– Exceedingly comfortable
– Smooth engine
– Prioritises safety
– Expensive with options
– Average cargo room
– Lacks off-road credentials
The Lexus RX, wildly popular in North American markets, never seemed to have more than a quiet existence in the GCC. Indeed, it will continue to have a quiet existence with the new-for-2010 version, due in no small part to its understated exterior upgrades and its mismanaged market positioning. However, it really is a great vehicle for its intended purpose, and the 2010 version introduces various new and unique features, some successful and others not so much.
When we first heard that Lexus intended to target the RX 350 towards women, we were left scratching our heads on why they would try to do that. We believe their eventual marketing shifted away from that focus, but they left a mark on us. The Lexus RX 350 does appear girly next to a BMW X5 or an Infiniti FX, and we couldn’t help but feel a bit gay being seen in it.
The exterior follows the theme of its predecessor, with a peapod profile, tasteful smatterings of chrome, hidden exhaust tips and colourless tail lamps. Overall, while this theme was unique many years ago, it does not stand out any more, so it should appeal to more conservative clientele.
The interior goes in a completely different direction, as the dashboard and door panels, all coated in premium soft-touch materials, form random asymmetrical shapes that may not appeal to all, but keeps things lively in an otherwise-uninteresting crossover. The leather and wood treatment is beautiful, but we were disappointed that lower door and console panels were simply hard plastics, in an age when even Infiniti has stepped up the game with more abundant soft-touch trim in all their latest crossovers.
However, the RX 350 obliterates any similar Infiniti when it comes to cabin space. It has almost as much rear legroom as a spacious midsize sedan, while all other dimensions are very generous. And while the luggage boot loses some space due to the sloping rear and overly-raised floor, it is still more voluminous than its closest rivals. The rear-bench split-folds to increase space even more. There are also numerous covered cup-holders and storage cubbies spread about, including a hollow area under the gear-shifter area, between the front passengers.
Our Lexus tester was loaded to the gills with gadgets, some of which we’ve seen for the first time. Unique features included a computer system with a high-mounted screen on the dash, and controlling it involved moving a mouse pointer with a little joystick near the central armrest. It proved unintuitive to control while driving, assuming it worked, because it kept locking up half the time while trying to read the navigation DVD, which was missing in our tester. Also, our smartphone connected to the Bluetooth, but disconnected as soon as any actual call came.
Everything else worked fine, including the excellent CD stereo, the strong digital a/c with rear vents, the powered rear tailgate, the HID headlights, the rear headrest-mounted DVD screens, the fan-ventilated seats, the three-camera parking system, intelligent keyless entry with starter button, the heads-up display showing speed on the windshield itself, the adaptive cruise control and the absolutely-fantastic panoramic glass roof that extends from the front to the rear in one piece, with a powered sunshade to boot. Safety features include multiple front, side-curtain and even knee airbags. Minor niggles include the lack of rear a/c controls and the lack of a sunroof opening within the huge glass roof, although these did not bother us.
The Lexus RX is only powered by one engine, namely a 3.5-litre V6, offering 275 hp at 6200 rpm and 348 Nm of torque at a high 4700 rpm. It isn’t a rocket but it is still respectably quick when the revs are generously high. We managed zero to 100 kph in 8.2 seconds, with a bit of initial wheelspin, which is odd considering the RX has all-wheel-drive. It simply hints that this Camry-based crossover spends most of its time in front-wheel-drive mode, but there is also a 50:50 lock mode, if the automatic power distribution is being too lazy for your liking on loose surfaces. The 6-speed auto gearbox is a smooth operator, but the mildly-delayed manual mode is only good for occasional use, seeing that the shifter is mounted at a weird angle. The automatic does a fine job on its own anyway, choosing the right gears and netting us a reasonable 14.3 litres per 100 km of fuel consumption.
The Lexus RX’s cabin is one of the most serene places to be in, isolated from the noises of the world. Indeed, it has among the quietest cabins ever, with wind and road noise kept to a bare minimum at 120 kph. It also helps that the suspension is compliant, easily smoothening out bumps, but there is none of the springy rebound that exemplifies its Toyota Camry and Lexus ES 350 platform-mates. The engine is also muffled to oblivion, and there is always decent passing power.
Where it falters, compared to BMW and Infiniti, is in handling, but only just. The RX exhibits a fair amount of body roll in sharp turns and sudden movements. However, the body roll subsides instantly once the manoeuvres are over, instead of bouncing around like a typical Toyota. The 235/55 tyres wrapping the optional 19-inch wheels also offer a solid amount of grip, so the 2050 kg RX never felt outclassed when it came to corners, even if it did understeer eventually. And while the power steering is silky-soft and lacks any feel, the ABS-assisted four-wheel-disc brakes are superb, bringing the hefty vehicle to a quick stop in a straight line and without drama as we hauled it from 140 kph down to zero.
Be advised that the RX is not an off-roader in the slightest. While its all-wheel-drive and 50:50 lock can cope, it does not have the ground clearance, the low-range gearing or the underbelly protection to safely traverse pointy terrain. What it does serve well is in the rain, and we happened to drive it through some serious puddles during our cross-country on-road jaunt in stormy April weather. We went at above-average speeds into wet puddle-filled corners, hoping the stability-control and all-wheel-drive work as advertised, and they did, bringing the car in line after some initial hydroplaning each time the tyres hit water. It is a very safe all-weather wagon.
The Lexus RX 350 is a supremely-comfortable vehicle, and while it lacks the sportiness of its premium competitors, we believe Lexus RX buyers would not be interested in hard driving anyway. Now, if only they didn’t try to make it so girly.