Lexus' mid-size RX was a segment buster upon its arrival in 1998 and has remained at the top of its game despite an onslaught of worthy rivals determined to whittle away at hard-earned momentum.
The RX remains Lexus' top-selling vehicle among its growing list of offerings. It was one of the first to take a mid-size SUV bodystyle and transform the ride to a more car-like experience while retaining the versatility of a hatchback; qualifying as the luxury granddaddy of crossovers. Wisely, it's remained a five-seater, resisting the temptation to horseshoe another row into a vehicle designed from the get-go as a five-passenger. Lexus kept RX on an even keel, refraining from fixing something that was never broken, helping enhance resale value along the way.
Chicagoans got a glimpse of the future at the 1997 Chicago Auto Show when Lexus showcased a thinly veiled concept, drawing more than its share of curiosity seekers. A year later, RX was born.
In the 2010 model year, RX ushered in a third-generation makeover. Changes from Gen one to Gen three are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Updates for 2011 are minimal. One notable addition is a brake override system Lexus adds to gasoline powered 2011 models, helping to address concerns buyers may harbor from last year's much publicized brake pedal episode. Once again, front-wheel drive or Chicago-friendly full-time, active torque control, all-wheel drive is available.
The sole gas engine in RX is a more-than-capable V-6, double overhead cam, 24-valve, 3.5-liter (thus the RX 350 name) generating 275 horses, five more than the second-generation effort. Also debuting in 2010 was a more fuel efficient six-speed automatic transmission (replacing a five-speed). For optimum efficiency, Lexus recommends premium petro for its spacious 19.2 gallon tank. With all-wheel drive, fuel estimates check in at a respectable 18 miles per gallon city, and 24 mpg highway, up from the 2009 second-generation estimates of 17 and 22 respectively. If ordering front drive, add one mpg highway. Drivetrain warranty coverage is six years or 70,000 miles. The RX is also available with a gas-electric hybrid powertrain, branded as the RX 400h (h designating hybrid). This variant also comes with the choice of front or all-wheel drive.
No specific trim levels are offered, just front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Starting price for a front-wheel drive model is $37,975, reflecting only a $350 increase from 2010. Our all-wheel drive tester started at $39,375. Options add up quickly and some packages are pre-requisites for others. Included in our ride was a $1,950 comfort package (rain-sensing wipers, adaptive front headlights, front heated and ventilated seats), a $610 twelve-speaker audio update, a $5,005 in-dash navigation screen with backup camera, a $4,900 rear-entertainment system and $59 illuminated door entry scuff plates bringing the bottom line to $52,774 including an $875 destination charge. Many more options are available to shoot this bottom line further north (towing package, heads up display, radar cruise control, park assist, etc.).
The comfort package is highly recommended. Adaptive front headlights include a swivel-like action, increasing illumination during turns in the dark. It's especially beneficial at night when circling into driveways.
Our tester RX handled smoothly like a hot knife through butter during a three hour trek west to the Galena territory. Suspension is designed for smoothness rather than a harsher, sporty, ride. For those desiring more road feedback, an optional sport package with firmer suspension and larger 19-inch wheels is available, but the standard suspension remains very road worthy.
Lexus set the standard for interior solitude and the 2011 RX continues the effort. Nuances such as an acoustic glass windshield and sound-deadening coverings in the engine compartment and spare tire hub mute unintended bumps and rattles. While competitors openly benchmark Lexus for library-quiet interiors (and have made great strides), none have yet surpassed the quiet giant. The RX 350 travels much lighter than its 4,343-pound weight would indicate. When merging onto Interstate I-90, power was never lacking and the ride relaxing. The RX keeps drivers in place with little body sway during spirited maneuvers.
Maneuvering into the RX requires a convenient sit-in, not step-up motion. The power driver seat is purposely positioned back while the steering wheel/column is raised, creating a wider path to entry. Once the engine revs to life, the driver's seat and steering column move into pre-determined settings. Row two remains wide enough to accommodate three adult riders, although if the rear doors swung open at wider angles, ease of egress and ingress would improve. Row two's 40/20/40 bench split features a middle portion doubling as a fold down arm rest with dual cup holders and storage. A nice creature comfort of the outboard positioned back cushions is their ability to recline several inches. The same lower side lever folding backs forward onto the cushions is the same device called upon to retract the backs. Seatbacks also unlatch and fold forward from the cargo-bay region via large release handles. The optional rear entertainment system includes screens mounted on the back of each front bucket seat, separate from the headrest, not a flip-down ceiling single screen.
Dashboard push-button start comes standard. Remember, the brake must be pushed before the engine cranks to life. The three-spoke steering wheel includes a rectangular appendage protruding about 5 o'clock operating standard cruise control. Lexus conveniently locates the power release fuel door and hatch buttons on the dashboard, left of the steering column; a superior location to the floor. Front door map pockets fold out if extra storage is needed. All four side doors include molded beverage holders. Soft-touch materials continue on the dash and side doors. Our tester's dash and interior had a black theme with authentic wood accents on the front doors and steering wheel. The standard six-speed transmission shifter resides at a 45-degree angle in the center dash column about knee high. The center console design, elevated from the floor, incorporates a nifty storage area below for stowing purses or small laptops. Plug in adapters for portable electronic devices are stowed inside the flip-top storage bin. At night, the instrument panel features white backlighting with easy-to-view numbers easing eye strain.
Rather than a traditional touch-sensitive screen for map, navigation, climate and audio selections, Lexus opts for hand-controlled, square-top mouse (computer type, not varmint) to click and select icons. Contoured for the right hand, and located left of dual inline beverage holders, a narrow, five-inch long, narrow arched pad, resembles a miniature masseuse table with the square, rotating, finger-operated mouse at the head of the table and thumb-activated push buttons along the sides for selecting menu items. The color screen itself is located atop the center dash deep inside an alcove minimizing glare and reflection.
Lexus smartly incorporates small, manual, old-school center stack push buttons for quick adjustments of fan speed and dual temperature settings without going through screen tutorials. Audio volume is also adjustable via the steering wheel or tried and true rotary button on the far right of the center stack.
The RX's often imitated, never totally duplicated conservative exterior design includes an understated, yet elegant grille with a trapezoidal center region featuring vertical slates and a centered 'L' logo flanked by narrow, cat's-eye styled headlight housing. Tail lights are narrow as well. Front fog lights are integrated into the bumper. The power sunroof, covering the first row, tilts up for ventilation purposes or completely slides back for open air enjoyment. Side belt lines remain primarily horizontal, not steeply angled and a bit lower than most competitors, contributing to slightly larger side windows (surrounded by chrome framing) translating to decent road perceptions for drivers. Eighteen-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels come standard. Eight exterior colors are available.
The power latch opens high enough for head clearance as long as body height doesn't exceed six-feet six inches. The 'hidden' rear wiper, tucked inside the top spoiler, swipes down, not up from the lower glass. Large, heated side view mirrors (which slant downward when shifting into reverse) smartly include built-in blinkers.
The added-for-2011 Brake Override System automatically reduces engine power if brake and accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously under certain conditions. Other standard safety nuances include anti-lock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front AND rear side seat air bags, side curtain airbags for both rows and knee air bags for driver AND front passenger. Adaptive cruise control is optional along with pre-collision warning system. Safety Connect, Toyota's in-vehicle communication/telematic answer to General Motors' OnStar service, is complimentary for one year, after which a subscription is necessary.
Optional in all-wheel drive editions is a towing package, enabling 3,500 pounds of fun to trail behind. Realistically, RX is not the vehicle usually summoned for menial chores. Assembly takes place in Cambridge, Ontario, west of Toronto and Japan. Competitors include the Lincoln MKX and Cadillac SRX.
Price at tested: $ 51,899
Engine: 24-valve, 3.5-liter, DOHC V-6
Length: 187.8 inches
Wheelbase: 107.9 inches
Curb Weight: 4,343 pounds
Built: Ontario, Canada and Japan
Destination charge: $875