The Lexus RX was first introduced in 1998 as one of the first crossovers’, a mix between the sedan comfort and the SUV style. The RX brings together the luxurious Lexus style with the legendary reliability of Toyota SUVs. Originally built off the Toyota Camry/Lexus ES platform, the RX is a long time best seller for Lexus, and a benchmark to all other crossovers.
The RX350 is the second generation of the famous Lexus RX series.
Eleven years after its introduction, the RX recipe remains mostly unchanged. Over the course of its career, Lexus updated the RX with a more powerful engine (including a Hybrid version (400h)) and has added the latest high tech options (such as GPS and voice commands).
To keep its lead in the very competitive crossover market, Lexus just offered the RX a mild facelift, with a more powerful 3.5L engine and a name change (from RX330 to RX350).
The RX was born with a very distinctive style that made its success and initiated the whole crossover movement. Under those circumstances, it is of no surprise that the 2008 RX350 facelift only features minor details such as a new front grille, chrome handles and a slightly redesigned bumper featuring larger fog lamps. In fact, it is almost impossible to see any difference between the 2008 RX and earlier (2003) second-generation models.
In the very active luxury crossover market, competition has been busy trying to copy and beat the RX. Nevertheless, Lexus’ crossover is still up-to-date when compared against the BMW X3 or newly arrived Acura MDX. The reason might be that the RX style is more luxurious than sporty (and luxury vehicles tend to age better than sport cars).
Even after eleven years the main design is still very competitive and blends very well in the market.
Our 2008 RX offers the same interior as earlier model. It features the spacious and luxurious atmosphere that is Lexus’ signature.
The optional wood and leather steering wheel is absolutely perfect in its shape and design. The wood treatment is a welcomed detail in a vehicle priced on the higher end of the scale. The leather and plastic are made out of very good quality materials. Unfortunately, the center stack’s grey accents look too similar to the cheaper Toyota models. It doesn’t look bad but it isn’t great either. A cheap monochrome LCD is used for the digital clock and the sound system display, which also clashes with the rest of the interior. On a more positive note, Lexus is offering a very nice color touch screen LCD mounted atop of the console. The display controls the navigation system, audio settings, and climate control. It is fast and easy to understand. As you may know, this cannot be said about most of the competition. Our test vehicle came equipped with the Mark Levison sound system, providing impressive sound quality, free of distortion at any volume. We highly recommend it for audiophiles.
Below the main screen are a couple of buttons controlling the audio system and the automatic climate control in case you want to bypass the touch screen. Too bad Lexus decided not to keep the fan control in the center stack. Instead you have to navigate through the LCD screen menu to change the fan speed.
The transmission shifter is located in the lower part of the center console, a detail that brings a minivan feeling. However, it saves space and adds a storage compartment in between the seats.
The central glove box contains the mandatory cup holders and a large storage compartment. This compartment features a special spot to store DVDs for the optional ($1,740) rear passenger entertainment system.
The seats offer a good compromise between support and comfort. In addition, the electric steering column will allow any driver to find the best driving position. Even so, we would have appreciated electric pedal adjustments on such a pricey vehicle.
Overall, Lexus delivers a very luxurious interior typical of the brand reputation. Everything feels and looks upscale. We just hope the next RX generation will get rid of the hard grey plastic center stack for something a little bit more chic.
Our test vehicle is front-wheel drive, but a permanent all-wheel drive RX350 is also available for $1000 extra. We highly recommend the later if you intend to push the powerful engine. Otherwise, get ready for a slight, but annoying torque steer. The 3.5-liter V6 engine produces 270 horsepower at 6,200 rpm, and 251 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm. That is 50 more horsepower than the RX330, which was already potent. Nevertheless, the RX maintains a reasonable fuel economy of 17 city / 22 highway.
Behind the wheel, the driving position is very good, and the not too slanted windshield offers a good view of the road. The instrument cluster is particularly well designed. At night the floating needles lit up over a black background where only the number lit, thus offering a minimum amount of glare.
If you were not aware of the 270 horses under the hood and pushed the gas pedal as if you were in your mother’s minivan, you will immediately be gratified by a very powerful push and even tire squeals if you are not careful. The RX feels extremely powerful relative to its appearance. Past 3000 Rpms, it even emits a roaring sound that you wouldn’t expect in a crossover and reminds you that this vehicle has more power than a second generation M3. Don’t worry- it is much more comfortable than the BMW and a lot quieter. Still you might hear the engine a little more than you’d wish because the gearbox only offers 5 speed instead of 6 or even 7 (such as in Mercedes high end models). This results in a slower and more brutal downshift, as the engine needs to rev up much more to reach the next lower gear ratio. Even so, the engine is always fun to play with and has a reasonable driving attitude that always results in a very smooth driving experience. Steering and braking are on the heavy side compared to other luxury brands such as Mercedes. Not so heavy that you would be bothered, but surprising for a Lexus product, which target smooth ride lovers. In fact, these drivers will be pleased with the impressive suspension of the RX. It certainly is one of the best road imperfection absorbers we have driven in the category. The bumps we tried to avoid while driving other cars are unnoticeable when you drive the RX350. The high center of gravity can give a bouncing sensation on sharp corners, but the feeling of control and comfort is certainly the best reason to spend some extra cash on the RX350.
The Lexus RX350 is an extremely well rounded vehicle. It offers the trendy crossover look within a rewarding Lexus appearance. After a few days driving the RX350, we understand why every other car manufacturer considers it as the benchmark to beat; great finish, great driving, superb engine and impressive suspensions. We are looking forward for the next generation to bring a 6 or 7 speed gearbox and replace the center stack that looks a little too Toyota-ish for our taste, but aside of that we loved the RX. This is a vehicle you will not regret buying, so far it doesn’t really have any negative aspects, aside of its steep price.
Starting at $37k and almost $50,000 loaded, the Lexus is not really a bargain but it is the price to pay to own the best luxury crossover.
Cheaper competing products might look and feel similar but after a test-drive you will know where the savings come from. Nothing beats the driving dynamics of the RX350.