The best-selling vehicle at Lexus just got better for 2010, and it did so subtly.
The third-generation Lexus RX crossover sport utility vehicle - a crossover because its based on a car platform - is a bit bigger and heavier than its predecessor, quieter, a tad more fuel efficient and has more features.
But the things people see first, such as exterior and interior styling, stay true to the popular, previous-generation model. The refined ride is still there, too, and the 2010 RX 350 continues to garner the top, 5-out-of-5 stars rating from the federal government in frontal and side crash tests.
Its also worth noting that Lexus, the luxury brand of Toyota, cut the starting manufacturers suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the RX by $900. A front-wheel drive RX 350 starts at $37,675 for 2010, compared with $38,575 for a 2009 model. The starting retail price for a 2010 RX 350 with all-wheel drive is $39,075 compared with $39,975 for a 2009 model.
These prices put the RX in the middle of competing models in the luxury SUV segment. For example, the 2010 Infiniti FX35 has a starting MSRP, including destination charge of $43,015. But its 3.5 inches longer and has a more powerful V-6 than the Lexus RX. Meantime, Infinitis 2010 EX35 starts at $34,665 and is a bit shorter in length but still has more horsepower than the RX.
Introduced in 1998, the RX quickly became the best seller at Lexus as American families looked to move out of minivans and into more trendy vehicles. RX sales last year in the United States totaled 84,181 as the economy declined, but they averaged more than 100,000 in previous years.
Based on the Camry platform, the RX offered what it does today - a higher-than-a-car seat height above the road and good views out, a smooth ride, quiet, comfortable interior and a luxury badge and amenities.
In recent years, Lexus also began selling a gasoline-electric hybrid version of RX with noteworthy fuel mileage. For 2010, the hybrid model is renamed the RX 450h, has fuel economy ratings of 32 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway and carries a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $42,535. And yes, its true the hybrids city mileage is higher than highway mileage, because stop-and-go city traffic provides more opportunities for electric power propulsion.
All 2010 RXes have an added inch in the wheelbase, which helps make the back seat even more comfortable for adults. Theres 37.1 inches of legroom back there.
Seats front and back in the test RX 350 looked and were supportive, and four adults rode without fatigue on a two-hour road trip, making conversation all the way without straining to hear.
The RX 350s 3.5-liter, four-cam V-6 has 5 more horsepower this year, to 275, and while its not the most horsepower in the segment, it feels more than adequate even as the RX 350 added some 300 pounds over last years model. Torque now is up slightly to 257 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm, which was enough to push my head back into the head restraint when I accelerated hard. Engine sounds, what I heard of them, were strong and confident.
Note that the engine performance numbers are for the RX engine using premium gasoline, which at todays prices can add up to a nearly $60 bill to fill up the 19.2-gallon tank.
Fuel economy is improved by a mile per gallon in 2010, to 18/25 mpg in a front-wheel drive RX 350. The tester managed 21.5 mpg in city/highway travel, thanks in part to the new six-speed automatic transmission that replaces last years five-speed. Shifts were silky smooth.
The RX 350 isn't a sporty ride, and theres not ready feedback from the road as there are in BMWs SUVs where the suspension is more taut. The RXs steering has a light feel and can seem a bit numb, too. But in an emergency maneuver in the center lane on a highway, the test RX 350 moved abruptly away from an obstacle and then quickly returned to the lane with composure.
Buyers should add an optional backup monitor in the RX, because its impossible to see from the drivers seat what's right behind the vehicle. Drivers also should look carefully for pedestrians when turning, because the pillars at the sides of the windshield are thick and can obscure views, despite the inclusion of small, triangular pieces of glass at the base of the pillars.
New features include a revised computer mouse-like control in the center console that manipulates a cursor on the large display in the dashboard. Just like a computer mouse, it has left- and right-click buttons and quickly became a distraction for me. Passengers asked me if such a device is legal in a car because it differs so much from the RXs previous touch-screen system. It is legal, and it took time to get familiar with the controls and spend less time monitoring the screen and cursor.
Other newfangled features include steering wheel and seat track that move in tandem to return to a drivers pre-set position at startup and a voice recognition system that can change temperatures, find restaurants and adjust songs just by verbal command.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.