New Car/Review

1999 Lexus RX300 4WD

By Matt/Bob Hagin

Lexus Full Line factory footage (10:11) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 32,950
     Price As Tested                                    $ 38,809
     Engine Type      VVT-i* DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SPFI**
     Engine Size                                 183 cid/2995 cc
     Horsepower                                   220 @ 5800 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               222 @ 4400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  103.1"/71.5"/180.1"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3921 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  17.2 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     225/70SR16
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                    Front-engine/all-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                               Five percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.36

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            19/22/21         
     0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
     Maximum towing capacity                         3500 pounds
     *  Variable valve timing, intelligent
     ** Sequential port fuel injection

(Bob Hagin says that the classy new Lexus RX 300 4-by-4 isn't a true "wheeler," but his son Matt says that the company is smart enough to understand the market segment this slick SUV is targeting.)

BOB - If I had to describe the new all-wheel-drive Lexus RX 300 that we have this week, I'd call it a tall, luxurious, all-weather station wagon with lots of ground clearance. I think I'd have to add that it's almost a sports sedan, since it can hit 60 MPH in a little over eight seconds. I'd draw the line at calling it a sportster since it's a bit too top-heavy for tossing through corners. But I don't think it can be considered a true SUV, since it's based on the driveline, platform and underpinnings of the Lexus ES 300 sedan and the Toyota Camry.

MATT - Its 3.0 liter V6 engine is actually an upgrade of the unit that's in the ES 300, Dad. The engines are similar, but the one in the RX utilizes a continual full-time variable valve train that helps it put out 220 horses and 222 pounds/feet of torque. And its strong pulling power can be felt from an engine speed as low as 1600 RPM. There's also a front-wheel-drive-only version of the RX 300, and the factory expects to sell a majority of these in the fair-weather states. But the AWD model is ideal for the family that lives in regions that have ice on the roads during winter. A viscous coupling differential is located behind the four-speed automatic transmission and it automatically splits the power between the four driving wheels as needed in bad weather. It also has a "snow start" system that forces the vehicle to start in a higher gear to avoid wheel spin during acceleration on ice and snow.

BOB - Ice and snow is the RX forte but you won't find many RX 300s boulder-crawling, Matt. It have the traditional SUV truck frame or transfer case to go into an ultra-low gear. The RX 300 is a luxury car, and to keep up the smooth, quiet Lexus tradition, the company goes to such extremes as motor mounts that have a built-in system to dampen vibrations during idle. Even the parking brake uses a sedan-like left-side pedal, rather than a center-mounted lever like so many other of its genre. The split rear seats are wide enough to squeeze in three adults and keep them relatively comfortable. The seat is unique in that each side can be individually moved forward or back, or reclined, if needed. The front seats are heated and both offer power adjustments. The optional Premium Package adds leather upholstery, a programmable garage door opener and an automatic climate control system with a micron air filter that has a replaceable cartridge.

MATT - The RX 300 has quite a few other high-class features, too, Dad. The headlights not only shut themselves off when the engine is stopped and the driver's door is opened, but they turn themselves on at night or when the vehicle goes through a dark area such as a tunnel. There's a gauge on the dash that reads the outside temperature, and a clock with a built-in warning alarm. It doesn't ride like a typical truck-based SUV, either. The suspension is independent at all four corners and use MacPherson struts as a main component. The brakes are four-wheel discs, and anti-lock brakes are standard on both the all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive versions. My "panic" brake tests out on our unofficial test track were impressive, even it the rainy weather we had a few days ago.

BOB - For a luxury vehicle, this Lexus mid-sized SUV does a pretty good job of being a family workhorse, Matt. The one we're testing this week has a factory-installed tow package which includes a built-in trailer wiring system. The RX 300 can tow up to 3500 pounds with the towing kit, and to make sure it can do the job without any mechanical problems, the cooling system has an optional heavy-duty radiator and a transmission cooler. And with that V6 putting out 222 pound/feet of torque, pulling a small boat or trailer is no problem.

MATT - Dad, I have to be honest and tell you that I know all about the towing capacity of the Lexus RX 300. Our test week included several trips to the dumps with my utility trailer behind it, and to haul a bunch of stuff to my storage locker.

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