Thumbs Up: Part luxury crossover, part clubroom
Thumbs Down: Ride quality isn’t on par with the competition, expensive option packages
Buy This Car If: You want a crossover with SUV DNA in it
The Lexus RX350 was redesigned for the 2010 model year, but Lexus was very careful to not fix something that wasn’t broken. The RX 350 is the best selling mid-size luxury crossover, and with good reason: it gives buyers what they expect at a price they’re willing to pay. Until now, the RX 350 hasn’t seen serious competition, but the redesigned Cadillac SRX is having a noticeable impact on sales within the luxury crossover market.
Which is strange, really, because the two vehicles aren’t very similar behind the wheel. The Cadillac is a bit more comfortable and aimed at a more mature buyer. The Lexus, on the other hand, is a bit more sporting and seems to be designed with a younger buyer in mind. It really comes down to this: do you prefer the styling of the Lexus, or the Lexus badge, over the styling of the Cadillac and the Cadillac crest. Both vehicles are very good, but they’re very different and one test drive should be sufficient to determine which camp you’re in.
As for the exterior, the redesign didn’t change much. The shape of the RX 350 is instantly recognizable, and contribute quite a bit to the RX 350’s appeal. Simply put, it’s a good looking, if conservative, exterior design. The refresh widened the track and switched from 17” to 18” wheels, but aside from that I’d be hard pressed to call out any exterior differences unless I had a 2009 RX 350 parked alongside the 2010.
The inside of the RX 350 is where the crossover really shines. Opt for the luxury package, and rich leather covers the seats, which are supportive and all-day-long comfortable. Soft touch plastic on the dash is offset by aluminum colored trim in the center stack, and wood inserts are used on the door armrests, steering wheel and center console. I’m generally not a fan, but the wood inserts add to the clubroom atmosphere of the RX 350. You want to sit there, smoking cigars and drinking bourbon, while you close your latest business deal. Even the rear seats are a good place to spend time, since they recline and have their own A/C vents. For cargo flexibility, the rear seats can be split 40/20/40, and with the seats flat, the RX 350 has some 80 cubic feet of cargo room.
I have to say I’m not overly fond of the wooden inserts on the steering wheel, because they change the tactile feel of the steering wheel. I’d have been fine with all wood or all leather, but the shift between the two is distracting for spirited driving, as the wheel tends to grab your hand as it transitions from leather to polished wood. In a crossover or SUV, this really isn’t a big deal, but I’d really hate a similar design in anything with sporting intentions.
Environmental controls and basic setup of audio, phone and vehicle preferences are handled by Lexus’ Remote Touch controller, which should be intuitive to anyone who’s ever worked with a computer mouse. Some of the tasks (such as setting radio station presets) may require a review of the owner’s manual, but the basic operation of the stereo, nav, phone and HVAC controls is straightforward. The RX 350 I drove had steering wheel controls for the phone, nav, stereo and front corner cameras; at first, it’s a lot of icon-based buttons to absorb, but you get used to the functions quickly. The instrument pod is simple but functional, with a prominent tachometer and speedometer. Splitting the two is the vehicle information display, the gear indicator (since the six speed automatic can also be shifted manually) and the odometer. The temp gauge and the fuel gauge sit at the left and right corners of the cluster.
Another highlight of the interior is the optional Mark Levinson audio system, complete with 15 speakers. As you’d expect, it sounds superb and will rival most home stereo systems across a wide range of musical styles. As previously mentioned, setting the radio presets requires a consultation with your owner’s manual. Since you won’t be doing this often, it really isn’t a big deal, but I’d have preferred five or six preset buttons for convenience.
On the road, the RX 350 pulls harder than you expect a 4,200 pound vehicle with 275 horsepower would. Zero to sixty times are in the area of seven and a half seconds, respectable for a midsize crossover. Cargo capacity is 1,382 pounds, which should be more than sufficient to haul four or five people and their belongings. If you need more capacity, the RX 350 will tow a trailer up to 3,500 pounds. In my mixture of city and highway driving, the RX 350 returned 19.7 miles per gallon, on the low side of the EPA’s estimate of 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway.
The ride quality is firmer than you’d expect from a luxury crossover, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The RX 350 handles surprisingly well for a crossover with a high center of gravity, and steering feel is about what you’d expect. Remember, you’re not driving a sport sedan, but the RX 350 does give more driver feedback than others in the segment. If you want more still, go for the Sport package, which includes 19” wheels, summer only performance tires and a firmer suspension.
Opt for the AWD RX 350, like my tester, and you get the feeling that it’s more capable off road than most competitor’s AWD crossovers. Given the relatively high ground clearance the RX 350 offers, I see no problems with using it for the occasional drive along the beach or up that rutted dirt road to your mountain cabin. I wouldn’t suggest attempting the Rubicon Trail in an RX 350, but if you did it would likely get you farther than a GMC Terrain would.
The RX 350 scored very well in NHTSA crash testing, earning five stars in frontal crash tests for both driver and passenger, five stars in side impact crash testing for front and rear passengers and four stars in rollover testing. Front seat passengers get advanced front airbags, knee airbags, curtain airbags and side airbags. Rear seat passengers still get side curtain airbags and side airbags, and the RX 350 comes standard with electronic stability control. As you’d expect, the Lexus RX 350 earns a “Top Safety Pick” award from the IIHS.
The base price on my 2010 RX 350 AWD tester, including destination charge, was $39,900. Options included the $1,950 Comfort Package (HID headlamps, adaptive front lighting, intelligent high beams, rain sensing wipers, heated & ventilated front seats), the $4,900 Luxury Package (leather seating, moonroof, power retractable auto dimming mirrors, wood & leather steering wheel, wood & leather shift knob, wide angle side view cameras, 19” wheels with all-season tires, mini plug / USB audio in, power liftgate, illuminated scuff plates, headlamp cleaners), the $1,610 Mark Levinson audio system, the $2,465 Navigation System Package (DVD based nav system, Lexus Enform & eDestination, voice command, XM NavTraffic, XM NavWeather), the $59 cargo net and the $216 all weather mats. The total sticker for my tester came to $51,100.
After driving the RX 350, it’s pretty clear why this vehicle is the best seller within the midsize crossover segment. It does many things well and has a solid reputation for safety, durability and resale value. While the base price starts at a reasonable $38,500 for a front wheel drive RX 350, you need to choose your option packages carefully. A loaded, AWD RX 350 can easily top $60,000, and that’s a lot to pay for a vehicle in this segment. Still, legions of buyers and repeat buyers can’t be wrong, so if you’re in the market for a luxury crossover, you should definitely give the RX 350 a look.