Highway test: 2011 Lexus RX 350 Stone Designs in UAE
Some say that Lexus invented the luxury crossover genre back in the late 1990s. Catering only to the U.S. market, the original RX 300 became such a massive hit that it is the ‘L’ company’s best-seller to this day, and helped Lexus become the top luxury brand in the States. Of course, the market dynamics of the Middle East are completely different. In the UAE, the latest RX 350 lives under the shadow of the LX 570. But it is the RX that is the more interesting vehicle in terms of luxury tech.
We already reviewed the latest Lexus RX when it was launched a year ago, but this 2011 one offers a few more options that we didn’t get to try before. Being a mid-range version, this one lacks the fixed panoramic glass roof, but gains a regular opening sunroof. Also, this one has the DVD for the navigation system, which was missing in our last tester, thereby rendering the LCD computer inoperable before. This one also has an optional frontal spoiler and a ‘Stone Designs’ custom interior.
We didn’t hear of it before, but it turns out the ‘Stone Designs’ version is a limited edition that celebrates the first non-Japanese design studio to work on Lexus models as part of their “Artworks” programme. The customisation is limited to the interior, with the entire seats changed to a red-and-cream cloth-upholstered theme. The padded armrests are also in the same colour scheme, but have leathery upholstery. The dashboard and other areas are black. That’s the extent of the Stone Designs customisation. Externally, on the doors there are pin-stripe stickers so thin that you cannot see it in the photos.
Cabin space is excellent, and this 2011 tester even had a space-saver spare, so it had more cargo volume, unlike our 2010 test car which had a raised boot floor to fit a full-size spare tyre.
The computer system — integrating the a/c, stereo and Bluetooth phone — worked flawlessly. Controlling a mouse pointer on an LCD screen using a palm-operated joystick, one can move between icons by feeling a little tactile tug on the controller, making it easy to use while driving. You’d have to try it out to see what I mean. Just occassionally expect a little delay in response after clicking.
We used the built-in navigation system to take a trip from Dubai to the Abu Dhabi Motor Show. It led us on a comfortable journey, largely on the highway. Bumps are smoothened out very easily, while wind and road noise was subdued, and only just about became noticeable when we were hitting speeds exceeding 150 kph, which apparently is still legal on that road. Straight-line stability was excellent. The a/c was awesome, as was the sound system. Nothing to complain about at all.
In the city, the RX exhibited moderate body roll around sharp curves, which were quickly subdued once turns were completed. Steering feel is numb and light, just what is needed in making the cruise more stress-free. The brakes were strong enough for traffic duty. And the engine, while not the most muscular, has more than enough power for daily use. We only felt some suspension jitters on certain inner-city roads, due to poor street maintenance rather than any fault of the car. We may have been in one of the richest cities in the world, but it never felt like it beyond the exhibition halls.
We even took the RX to the beach in Dubai, where we engaged the button-operated 4×4-lock and wallowed over the firm sand with no issues. It has enough space to hold your picnic supplies at least, and you can use the rear bumper as a bench under the shade of the power-operated tailgate.
Overall, with 75% highway driving, we averaged a fuel consumption figure of 12.5 litres/100 km. That is very low for a 3.5-litre V6 but not amazingly frugal, so you’ll have to light-foot around town and likely keep your highway speeds under 100 kph to break the 10 litres/100 km barrier easily.
The Lexus RX is expectedly a superbly comfortable cruiser for daily use. We used it exactly for what it was intended. If you are not into carving corners in the mountains, bashing dunes in the desert, or moving cows for slaughter in the city daily, there is no reason for you not to like the Lexus RX 350.