2011 Lexus RX 350Posted on August 3rd, 2011
Luxury crossover vehicle seats five passengers
By Nina Russin
The RX 350 is the smallest of three utility vehicles Lexus produces. It is also by far the most popular. Unlike the larger GX and LX, the RX is a unibody-constructed crossover, giving it the ride-and-handling characteristics of a passenger car.
While the available all-wheel drive system doesn’t have the ability to navigate extreme off-road trails, it gives the RX four-season capability. A locking mode which works at speeds under 25 miles-per-hour mimics some of the functions of the low gear range on four-wheel drive vehicles.
Lexus introduced the current RX in 2010: the third iteration since the model rolled out in 1998. Twenty-eleven models are basically carry-over, with the addition of a new smart stop safety feature.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 275 horsepower and a six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear select option. Ninety percent of the engine’s peak torque is available at 2300 rpm, giving the RX good acceleration off the line, and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use on freeway entrance ramps.
Base price for the front-wheel drive model is $39,375, not including the $875 destination charge. The test car includes three rather expensive option packages: a comfort package which includes rain sensing wipers, adaptive high-intensity discharge headlamps and heated/ventilated front seats ($1950); a dual-screen DVD rear entertainment system with navigation, XM traffic and weather updates and Lexus Enform ($5005); and a luxury package which adds semi-analine leather front seats, a power moonroof, wide-angle camera, 19-inch wheels, a USB audio plug and heated folding outside mirrors ($4900). Two additional options, a twelve-speaker audio system and cargo net, bring the price as tested to $52,774.
Midwestern test drive
I drove the RX 350 on a combination of highways and city streets between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. The advantage of driving cars in the Midwest versus my current home in Phoenix, Arizona is the variety of road surfaces. Since the upper Midwest experiences serious winters, streets in Cincinnati are the opposite of the glass-like roads so common in Phoenix. Many are converted carriage paths, which are narrow, winding and hilly. The use of road salt in the winters creates potholes which don’t necessarily get repaired in the nice weather.
The moment one steps behind the wheel, the reasons for the RX 350’s popularity become obvious. It is an effortless vehicle to drive, with excellent steering response and braking, and ample power for the open road. Fuel economy is quite good for a high-profile vehicle weighing close to 4200 pounds: about 24 miles-per-gallon on the highway.
The engine’s long, flat torque curve makes the RX an ideal candidate for hilly roads. The all-wheel drive version tows up to 3500 pounds when equipped with a towing prep package, meeting our ALV minimum standards.
The six-speed automatic transmission performs seamlessly, transitioning smoothly between the gears with no shift shock during normal driving conditions. An “eco” light on the instrument panel lets the driver know when he is driving for optimum fuel economy. A digital display at the base of the gauge cluster indicates driving range.
The electric power steering system is nicely tuned, with performance similar to a hydraulic unit. The electric system eliminates mechanical parts which can wear out over time, reduces weight under the hood and eliminates parasitic power loss which can rob the car of gas mileage.
The rearview camera which comes with the optional navigation system makes it much easier to parallel park on the street or back out of vertical parking slots. The RX 350’s overall length is 187.8 inches, making it possible to park in some of the larger on-street parking slots. A 40-foot turning radius makes U turns difficult on city streets, but a possibility on some four-lane suburban roads.
A four-wheel independent suspension consists of a MacPherson strut setup in front and double wishbones in the rear. The double wishbone rear suspension is a compact design which maximizes space in the cargo area.
Side mirrors minimize blind spots in the rear corners without obstructing the driver’s view while cornering. Drivers who live in areas with harsh winters will appreciate the self-defrosting and folding option.
Adaptive high-intensity discharge headlamps swivel according to steering inputs to light corners of the road. The option enhances visibility in intersections, illuminating corners where pedestrians might be waiting to cross.
Rain-sensing wipers on the test car automatically turn on and off through intermittent showers. A standard rear wiper is concealed under the car’s rear spoiler.
Optional nineteen-inch wheels dress up the car’s exterior and provide a larger footprint for better cornering. Vented disc brakes in the front and solid rotors in the rear stop the RX 350 in a firm, linear fashion.
The car’s ground clearance is 7.3-inches, which makes it better suited to paved roads than off-road trails. However graded dirt roads are not a problem.
Lexus Enform provides hands-free route guidance
I used Lexus’ telematics system called Enform to download directions into the navigation system. The driver activates both the navigation system and Enform using a mouse-type device on the center console. The mouse is also easy to reach from the passenger position.
The driver selects an “assisted route guidance” prompt, and Enform dials up a remote operator, who can download directions to a given destination into the navigation system.
The navigation system uses split screen graphics at critical junctures such as turns and highway entrances or exits. It guided me through an area of road confusing area of road construction.
Versatile interiorStandard keyless entry and start saves the driver from fishing for the keys when entering the car. Keeping the chassis low to the ground makes access and egress as easy as for a passenger car.
The RX 350 seats up to five adults. Rear seats slide fore and aft to increase legroom for taller passengers or add to the cargo area. The seats also fold flat in a 40/20/40 fashion to extend the cargo floor.
I was impressed with how comfortable the middle second-row seat is, despite being narrow. Lack of a floor tunnel maximizes legroom for the center passenger. The optional DVD system on the test car has two seven-inch screens located in the front-seatbacks.
Both the driver and passenger get power seats with ample lumbar control. An option on the test car adds seat heaters and ventilators. Dual-zone climate controls keep both passengers comfortable in temperature extremes.
A standard power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel makes it easier for small drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag and a clear forward view. Redundant audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls minimize driver distraction.
Designers did an excellent job of providing storage space throughout the passenger cabin. A shelf under the center console is large enough to hold a small purse or pack. The large glovebox includes a shelf to separate the owner’s manual and other car documents from maps. The center console bin is large enough to hold a variety of electronic devices, DVDs and compact discs.
All passengers have ample access to cup and bottle holders. A USB port on the test car interfaces with an iPod. Menus appear on the car’s navigation screen. Twelve-volt power points enable passengers to recharge portable electronic devices on the go.
A power rear lift-gate on the test car makes it easier to load large cargo into the back. Standard roof rails enable the driver to add a bike or cargo rack up top. With the second-row seats folded flat, the RX 350 meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
This year Lexus adds smart stop technology to its roster of standard safety features. The system automatically cuts engine power when the driver depresses brake and accelerator pedals at the same time.
The Lexus RX 350 comes with front, side, side curtain, rear side and driver and front passenger knee airbags: a total of ten airbags. Other standard safety features include antilock braking, traction and stability control, daytime running lamps, and hill start assist. A first aid kit in the cargo area comes in handy for patching up the occasional scraped knee at the trailhead.
Lexus’ four year/50,000 comprehensive warranty includes complimentary roadside assistance.
Likes: A versatile crossover vehicle is ideal for active families. Available all-wheel drive gives the RX 350 better traction on rain and snow-covered roads.
Model: RX 350
Base price: $39,375
As tested: $52,774
Horsepower: 275 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 257 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 7.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Towing: Yes (all-wheel drive model only)
Fuel economy: 18/24 mpg city/highway
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