comes ready to roll and requires no input from the driver.
The RX 350 is everything you have come to expect of any Lexus model. Delivering crossover characteristics that are far more sedanlike than trucklike, the RX 350 is a wonderful car to spend time in as well as a status symbol when pulling up to valet parking. My tester ended the day at $52,965, a far cry from the base $38,200, but I must admit that nobody takes your luxury dollars and does it like Lexus.
2010 LEXUS RX 350
ENGINE: 275-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine
TRANSMISSION: six-speed automatic
DRIVETRAIN: all-wheel drive
FUEL ECONOMY: 18 city/24 highway
BASE PRICE: $38,200
AS TESTED : $52,965
WEB SITE : www.Lexus.com