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2004 Lexus RX330 Review - Bonus 10 Minute Detroit Press Preview Video

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Lexus RX330 2004- Surfs Not Up
CLICK2WATCH VIDEO - RX330 Introduction At Detroit Auto Show(Starts at 08:15 in ends 18:15)

    Think back to 1998. At that time, the norm for the entry-luxury 
sport-utility class was a traditional body-on-frame truck with extra 
appointments, in two- or four-wheel drive trim. Although such 
vehicles had truck strengths, especially towing and off-road ability, 
they also had truck drawbacks. Noise, vibration, and harshness 
(NVH), ride and handling, space efficiency, and step-in height were 
not necessarily pleasing to luxury car buyers.

Enter Lexus, with the RX300. When it debuted in 1998, the 
Lexus RX300 was a revelation and a revolution in the mid-sized 
luxury SUV class. Like many smaller ``crossover'' SUVs it was built 
on a modified unit-construction car chassis, with front- or all-wheel 
drive and fully-independent suspension for car-like NVH and ride 
and handling characteristics. But it also had the cargo-carrying 
ability, high-eyepoint driving position and good ground clearance 
that made sport-utilities popular. If it wasn't capable of extreme off-
road travel and couldn't tow twice its weight, that didn't seem to 
matter. About 370,000 RX300s were sold in the next five years and 
the luxury crossover segment was created. As an added benefit for 
anyone who really did need a luxury truck, the truck-based 
competitors were forced to become more refined as well.
Five years is a long time, and, although RX300 sales remained 
strong right into 2003, Lexus no longer has the field to itself. So, to 
no one's surprise, the RX330 debuts for 2004. It is an obvious 
evolution of the RX300, larger in size and power yet more efficient 
and less expensive.

I've been driving a new RX330 for the past week, and it has been 
interesting. In a class where vehicles can age as quickly as the latest 
electronic gadget, the RX300 more than held its own. And so, with 
its uniquely Lexus mix of comfort, convenience, and style, the 
RX330 is likely to be its competition's worst nightmare. 

APPEARANCE: If, as is likely,  you can recognize an RX300, you'll 
recognize the RX330. In shape and style it is an evolution of the 
RX300. The 330 is noticeably longer, four inches in wheelbase and 
six in length, and also slightly wider and higher. The result of the 
size increase is, paradoxically, a leaner look from the chromed 
trapezoidal waterfall grille to the browed backlight. Both the 
triangularly-faired multi-element headlights and clear-covered 
taillights borrow contemporary style from Lexus's IS300 sports 
sedan. Slightly-raised bodywork instead of add-on lower cladding 
imparts a clean, elegant look to the sides, and moderate flares on the 
wheel arches continue the line of the plastic-clad bumpers. The 
windshield and backlight of the RX300 were radically-sloped for an 
SUV; the RX330's counterparts are even more so. The RX330 is a 
two-box SUV, but with no slabs and no 90-degree angles, the boxes 
are hard to see.

COMFORT: Inside as well as out, the RX330 builds on the style and 
strengths of its predecessor. In the center of the instrument panel is a 
prominent center stack, with the shift lever below allowing for space 
between the dash and the console, just as in the RX300. But the 
styling is more angular. The center stack trim and other interior 
pieces are silvery plastic material for the contemporary sport look, 
balanced for luxury by wood on the door handles and center 
console. Instrumentation is complete, and backlit for easy visibility in 
all lighting conditions. Attention to detail is a Lexus specialty, and 
shows in the RX not only in the first-rate fit and finish but in details 
like lighting for the front cupholders. There is more room inside the 
RX330 than in the 300, especially in the rear seat and cargo area. 
Hidden storage beneath the cargo floor adds security for small and 
medium-sized items. The rear seat cushion is split 60/40, with the 
back split 40/20/40 so passengers and long items like skis can to be 
carried simultaneously. It folds completely flat when necessary. Each 
side of the rear seat slides fore-and-aft, and the backs recline. There 
is good headroom and serious legroom. The front buckets are as 
comfortable and supportive as expected in a Lexus. And, of course, 
a long list of option packages including DVD-based entertainment 
and navigation systems and the Mark Levinson audiophile system 
allow an RX330 to be outfitted to any desired level of opulence. One 
item that is expected to be popular is the power-assisted tailgate, 
which can be operated by hand or by the remote fob. My test vehicle 
had that, and it is more than just a gimmick, although you'll still find 
yourself with too few hands at times.

SAFETY: The Lexus RX330 is built with a strong safety cell around 
the passenger compartment. Multi-stage front airbags are 
supplemented by side and side curtain airbags and a driver's knee air 
bag. The available ``Adaptive Front lighting System'' (AFS) swivels 
the headlights for improved night-time visibility.

ROADABILITY: Increased chassis rigidity, a longer wheelbase, and 
wider track improve the RX330's ride and handling over the 
RX300's already-high levels. With its unibody construction and fully-
independent suspension, there is no truck in the RX330's ancestry. 
Attention to aerodynamics and new sound-absorbing materials help 
make it almost as quiet as a Lexus ES300 luxury sedan. The optional 
air suspension, with which my test vehicle was equipped, allows 
changes in ride height from 5.9 inches at rest for easy access to over 
8 inches at low speeds for clearance when navigating difficult 
driveways or moderate fire road use. Ride comfort, no surprise, is 
excellent, and also unsurprisingly the RX330 corners like a tall car, 
with less body roll than many other SUVs. The all-wheel drive 
system normally splits torque evenly between the front and rear 
axles, and uses electronic controls from the standard ``Vehicle 
Stability Control'' (VSC) system to redistribute power fore-and-aft 
and side-to-side when necessary. 

PERFORMANCE: As can be told from the name, the RX330's V6 
engine has grown to 3.3 liters. Like all Lexus engines, it is an 
aluminum alloy, dual overhead camshaft, four-valve-per-cylinder 
design. Its 230 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 242 horsepower at 
3,600 rpm are up 10 hp and 20 lb-ft from the RX300. Electronic 
throttle control and VVT-i variable valve timing help ensure quick 
throttle response and good fuel economy at all engine speeds. A new 
five-speed automatic transmission also helps performance and fuel 
economy. I found it to work very well, and rarely took advantage of 
the available manual shift mode except on steep, twisty roads. 

CONCLUSIONS: Lexus keeps a step ahead of the competition with 
its new 2004 RX330 sport-utility vehicle.

2004 Lexus RX330

Base Price			$ 35,025
Price As Tested		        $ 42,353
Engine Type			dual overhead cam aluminum alloy V6 
                                 with VVT-i variable valve timing
Engine Size			3.3 liters / x cu. in.
Horsepower			230 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			242 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled 
                                 automatic with manual shift mode (opt)
Wheelbase / Length		106.9 in. / 186.2 in.
Curb Weight			4,065 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        17.7
Fuel Capacity			19.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline 
                                 recommended for best performance
Tires				P235/55 VR18 Michelin Energy MXV4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
                                 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				 independent dual-link strut
				  adjustable-height air suspension 
Ground clearance(air suspension) normal: 7.1; high 8.3; low 6.5; 
                                  access 5.9
Drivetrain			front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 26 / 20
0 to 60 mph				7.8  sec
Towing capacity			        2000 lbs std, 3500 lbs with 
                                         towing package

Adaptive cruise control			        $  600
Multi-stage heated front seats and
 headlamp washers				$  540
Performance package - includes:
  graphite polished 18'' wheels with 235/55R18
  mud & snow tires, four-wheel air suspension,
  sequential shift automatic transmission, 
  power rear door, power tilt and telescope
  steering wheel with memory, high-intensity
  discharge (HID) headlamps with adaptive front
  lighting system (AFS), leather trim interior, 
  one-touch open/close moonroof, rain-sensing
  wipers					$ 5,455
Cargo mats					$    92
Wheel locks					$    66
Delivery charge				        $   575