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2010 Lexus RX350 Review
The Lexus evolution has its benefits and its drawbacks
By Colum Wood, Aug. 31, 2009

Sometimes when an automaker chooses a revolutionary approach to creating the next generation of a vehicle they produce an amazing success, like the current Cadillac CTS. Sometimes they wind up with a dud, like the previous generation BMW 7 Series.

FAST FACTS

1. The 2010 RX350 is priced from $36,800 for the front-drive model and $38,200 ($46,900 CDN) for AWD.

2. Thanks to the addition of a six-speed transmission, fuel economy is up from 18/23 to 18/25 mpg (city/hwy) for the front-drive model and from 17/22 to 18/24 mpg (city/hwy) in the AWD model.

3. In case of an accident the RX has 10 airbags.

And for that reason (as well as a long list of financial ones) many automakers choose the evolutionary, “if it aint broke,” approach.

The “all-new” 2010 Lexus RX falls into the later category. In fact, the Porsche 911 might be the only vehicle that’s changed less over time.

The reason why Lexus isn’t interested in change is because its customers love the RX350 dearly. With over one million units sold, the “luxury utility vehicle” is easily the number one seller in a segment that it started back in 1998.

The RX’s popularity as a middle-class status symbol even rivals that of the BMW 3 Series, which is no surprise really. SUVs have a high-dollar value mystique about them, meaning that if the purpose of your vehicle is to communicate your wealth, then an SUV will almost always do the job better than a sedan. And when the $36,800 cost to own an RX350 is just $300 more than a BMW 328i, the decision becomes an easy one.

SLOW EVOLUTION OR A LACK OF PROGRESS?

Slow change is part of Toyota’s philosophy and while it has helped the RX, it has also hindered it somewhat. What proponents call evolution, critics might call a lack of progress. Both are evident in the 2010 RX350.

For starters, there’s the name. It’s the same name Lexus has been using since 2007, due to the fact that three years ago the RX got a mid-cycle update including a larger 3.5-liter V6 over the RX330’s old 3.3-liter V6.

It’s difficult to sell people on a new car when it has the exact same name as the old car. Making that challenge even more difficult is the fact that it looks almost identical too.

GENERALLY SPEAKING: IT’S THE SAME OLD SHEETMETAL

Not including those who work in a Lexus design studio, it would be hard to find someone who could point out the new 2010 model from last year’s design. Sure there are a few tweaks and a few harder edges have been added, but mostly this looks like a mid-cycle refresh and not an all new car.

The general shape of the vehicle continues to be modern enough, although it does seem to finally be showing its age after 12 years on the market.

Chrome details like on the roof rack, side skirts and window surrounds help keep things modern and give a touch of class, as does the paint. A quality paint job goes a long way to distinguish a brand as a true premium entity and Lexus is an automaker that knows this well. We especially liked the unconventional-for-a-Lexus Cerulean Blue Metallic paint on our tester.

What would further help the RX look more premium, more modern and more sporty would be a more exciting set of rims, available in even larger sizes.

NEW SIX-SPEED TRANSMISSION HELPS IMPROVE FUEL ECONOMY ON OLD V6

As the RX gets its alphanumeric designation based on its engine, the lack of a name change indicates the absence of a new powerplant. Technically speaking, the 3.5-liter V6 has gained five horsepower for a total of 275hp at 6200 rpm. Torque has also been increased 5 ft-lbs to 256, and comes on full at 2300 rpm, as opposed to 4100 rpm in the old model.

More significant powertrain changes come with the 2010 transmission and AWD system. New this year is a six-speed auto-box, which replaces the five-speed unit. It also gets a manual-shifting option – although we’d like to see paddle shifters too. As for the AWD system, it has been redesigned and now weights 35 lbs less, while reducing drivetrain loss by 30 percent.

When combined, fuel economy is up with front-drive models getting 18/25 mpg (city/highway) and AWD versions 18/24. This is a noticeable improvement from last year’s 18/23 and 17/22 ratings.

FAMILIAR INTERIOR WITH NEW TECH FEATURES

Inside, the evolutionary process continues. Although to be more truthful, were it not for a selection of optional technology features, we’d say it had pretty much stalled. Not much has changed in the overall design of the cabin, something we’ve noted on many of the newer Lexus models.

A Remote Touch navigation controller, a multi-information switch on the steering wheel and a Heads-up display are some of the most notable additions. The Remote Touch feature comes as a part of the navigation package and through the use of a computer mouse-like control lets the user feel their way across the screen. As for the navigation system, it uses an 8-inch LCD screen and can also be operated via voice commands. For XM radio subscribers there is even XM NavTraffic, with real time traffic reports and XM NavWeather.

Possibly the best option is the new heads-up display, which projects things like vehicle speed onto the lower windshield. We look forward to a day when all vehicles offer this.

Standard features on the Lexus include wood trim on the doors and center console, 10-way power driver and passenger seats with power lumbar, a driver’s seat easy exit system, automatic dual-zone climate control, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, rear A/C vents, Homelink, one-touch fold levers for rear seats, auto up/down windows, power locks and mirrors, a nine-speaker AM/FM6-CD changer and a SmartAccess remote with push button ignition.

What you’ll notice isn’t included in that list is leather seats, which is surprising.

Lexus offers a very long list of options a la carte, meaning you don’t have to get stuck with some items just because you wanted others. A Premium Package includes leather, a power liftgate and a driver’s seat memory. The Comfort Package brings heated and ventilated front seats, with adaptive front-lighting Bi-Xenon lamps and intelligent high-beams, as well as rain-sensing wipers. A Luxury Package includes things like leather, extendable front-seat thigh support, a backup and side monitor system, a wood and leather steering wheel and illuminated kick-plates.

Another nifty option is the dynamic radar cruise control, which lets you set your distance from the car ahead, rather than just by the speed. Choosing this convenience item also comes with a great safety feature, the Lexus pre-collision system, which primes the brakes and tightens the front seatbelts when an impact is detected.

Standard safety items include a total of 10 airbags, ABS with Brake Assist, as well as stability and traction control. Optional is the Lexus Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system, which operates all the safety features to help reduce skids in cornering and keep the SUV under control on slippery roads.

ROOMY CABIN AND LOTS OF CARGO SPACE

Traditionally more of a competitor for vehicles like the Mercedes ML or Infinti FX, now the RX is being stacked up against things like the Acura RX, Infiniti EX and BMW X3, as well as the new Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLK. It is, however, somewhat larger than these vehicles, weighing several hundred pounds more than some and stretching as much as 10-inches longer than others. It also boasts more cargo room with 40 cubic-feet with the rear seats up and 80 cu.-ft. when folded flat. Passenger space is also more abundant. But priced in the same range as this entry-level luxury crossovers, the Lexus offers more luxury and space.

THE DRIVE

Helping increase rear cargo room by almost two square feet is a more compact double-wishbone suspension. This new setup should help improve the driving dynamics and the SUV’s ability to soak up bumps, but previous models delivered such a smooth and soft ride that we’re not sure any improvement can be felt. As for driving dynamics, in true Lexus fashion, this SUV has very little.

The RX crossover is reasonably car-like and feels well planted on the road. It’s nothing like its main rivals, however, due mostly to the RX’s larger size and the Lexus philosophy to put luxury ahead of sport. A set of 18-inch wheels is now standard with 19s optional, but the 60 or 55 profile sidewalls still don’t provide much support for sporty driving.

The new 2010 model will hit 60 mph in 7.4 seconds or 7.5 with the AWD layout. That’s not bad, but it’s actually a tenth of a second slower than last year’s RX.

It’s obvious that Lexus used the extra gear in the new six-cog box to deliver fuel-economy and not performance. Still, the six-speed does come with added benefits. Now the car will auto downshift several gears (from 6th or 3rd for example) for ideal passing, skipping the gears in between.

Overall the cabin is whisper quiet and incredibly comfortable. One annoyance with all this luxury however, is how slippery the wood steering wheel on our tester was.

During day-to-day use, owners will certainly appreciate the new Hill-start Assist Control system to help rollback when starting off on an incline.

THE VERDICT

In a segment with plenty of newcomers the RX is beginning to look like the old man of the group, with aging styling and a less dynamic drive. Luckily for Lexus, because the RX is so well established, a few small changes to improve fuel economy and add some high-tech features continue to make this luxury utility vehicle a compelling choice.

Two other aspects that continue to make the Lexus attractive are it’s base price and size. At $36,800 for the front-wheel drive model and $38,200 ($46,900 CDN) for the all-wheel drive version it is incredibly reasonable. As for space, the significant amounts of rear seat room and rear cargo room make it a functional luxury vehicle for a family, no matter if your kids are three or 23.

The down side of this is that it’s not going to be nearly as appealing to younger buyers, to which every other luxury crossover in this segment is being marketing. Perhaps this is smart, as Lexus has set itself apart by ignoring what the rest of its competition is doing. On the other hand, with aging populations and new generations the RX is at risk of developing a Buick-like mystique in the luxury crossover segment.

LOVE IT
  • Improved fuel-economy
  • Interior and cargo room
  • New six-speed transmission
LEAVE IT
  • Mostly unchanged exterior design
  • Mostly unchanged interior
  • Less than sporting driving dynamics

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2008 Infiniti EX35 Review - A crossover that offers power and solitude
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