When Lexus introduced the RX 300 in 1998 it was one of the first midsize luxury crossover vehicles, and it established a benchmark for others to follow. Because it was built on a car chassis, it rode, drove and handled much like a sedan, yet it had the flexibility, versatility and high seating position of an SUV. The formula proved to be popular, and now, four generations later, we have the 2017 RX 350.
As you can imagine, the RX 350 has grown over the years. The first-generation vehicle was actually fairly snug inside, whereas this model has plenty of room for five plus a good-sized cargo space. The rear seat has more than enough legroom for adults, and there is good headroom too. My wife and I took another couple on two-hour highway trip, and my backseat passengers remarked about how comfortable they were.
Lexus is known for building vehicles that are vault quiet and butter smooth with quality materials and an high level of fit and finish. The RX certainly lives up to those qualities, but it seems to me that the Lexus signature styling, punctuated by sharp angles, creases, bulges and a spindle grille that looks like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a Darth Vader mask, is not what I would expect to find on a luxury vehicle aimed at a generally mature audience. I’m fairly certain that today’s styling is an attempt to establish a more youthful persona for the brand. That said, styling is subjective and whether I like it is purely personal. Customers keep coming and that’s what counts.
The RX is offered in front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Prices start at $43,120 and top out at $44,520. The F Sport starts at $49,920 for front-wheel drive and $50,420 for all-wheel drive. The all-wheel-drive hybrid RX 450h is $50,035 and the F Sport is $56,645. I drove an all-wheel-drive F Sport from the Lexus press fleet.
The 3.5-liter twin-cam V-6 engine has variable valve timing and 295 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine is smooth, strong and quiet when cruising.
The all-wheel drive system is biased toward front-wheel drive during normal driving, shifting power to all wheels via a rear differential when conditions require more traction. Up to 50 percent of available torque can be sent to the rear wheels. This system also helps the vehicle during cornering.
The interior of the RX has first-rate materials and a high level of fit and finish. The 10-way power front seats were comfortable and had support in all of the critical places. I didn’t get the least bit uncomfortable after two hours behind the wheel.
Lexus does an excellent job of reducing wind and road noise, things that can be tiresome on a long drive. The lack of noise also promotes a feeling of quality. The RX may not be quite as quiet as the top LS luxury sedan but it was easy to carry on a conversation with backseat passengers at highway speeds. The split-folding rear seat reclines, and the rear hatch, with power liftgate, is not only easy to use but also large enough to carry more than a couple of suitcases.
An LCD screen sits atop the instrument panel displaying audio and navigation information. A mouse-like controller on the center console operates it but there are also redundant knobs and buttons on the instrument panel. The steering wheel has fingertip controls for hands-free phone use as well as audio.
Standard safety equipment includes blind-spot monitoring, lane departure alert with steering assist, adaptive cruise control, intelligent high beams, traction control, brake assist and hill start assist.
Lexus has raised the bar with the fourth-generation RX, creating a vehicle that is roomy, quiet, powerful and as comfortable as a luxury sedan.
2017 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Engine: 3.5-liter, 295-horsepower V-6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 109.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,387 pounds
Base price: $50,420
As driven: $59,475
MPG rating: 19 in the city, 26 on the highway