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Lexus RX300 4WD (2000)

SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 33,905
     Price As Tested                                    $ 38,659
     Engine Type              DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     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                                     3949 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  17.2 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                225/70R16 mud-and-snow SR-rated          
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                    Front-engine/all-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.36


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/22/21          
     0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
     Maximum payload capacity                         880 pounds
     Maximum towing capacity                        3,500 pounds
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

The Lexus RX 300 is based on a concept vehicle that the company unveiled in 1997. It gave a preview of SUVs to come and we're just now seeing some of those design features becoming mainstream.

It comes in two-or-four-wheel drive, and in just a single fully-loaded trim level. This week we test the four-wheel-drive version.

OUTSIDE - Lexus designers opted for an avant garde look for the RX 300. Its nose is shovel-shaped, with faired-in headlight covers that house small, round headlights. A swept-back grille and sharply-raked windshield sweep up and over a rounded roof line and forward-raked rear roof pillars. Not much has changed since the 1998 model arrived, but new options for 2000 are a Mineral Green exterior color, an optional rear spoiler and a new roof rack. Sixteen-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels are standard, while light-duty all-season tires are standard as well.

INSIDE - The RX 300 sits higher than the average sedan, but the cabin floor is low. This makes climbing inside easy. An extremely comfortable pair of bucket seats are provided for those in the front, while the split folding rear seats hold three across. The rear seats also slide fore and aft for more cargo space, and recline for weary passengers. The dashboard is uniquely-shaped, with the center console dropping off a main instrument panel that houses bright electroluminescent gauges. A slide-out storage box conveniently pulls from below the center console. With the rear seats in its upright position, there is 30 cubic feet of cargo space and with the seat down, an additional 50 cubic feet becomes usable. Standard features include electronic climate control, an AM/FM/cassette stereo, variable-speed intermittent wipers, power windows, mirrors and door locks, power seats, rear ventilation ports, a rear window defogger and heated outside mirrors. A powerful Nakamichi-brand stereo is optional.

ON THE ROAD - The RX 300 is powered by an all-aluminum, 24-valve, 3.0 liter V6 engine that features a variable valve timing system. This works in conjunction with a three-stage intake system and a two-way bypass exhaust system to produce 220 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque. Eighty percent of its maximum torque comes at a low 1,600 rpm, which is power that comes in handy in the real world. Our 0-60 mph acceleration time of about nine seconds is quite impressive for a 4000-plus pound SUV, and there always seemed to be enough power available. And to counteract vibrations, a special motor mount system sends out pulses identical to, but opposite to, those created by the engine. The result is one of the smoothest SUV powerplants on the road. Mated to this is one choice of transmission, a four-speed automatic. The all-wheel drive system on the RX 300 uses a viscous limited-slip center differential that requires no driver input. In normal conditions, engine power is split 50/50 between the front and the rear axles, but when sensors detect wheelspin, up to 95 percent of the available power can be sent to either end. And to further enhance traction capabilities, a limited-slip rear differential is optional.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The RX 300 rides on a unibody chassis that is stiff and rigid - a platform that provides excellent isolation of the powertrain from the cabin. Its four-wheel independent suspension system uses MacPherson struts up front and Chapman struts in back. Front and rear subframes support the powertrain and provide solid attachments for the suspension hardware. Bumps and jolts are virtually non-existent, while ample ground clearance allows the all-wheel drive version to tackle all but the most demanding off-road situations. The steering system is light, enjoyable and communicative, while four-wheel disc brakes are standard. Also standard is an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual dashboard and side-impact airbags, ABS and side-impact door beams are standard.

OPTIONS - In-dash CD changer: $1,080; power sunroof: $1,000; Premium Package: (leather upholstery, driver's seat memory settings, auto-dimming mirrors, HomeLink universal transmitter, pollen filter) $1,920; roof rack: $183; cargo mat: $76.