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New Car/Review

Lexus RX 300

SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide

by Annabelle Frankl

Having driven the 2000-year model of the RX 300, I was interested to see what changes and improvements Lexus had come up with for 2001. Of course, I didn't expect any of my musings to have been included, but one can always hope! Alas, despite the same extremely high levels of both interior and exterior design and comfort, its handling is still lackluster. And it's such a shame, because the RX is otherwise such a pleasure to drive.

Quite frankly, you'd have to be deranged not to want to go for a spin after looking through the glossy Lexus brochure. Snowy terrain and sunsets, reassuring photos of all it's safety features, leather galore and slick instrumentation. OK, let's Go! But that's when one's infatuation with this sleek machine starts to become somewhat clouded. The 220 hp V6 isn't quite as punchy as you'd like, despite Variable Valve Timing, with intelligence, no less, which 'adjusts the intake timing as engine speed and load vary, optimizing engine performance across constantly changing driving conditions.' Cool. This is apparently further aided by the Acoustic Control Induction System, which 'ensures the RX 300 delivers power right when you need it'. Well, I think perhaps if the people at Lexus had spent a bit more time actually driving the car, rather than coming up with fancy terminology for what it is supposedly capable of, I wouldn't need to have this rant!

Really, rather, disappointing. And most definitely not ably aided by its suspension system. The independent Macpherson strut suspension, with coil springs, L-shaped lower arms, gas-pressurized shock absorbers and stabilizer bar (kitchen sink, anyone?) offers good cushioning over dodgy road surfaces, but god forbid you should encounter a corner. Yikes! You mean it's not all just straight lines? I mean, wasn't anyone zigging and zagging in and out of orange cones on the test course? Is it just me? Maybe I'm in need of cornering therapy!

I only go on about the poor road handling of this vehicle because it is otherwise so well put-together. It's roomy, comfortable, beautifully appointed, both inside and out. Lexus have added a navigation system - far better than the semi-useful driver computer panel from last year, which is easy to operate and, evidently, very handy. Optional in-dash 6-CD changer, 7-speaker premium system, 10-way adjustable power driver's seat, with memory system, 60/40 split rear seat, digital compass in the rearview mirror, tilt-adjustable steering column and lots more.

Safety features are numerous and include driver's and front passenger's airbags and front seat-mounted side-impact airbags, 4-channel ABS with brake assist (which automatically applies maximum braking boost when sensing a panic-stop situation), doorsill and pillar reinforcements, side-impact door beams, pinch protection for doors and moonroof and vehicle skid control, which monitors and helps to correct for side skid, modulates engine power and applies individual brakes to help in excessive understeer or oversteer situations. (So, you'd be hard pushed to have fun on a skid-pan, but it means you're going to feel a lot more secure driving up to any snowy peaks, a la brochure.)

I can see why the RX 300 is popular. It's has a luxurious appearance, with all the gadgets and apparent performance-related gizmos. It didn't live up to my expectations, but if you require a less aggressive responsiveness from your SUV, then this will surely be a front runner for you, bearing in mind that the price is relatively luxurious too, if one includes many of the options which made my 300 so (superficially) appealing.


Engine:          3.0 Liter V6 
HP:              220 @ 5,800
Torque:          222 @ 4,400
Transmission:    4-speed automatic Electronically
                 Controlled Transmission
Drivetrain:      Full-time 4-wheel drive w/ viscous
                 coupling center differential
Brakes:          4-wheel power-assisted discs,
                 w/ 4-sensor, 4-channel ABS
Suspension:      Independent Macpherson struts 
                 w/ coil springs, gas-pressurized
                 shocks, stabilizer bar, plus L-shaped
                 lower arms (front) and dual links,
                 strut rods (rear)

Base Price:      $31,420

Navigation Pkg:  $5,370
  Includes...    leather trim package, memory driver seat,
                 electrochromic rear and side-view mirrors,
                 programmable garage door opener,
                 air-filtration system, in-dash 6-CD changer,
                 power moonroof, leather & wood steering wheel,
                 HID headlamps, Nakamichi premium audio system,
                 navigation system

For additional information about the Lexus RX 300: