LEXUS RX 350 REVIEW
Since launch, the Lexus RX range of luxury SUVs has been a mainstay of the Lexus line-up. Its refinement, build quality and cosseting luxury, not to mention its enticing sticker price, has won it a good following as a premium town-based SUV.
The current-gen model has been in showrooms since early 2009 and boasts an array of refinements over the previous RX 350.
We hopped into a top-of-the-line Sport Luxury variant to put it through the wringer.
With the new model, Lexus has given things more than just a light nip-and-tuck. The engine has had some minor updates, but the suspension package is completely fresh.
The styling has also had a make-over, with perhaps mixed success, and the interior is all-new.
The Lexus Remote Touch interface for the onboard infotainment system is not only new for the model, but new for cars in general. The mouse-like controller has haptic feedback and is a more intuitive system that other multimedia controllers.
Dimensionally, the RX 350 has grown in length and width, while overall height has dropped. The wheelbase is longer by 25mm compared to the last model and the cabin floor is lower, boosting interior space.
The centre of gravity is also closer to terra firma now, and Lexus claims roadholding has improved markedly as a result.
What’s the appeal?
The styling update slightly freshens up the RX 350’s exterior, but the availability of new and improved gadgetry is perhaps the 2010 model’s biggest drawcard.
The improvements to the powertrain package are not apparent at the wheel, however the revised suspension package and better ride delivers more tangible benefits to driver and passengers.
What features does it have?
As the range-topper, our Sports Luxury specification test car was loaded with electronic equipment.
Standard features of the RX 350 Sports Luxury include 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cornering headlamps, heated auto-dimming rear view mirrors, a side-view camera for keeping an eye on kerbs, radar cruise control, heated and cooled seats, a heads-up display and voice-recognition controls.
That’s in addition to the dual-zone climate control, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, satellite navigation, 10-way adjustable front power seats and 12-speaker stereo with 6-disc in-dash CD stacker.
Disappointingly though, the audio system does not have a USB input for music players, only a conventional auxillary jack hidden in the depths of the centre console box.
What’s under the bonnet?
Toyota’s versatile 3.5 litre petrol V6 (codenamed 2GR-FE) is the RX 350’s sole powerplant, and is only offered with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
The engine prefers to run on 95 octane fuel, and produces a reasonably healthy 204kW at 6200rpm and 346Nm at 4700rpm. Compared to the previous model, power, torque, fuel economy and emissions performance are all improved, and 90 percent of peak torque is available between 2300rpm and 6100rpm.
However, the gains are modest – power is up by only 1 kilowatt, and torque rises just 4 Newton-metres.
Under normal driving conditions, power is directed to the front wheels. In slippery conditions however, the RX’s all-wheel drive system can direct up to 50 percent of drive to the rear axle, or be locked in a 50:50 torque split via a button on the dash.
Suspension hardware consists of MacPherson struts at the front and a trailing-arm type double-wishbone setup at the rear, with the 2010 RX 350’s rear suspension completely different to that of its predecessor.
The front suspension has also undergone a vast array of refinements, while front and rear track widths have grown. Braking hardware is much bigger too, with ventilated discs at the front and solid discs at the rear.
How does it drive?
The engine, as in other Toyota/Lexus products, is a silky smooth unit with plenty of power and ample torque. The RX 350 may be a heavy beast, but the willing V6 and six-speed auto rarely have any issues getting it up to speed – provided the accelerator is given a decent shove.
The gearbox smoothly slurs gear changes, and the tiptronic mode isn’t too slow with slotting in driver-selected ratios.
Brake feel is solid and progressive, and the upgraded hardware handled prolonged downhill stretches without fading.
It’s not terribly agile through a corner - there is a fair degree of bidy roll - but the RX 350 feels better controlled and more securely 'planted' than the Toyota Kluger, with which it shares its basic platform.
The electro-mechanical steering is pretty lifeless, but the tiller requires little effort.
Dynamically speaking though, the Lexus still lags behind its European competition.
While ride quality is supple enough to satisfy most luxury SUV buyers (it is a bit jiggly over rough roads though), there’s little sporting pedigree in the chassis. Without doubt, BMW’s X5 still holds a considerable advantage in this area.
The 19-inch wheels and low-profile rubber of the Sports Luxury adds a bit of a sharper edge to the ride, but generally speaking the suspension tune is comfortable. NVH suppression is excellent too, and the cabin is serenely quiet even over coarse asphalt.
Rearward vision isn’t great in the RX 350, and the thick D-pillars and high beltline can obscure objects around the car.
Accordingly, the parking sensors and reversing camera are definitely a boon when negotiating cramped carparks, and the side view monitor helps prevent scrubbing a wheel against the kerb while parallel parking.
The turning circle is good for a car of such proportions, and the 2010 RX 350 hasn’t grown to the extent that it’s unwieldy in urban traffic.
What did our passengers think?
Both front seats are very accommodating, generously padded and flawlesly trimmed. And having both heated AND cooled seats is a nice touch. It's premium transport - no complaints here.
The rear seats slide fore and aft to enable maximum boot space or maximum legroom (or anywhere inbetween), and rear legroom is definitely plentiful with the seats pushed all the way back.
Because of the RX 350’s tapering roofline, taller passengers may find rear headroom a bit tight.
Despite the growth in external dimensions, the RX’s cabin still isn’t quite wide enough for three adults to sit across the rear bench in comfort. The centre seatback is also quite firm, and not entirely suitable for long drives.
There are at least plenty of cupholders and decent ventilation for the rear seat, and keeping children happier on long hauls can be made easier with the addition of optional seatback–mounted DVD players.
Interior quality and feel
The Lexus definitely feels upmarket, but the overall ambience is quite different to that of its German competitors.
High-quality leather, plastics and wood are used throughout the Lexus’ cabin, but the overall finish is a bit clinical and devoid of personality. A lot of switchgear is also straight out of Toyota’s massive parts bin, which doesn’t help.
At least everything is screwed together tightly, and there was nary a rattle or squeak to be heard during our time with the RX 350. The RX feels very robust; the impression of the interior is that it will last a long time.
The partially wood-rimmed steering wheel wasn’t to our taste however, and the leather – although supple – was already showing signs of creasing on the outer bolsters.
With the 40/20/40 split-fold rear seats in place, there’s a total of 375 litres of cargo capacity in the RX 350’s boot.
Folding the backrests down liberates more room, but thanks to its sloping roofline and the shallow rake of the rear glass, the RX 350 is nowhere near as capacious as the Toyota Kluger, with which it shares a platform.
Folding the rear seats is a cinch though, and can be done via a lever on the side of each outboard seat-bolster or by pulling one of the handles mounted in the boot space. An electric tailgate adds some extra convenience.
There are door bins front and rear, as well as a small cubby hole underneath the gear selector. The centre console box has three tiers, and removing the second bin reveals a huge storage area – and a couple of 12-volt power outlets.
How safe is it?
The Lexus RX 350 features a total of eight airbags (front, front side, rear side and full-length curtain), along with three-point seatbelts and ISOFIX child seat anchorages.
Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are all standard across the range. The Sport and Sport Luxury benefit from Lexus’ pre-collision system, which can detect an oncoming crash through the active cruise control’s radar system and pretension seatbelts, move seats and close windows to improve crash survivability.
The RX range has yet to be tested by ANCAP and Euro NCAP, however the USA’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has rated it as their ‘Top Safety Pick’.
Fuel consumption and green rating
Lexus claims the 2010 RX 350 achieves 10.8 l/100km on the combined cycle – 0.4 l/100km better than the previous model. However, after our week with the car we averaged 13.6 l/100km over an even mix of highway and suburban driving.
At a high-speed cruise, fuel economy was good. However, the cut-and-thrust of suburban driving coupled with the RX 350 Sport Luxury’s 2085kg kerb weight made for a pretty heavy thirst.
The government’s Green Vehicle Guide rates the RX 350 5-stars out of 10 for greenhouse gas emissions, with a 5.5 star rating for particulate emissions. Lexus says the RX 350 emits an average of 254 g/km of CO2.
How does it compare?
The smaller Volvo XC60 is an attractive package and in range-topping T6 form it’s over $20,000 cheaper than the RX 350 Sports.
Meanwhile the Range Rover Sport TDV6 costs about the same as the RX 350 Sports Luxury, but possesses a better powertrain, better dynamics and genuine off-road ability.
The Land Rover Discovery 4 is another worthy competitor, and aside from having seven seats (as opposed to the Lexus’ five), it’s cheaper than the RX 350 Sports Luxury even when in range-topping V8 HSE trim.
But, the RX 350 Sports Luxury has significantly more technology packed into its frame, and there’s little in the way of expensive option lists (a common criticism of the German offerings).
On the balance though, our pick of the ‘Luxury SUV’ segment would have to be the Range Rover Sport.
Lexus offers a 48-month vehicle warranty, with a 48-month paint warranty.
A total of eight colours are available for the RX 350, including White Pearl, Blue Pearl, Metallic Silver, Metallic Beige, Vermillion (burgundy), Graphite (dark silver), Sapphire (navy blue) and Onyx (black).
The RX 350 range starts at $82,900 (before on-road costs) for the entry-level Prestige, rising to $89,900 for the mid-spec Sports and topping out at $97,900 for the tech-laden Sports Luxury that we tested.
With its modernised exterior, interior technology and improved mechanical package, the 2010 Lexus RX 350 is a solid step up from the last-gen model.
There are some quirks with the interior packaging, but on the whole the RX is extremely well-built and exudes a feel of lasting quality.
The ride is comfortable - exclusive even - the powertrain willing and the part-time all-wheel drive system provides peace of mind when on the dash to the snow.
With a retail pricetag nudging the $100,000 mark the Sports Luxury model is an expensive option.
However, compared to other offerings in the same price segment, the RX 350's high level of standard equipment and renowned Lexus build-quality adds to the value equation.
It's more 'boulevard SUV' than versatile off-roader, but its premium feel will continue to tip buyers its way.