Head of the class

Head of the class

The Lexus RX 350 remains a top contender

By Greg Rubenstein

For two decades, two sport utility vehicles have defined their respective segments-both shaping the automotive landscape as the categories they helped to create became mainstays of consumer preference. Both introduced in 1999, Cadillac’s Escalade became de rigueur for upscale soccer moms, realtors, and high-end toy-haulers, while Lexus’ RX was (and is) the quintessential choice for premium buyers migrating from mid-size sedan to SUV.
Now 20 model years on from its debut, today’s RX 350 is three years into its fourth generation, and continues to exude the qualities that have kept it a market leader. In a crowded field filled with at least 25 competitors, the RX 350 stands out as a style leader-a position especially ironic as for years the critique of this Lexus was design, which was generously described as bland. From the front, an aggressive Lexus-signature “spindle” grille sets the tone, flowing aft with a mix of curves and sharp creases, punctuated by distinctive, horizontal ( or laid backward) L-shaped lighting elements front and rear which echo the stylized L centerpiece of Lexus’ logomark.
Inside, fit and finish is impeccable, with quality surfaces featuring leather and soft-touch plastics all around. With room for five adults, contrast stitching on the supple leather seating surfaces is repeated on the leather-trimmed dash, helping to create an elegant interior which boasts excellent ergonomics, unobstructed sightlines, and switchgear that both falls readily to hand and offers an optimum balance of weight and resistance; the Swiss clock-like tenor is a nice touch, too.
Motivated bya 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the RX 350 is available in either all-wheel-drive or front-wheel drive. EPA-rated at 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and23 mpg combined, the sampledAWD model also included “F SPORT” trim, a factory add-on package which features a bounty of aesthetic and performance enhancements.

A major F SPORT highlight is Lexus’ adaptive variable suspension with Drive Mode Select. This system offers the ability to choose distinct behind-the-wheel experiences, ranging from an economy¬optimized setting favoring maximum fuel efficiency with a soft ride and smoothest response to throttle and steering input, to a performance-optimized setting which delivers sharp throttle response, tight suspension damping and fast steering response, made possible by an electric variable power steering system. Other F SPORT up¬grades include exclusive 10-spoke, 20-inch diameter wheels, blackout mesh grille and side mirrors, an enhanced chin spoiler, and distinctive badging throughout.

F SPORT interior enhancements include bolstered seats, perforated leather-wrapped shift lever, exclusive three-spoke sport steering wheel, aluminum trim accents, lightweight aluminum pedals, and an eight-inch LCD instrument which combines a tachometer, digital speedometer, and real-time dynamic data, including G-force metrics, torque distribution, and navigation information.

Experience-a sound generator carries air intake pulsations into the cabin, creating a stirring symphony of engine acoustics. The system is active under full-throttle acceleration, so keeping things sotto voce is as simple as an easy application of the gas pedal.

Features standard to all RX trims include 10-way power adjust¬able front seats, dual-zone automated climate system, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel with integrated multifunction controls, personal-setting vehicle controls including preferences for door locks, interior and exterior lighting, windows and driver’s seat, plus acoustic glass windshield, and a multifunction infotainment system with eight-inch touchscreen display.

A premium package adds in power-folding auto-dimming mirrors with memory, wood trim (except with F SPORT), enhanced leather seats, rear armrest with storage box, and driver seat memory. A luxury package includes the premium goodies, plus panorama glass roof, heated and ventilated front seats, heated wood steering wheel, and semi-aniline leather trimmed seating. The optional navigation system provides a 12.3-inch multifunction touchscreen with voice control, and 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound upgrade.

Other available options included on the sample RX were triple¬beam LED headlights, panoramic view, and blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic braking and parking assist, a power tilt-and-slide moonroof with accompanying aluminum roof cargo rails, and a carpeted cargo mat.

From a base price of$51,525, the as-tested RX 350 came in at $59,715. Equipped in F SPORT trim with a few choice options, there’s no wonder why this just-right-sized SUV is a class leader. It offers an optimum combination of sporty performance, curb appeal, and luxury touches.

Greg Rubenstein is a freelance automotive journalist and deputy editor for izoom.com, an auto-enthusiast website. He’s been writing about and racing cars for over 25 years.

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