Lexus RX 350

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We also thought it might be a good time to get reacquainted with the Lexus RX 350, so we borrowed one to make our drive from Washington D.C. north through Philadelphia to the Poconos in northeast Pennsylvania and back.

The Lexus RX was one of the earlier vehicles designed to make the transition from sport utility vehicle to crossover providing owners with an SUV style vehicle but with features and attributes more suited for urban and suburban commandos than off-roader warriors.

We’ve always liked the Lexus RX 350 because it has a distinctive sporty look, pampers the occupants and is accommodating to drive. The latest rendition of the RX, which received significant changes this year, incorporates the new Lexus family spindle grill that sets it off from any other crossovers and shouts “Lexus” at oncoming traffic. It also has the distinctive sweeping roofline with rear spoiler that gives it almost a coupe-like look.

The interior is understated elegance, with clean lines and comfortable seats, which we really appreciated after traveling nearly 1,000 miles while exploring the area. The trim is accented with soft touch surfaces, real bird’s eye maple trim and the type of luxury appointment’s we’ve come to expect in this level Lexus.

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After the major freeways were behind us, and what seemed like a dozen toll booths, we reached the rural two-lane highways. It was nice to have the power of the 270-hp, 3.5-liter DOHC V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. Slow moving traffic required that extra power to make quick safe passes. The RX is a standard front-wheel drive, but our well-appointed RX 350 had the $1,400 all-wheel drive option.

The RX accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, and has a top track speed limited to 112 mph. The EPA fuel economy for the AWD model is rated at 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. The front-wheel drive model is rated at one mpg better on the highway and combined than the AWD. We actually averaged 22.3 mpg during our trip to the Poconos.

The Lexus handles well, but the suspension tends to be on the soft side especially when pushed a little harder. Then it displays a little body roll in the corners and float on rough spots. But that’s what is expected with a vehicle of this type – after all it’s a luxury vehicle, not a sport sedan. The steering is a little fuzzy, too, but not enough to distract.

For drivers who want to push a little harder, Lexus has added the new F Sport, which is tuned for better handling. It includes larger 19-inch wheels, a new eight-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters for better driver control. The eight-speed transmission also helps fuel economy boosting the highway rating from 24 mpg to 26 mpg.

The 2013 AWD model we drove had pricing starting at $41,585 including the destination charge. Three major option packages and a few accessories bumped the price to $50,860 adding features like Xenon headlights, premium audio, moonroof, heated steering wheel and navigation system along with many other upgrades. We especially enjoyed the heated and ventilated front seats and the little extras from the Comfort and Luxury packages.

We’re certainly not audiophiles but we did appreciate the features of the high-level audio system which included Sirius XM Satellite radio system along with Bluetooth audio streaming and USB/iPod connections.

Road trips before navigation systems were always challenging and the system in the Lexus RX 350 made us feel like natives, getting us to our destination and around the area with ease.

The first thing that sets the Lexus navigation apart from competitors is the exclusive Lexus control system which feels and works very much like a computer mouse. It’s mounted on a raised pad on the driver’s side of the console. The transmission shifter is mounted higher up on the center stack out of the way.

The “mouse” is fixed and moves like a giant toggle to make selections with the cursor on the large color screen mounted at the top of the center stack. We did find a couple of glitches in the data base when it didn’t seem to know the location we were looking for, but it was usually right on target.

As a safety measure, the vehicle must be stopped to enter or search for a location. We would rather have the system allow programing to be done by the front passenger while the vehicle is moving.

We liked many of the RX 350 features like the SmartAccess system’s which automatically unlocks the doors just by touching the exterior door handles and the push button start switch, both which work just by having the ignition key in pocket, or purse.

The Lexus RX 350 turned out to be an excellent vehicle for a couple or even a small family on a week’s vacation and would be equally desirable for day-to-day driving. The 2013 model that we drove on our trip had extensive changes, so the 2014 models have only minor tweaks.

Pricing of 2014 models starts at $40,670 for the front-wheel drive model. The F-Sport starts at $48,360 and the front week drive RX 450h hybrid, which gets up to 32 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined, starts at $47,320.

We enjoyed our visit to the Pocono’s but we certainly don’t think of them as mountains. Where Bill was raised in Montana, mountains like these are barely hills.

— Courtesy of Auto Digest

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