2010 Lexus RX 350 Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2010 Lexus RX 350
Once, there were no luxury crossovers. That was back in the days of old, before Lexus invented the now-popular genre with the debut of the RX 300 back in model year 1998. Competition soon ensued, but Lexus kept ahead with the second generation RX in 2004, and with it the first hybrid luxury crossover in the form of the RX400h. With over one million Lexus RX models sold, one might think Lexus would rest on its laurels.
Not a chance. The third-generation RX made its entrance as an early-release 2010 vehicle back in February as the RX 350. The RX 450h hybrid version soon followed. I drove both when they were introduced to the press back in January, and at that time concentrated on the hybrid. Which has some significant upgrades in both drivetrain technology and passenger convenience. But the RX 350 shares most of the improvements not directly related to the hybrid drive system, and is expected to be the volume seller in the line, so I chose that for the RX with which to spend a week. No regrets. Under the sleek new styling is a revised namesake 3.5-liter V6 engine with a little more horsepower -- 275 versus the previous 270 -- a fatter torque curve for better driving characteristics, and matched to a new six-speed multi-mode automatic transmission. Lexus's VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) safety and handling technology, which integrates all electronic stability and safety systems, is now available in the RX 350, and remains standard equipment in the RX 450h. The optional adaptive front lighting system has been enhanced, and there is a new automatic high-beam system. The chassis has been revised in order to make the RX more of a driver's car, with a new double-wishbone rear suspension that improves handling response and allows a little more room in the cargo area. Electrically-assisted power steering and larger brakes help, too.
But the biggest changes are inside. There's styling continuity with previous generations, great ergonomics and comfort for all passengers, and more storage space. The star feature is the trackball controller for the optional navigation system. Of all the various gadgets I've seen for interior systems control, this is the simplest and most intuitive to use.
Both the RX 350 and RX 450h are offered in front- or all-wheel drive form. The 350 get a new electronically-controlled "Active Torque Control AWD" system that is lighter and more efficient than the old viscous coupling. As before, the AWD system in the hybrid is a separate rear-axle motor-generator that is put online when needed.
My week with a well-equipped front-wheel drive RX 350 was as pleasant as expected. It's a roomy crossover at the SUVish end of that spectrum, but there is no truck in its heritage or character. The driving experience is pure car, Lexus luxury car at that, and the drivetrain improvements make it smoother and quieter than earlier versions. Even without the 400h's hybrid system, the RX 350 has an "Eco Driving" light and fuel efficiency meter to train its driver in high-mileage driving technique. Add in the Lexus style and cachet, and the RX is still the class benchmark.
APPEARANCE: You could be forgiven for not immediately recognizing the 2010 RX as different from a 2009. Lexus has further developed the second-generation style for the third, but it's far more evolutionary than revolutionary. The wheelbase is less than an inch longer, overall length is up just over an inch, as is width, and height is up marginally. A broader shoulder line and more-raked windshield and backlight and C-pillars give it a look that is on the sport side of sport-utility, despite the roof rails. The low height of the passenger cabin relative to the shoulder line emphasizes that. The sculpted hood, waterfall grille, and long, pointed headlights bring "L-finesse" styling to the next level. Taillights reprise the headlight shape. The plastic "skid plates" underneath are more for on-road aerodynamics than off-road driving.
COMFORT: Coddling of the passengers is expected of a Lexus, and in the RX the will be coddled. Walk up to it at night, with the "key" fob in your pocket, and courtesy lights in the outside mirrors light the area around the doors. Touch the door handle to enter, unlocking is automatic. Inside, the look is familiar, and much-copied, but like the outside has been further developed. There are two "zones" - the "display zone" for driver and passenger information, and the "operation zone" for controls. Display is enhanced by bright, easily-read instruments and information displays, and careful positioning of the display screen for the climate, audio, and optional navigation systems. Control of the information system is by a switch on the steering wheel; audio, climate, and navigation systems are controlled with the trackball-like "Remote Touch" device on the console. Or voice for the nav system. Haptic feedback in the Remote Touch device gives the driver tactile feedback and guidance while navigating information menus. It's simple to use and adds to the Lexus experience. A new option fitted to my test car was a heads-up display for speed, navigation, or audio data. Other manufacturers have used similar systems for years, but Lexus does it very well, with a bright but non-distracting display. Front seat comfort is, as expected, top-notch, with standard 10-way power adjustment including lumbar. The steering wheel is power-adjustable for both tilt and reach, for perfect fit for all drivers. Important forward quarter visibility is enhanced by small windows under the A-pillars, ahead of the rear-view mirrors. If the console box looks small, what you first see is only a removable false floor, with much more space -- and a USB port. minijack, and two power points. Second row is not second class, as there is plenty of room there, improved by a 60/40 split of both the cushion and seatback that allows separate fore-and-aft manual adjustment for improved legroom in addition to the usual seatback folding. A shade hides cargo, and there is a small but useful amount of space under the cargo floor, above the space-saver spare tire.
SAFETY: The 2010 Lexus RX protects its passengers with a strong structure designed to effectively manage crash energy. There are 10 standard airbags - dual front and front side, rear-seat side, side curtains, and front knee. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, and the Vehicle Stability Control system are all standard. They can be further linked together with the VDIM system. Hill-start assist control keeps the car in place on grades, in forward and reverse. Adaptive front lighting, automatic high-beam detection, and the Pre-Collision System are all available.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The new RX's rigid structure and redesigned, fully-independent strut front, double wishbone rear suspension give the moderately soft but well-damped ride that Lexus drivers expect. Soundproofing is (of course) excellent, for very low noise levels, for a relaxing driving experience. The electric power steering gives a moderate, not too light, touch, for good control. Response to driver inputs is good, as are the brakes.
PERFORMANCE: More power without more thirst? A good deal, and the RX manages with new intake and exhaust manifolds for better breathing, VVT-i variable cam phasing independently on all four camshafts, variable intake runner length, and redesigns of valve gear to reduce frictional losses. The result is 275 horsepower at 6200 rpm, up from 270, and 256 lb-ft of torque at 4700 rpm -- with 90 percent of that available from 2300 to 6100 rpm. Which means power, now, no waiting. And no need to wind the engine anywhere near redline, which improves economy. A six-, rather than the previous five-speed automatic transmission further improves both performance and economy, and features both sophisticated computer control and manual shift mode. Forward motion is effortless, and if you follow the guidance of the "Eco Driving" light and bar graph display, it can also be commendably fuel-efficient.
CONCLUSIONS: Lexus moves its benchmark target forward with the third-generation RX luxury crossover.
2010 Lexus RX 350
Base Price $ 36,800 Price As Tested $ 49,825 Engine Type aluminum alloy DOHC V6 with VVT-i variable cam phasing on all camshafts Engine Size 3.5 liters / 211 cu. in. Horsepower 275 @ 6200 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 256 @ 4700 rpm Transmission 6-speed multi-mode automatic Wheelbase / Length 107.9 in. / 187.8 in. Curb Weight 4340 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.8 Fuel Capacity 19.2 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline for optimum performance Tires P235/55 R19 101V Bridgestone Dueler Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, VSC standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 25 / 21 0 to 60 mph 7.4 sec Towing Capacity 3500 lbs. with towing package OPTIONS AND CHARGES Comfort Package - includes: bi-xenon HID headlamps, adaptive lighting system, intelligent high beam, rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats $ 2,000 Heads-up display $ 1,200 Accessory connector: two-prong 120VAC outlet $ 100 Luxury Package - includes: semi-analine leather trim, one-touch open/close moonroof, power retractable electrochromic outside mirrors, wood and leather steering wheel and shift knob, wide-angle side-view monitor, 19" alloy wheels with mud & snow tires, MP3 mini-plug w/USB audio plug, power rear door, illuminated scuff plates, headlamp cleaner $ 4,800 Mark Levinson 15-speaker audio system $ 1,610 Navigation System: includes: hard disc drive navigation system with voice command, backup monitor, XM NavTraffic & NavWeather (includes 90-day trial subscription) $ 2,440 Delivery charge $ 875