The most mainstream Lexus on the road isn't a sedan or a coupe, it's an SUV. The 2007 Lexus RX 350 is the best-selling model in the luxury maker's lineup, and with good reason -- it just plain works. The 2007 Lexus RX 350 carries a base price of $38,800 ($48,032 as tested), a 4 year/50,000 mile basic warranty, a 5 year/70,000 mile powertrain warranty and an EPA estimate of 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway. If so many people choose this Lexus, why did I find the RX 350 so uninteresting?
Could it be too familiar? Does familiarity really breed contempt? The RX lineup first hit our shores in 1999, receiving a makeover in 2004. I need a spotter's guide to discern the difference between an early RX and a new one. The SUV's basic teardrop shape hasn't changed much over the generations, and there seem to be a lot of RXs on the road here in Southern California. It's not a bad design, with clean lines, an aerodynamic-looking profile, and simple ornamentation. It just doesn't have the flair of a BMW X5 or Infiniti FX 45. The current trend of including an "X" in your SUV's name is clearly aimed toward attracting the influence and buying power of Generation X. But I think that the Lexus design will appeal more to Generation Rx, senior citizens who use the SUV to shuttle between the doctor's office and the drug store.
Carp as I might about the lack of excitement, I must praise the RX's extremely high level of fit and finish. My test vehicle wore a deep, glossy coat of Millennium Silver paint. Gaps and seams were even and uniform, and every tasteful bit of chrome trim was cleanly sculpted and firmly affixed to the vehicle. There's not a chintzy or cheap detail to be found anywhere on the RX's body. My test vehicle came with a "Luxury Value Edition" option package ($4,055) that included 18" Graphite polished wheels, a roof rack and high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps. The wrap-around headlights and taillights are particularly impressive, with clear lenses revealing intricate details beneath the surface. Classy, both front and rear.
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In the Driver's Seat
There's a richness to the choice of materials, from nice leather on the seats and dash.Photo © Jason Fogelson
There's comfort, and there's luxury. The two don't always intersect -- that big old plaid La-Z-Boy recliner the most comfortable chair around, but it's hardly a luxury feature in your home. Marble floors, on the other hand, may be the height of luxury, but rarely qualify as comfortable. Well, luxury and comfort coexist nicely in the cabin of the RX 350. There's a richness to the choice of materials, from nice leather on the seats and dash (part of that $4,055 "Luxury Value Edition" package) to real bird's eye maple or walnut wood trim on the center console -- a standard feature.
Lexus takes a different approach from Acura and Infiniti when it comes to luxury in the RX, creating packages of options that quickly jack the price up from just expensive to incredibly pricey in a hurry. The RX doesn't include features like heated seats or a telescoping steering wheel as standard equipment -- you have to chose those options as part of an expensive options package, ranging from about $3,500 up over $6,000. In addition to the aforementioned Luxury Value package, my test vehicle was equipped with a $1,740 DVD rear seat entertainment system, and a $2,650 GPS navigation system with backup camera and Bluetooth integration. I'd skip the entertainment, but definitely spring for the nav -- Lexus' system is elegant and simple to operate. I was even able to get my cellphone to link up with the Bluetooth, which is a first for me. I haven't seen a base model RX -- I don't know if one exists. I visited my local Lexus dealer, who claimed that there's no call for them around these parts.
On the Road
I don't need NASCAR performance every time I get behind the wheel. I do, however, demand a certain level of involvement and feedback from my SUV, and I didn't get it from the RX 350. Lexus has done such a good job of softening the ride that they've erased the driving character of the RX. It's just no fun. There's adequate power under the hood -- a 3.5 liter 24 valve V6 engine with variable valve timing cranks out 270 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque, which is plenty for the 4090 lb RX to keep up with traffic and pass on the freeway. Power delivery is linear and predictable. The five-speed automatic transmission keeps the revs fairly low, and shift points are nearly undetectable. Press down on the accelerator, and the RX just goes, no drama, no excitement, no rush of speed. There's a good amount of body roll around the curves, enough to encourage you to keep your speeds reasonable and not test your limits. The optional air suspension (another component of that ubiquitous "Luxury Value" package) cushions the RX's ride with a little bit of floatiness that is more Buick than Porsche. Your grandmother would be perfectly content behind the wheel.
The flip side of driving excitement is safety, I guess -- and the RX is loaded with safety features, including four wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution, vehicle stability control, full time all-wheel drive, seven airbags, energy managing crumple zones, side door beams and daytime running lamps.
There's not a chintzy or cheap detail to be found anywhere on the RX's body.Photo © Jason Fogelson
It's hard for me to complain about a vehicle that does so many things right, but here I am complaining anyway. RX 350 rides right down the middle of the road, and the SUVs that I really love push the limits more, in terms of styling, performance and/or luxury. RX 350 is safe and normal, and it may be the right vehicle for a lot of people. I just want an SUV to touch my soul more if I'm going to be laying out nearly fifty grand.
If you're considering an RX 350, you should take a look at its brother, the hybrid gas/electric-powered RX 400h before you buy. For just a few thousand dollars more than RX 350, you get not only the Lexus label to show off to your friends, you also get the warm fuzzy hybrid feeling and a few more miles per gallon to boot. It's a good deal.
There are several other vehicles that you should also consider from other manufacturers. Acura's new crossover, the RDX, is a hoot to drive. So is the Infiniti FX 45, and it's also a much more cutting edge design. BMW's X3 is a driver's SUV with a different brand of luxury. The Mercedes-Benz M-class really places a premium on passenger accommodations, and the Cadillac SRX is surprisingly elegant and refined.
You may not care as much as I do about the level of feedback that your SUV gives you. Who knows, you may crave the insulated feel of an RX 350. If so, enjoy that lack of feeling, and celebrate the boredom of your ride. I'll be the one in the fun SUV, grinning from ear to ear as I scoot over to the drug store for my medications.