Test Drive: New Lexus RX 350 sophisticated and edgy
Every auto brand has its bell cow vehicle, its bread-and-butter product.
For Lexus, it’s the RX crossover, which laid the foundation for the luxury SUV market when it was introduced 17 years ago. Lexus guessed — correctly, as it turned out — that American customers would embrace a five-passenger utility vehicle with elevated seating, ample cargo space and the road manners of a luxury sedan.
Today, Lexus typicality sells north of 100,000 RXs a year, so redesigning the crossover is a very big deal, and one that is executed with special care. Well, the fourth-generation 2016 RX has landed in Chattanooga, and we are happy to report Lexus has injected more personality into the crossover while preserving its intrinsic goodness.
ove an Eminent White Pearl 2016 RX 350 provided by Lexus of Chattanooga, which involved a bit of magic timing since these early 2016 models are typically scooped up almost as soon as they drop on dealer lots.
The new RX 350 has a new chiseled body with an aggressive “spindle” grille and sculpted side panels. Lexus calls the new look “sophistication with an edge.” All these sharp new lines come with a purpose, to carve out a new market share among younger buyers drawn to RX’s dramatic lines. The new RX 350 will be featured in a six-page fold-out in the upcoming Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, Lexus reported in a recent news release.
Our tester, outfitted with several popular option groups, has a sticker price of $54,043. Base RX 350s list for $41,900 — add $1,100 for all-wheel drive. The RX line also includes a performance tuned F Sport edition and a gas-electric hybrid.
Meanwhile, the new RX 350 retains the model’s reputation for providing a silky drive-train and a first-class interior.
STYLING AND FEATURES
The face of the new RX is dominated by the hourglass shape of the grille, which is framed in chrome. Angular fog light treatments add to the jet-fighter-like visage. The door and rocker panels feature dramatic character lines. The C-pillar is partially blacked out, creating the illusion of a floating roof.
Overall, the RX is almost five inches longer than before, but the angular design makes the new dimensions nearly imperceptible — until, that is, you sit in the second-row seats and experience the added knee room. The bolder, more-athletic body style includes a sculpted belt-line that adds a three-dimensional effect to the exterior of the RX.
Inside, the RX is a feast of rich colors, textures and materials. Our tester had parchment leather seating surfaces, trim the color of dark-roast coffee and bamboo inserts. Together, the earth tones create the feeling of a finely furnished den — a place you could comfortably spend hours relaxing behind the wheel or reading a best-seller as a passenger.
The completely redesigned instrument panel has a strong horizontal flow, and the lowered dash adds to the feeling of front-seat spaciousness. A new center console is sleek and elegant and contains a toggle bar, much like a computer mouse, that changes functions on a 12.3-inch liquid crystal screen that rises from the dash.
A new analog clock adds sophistication, and a high-tech heads-up display that projects gauge and trip data onto the windshield is optional.
On our midday test drive on Interstate 75 and beyond, the Lexus RX 350 was in its element as a commuter-mobile. The RX 350 is powered by a smooth 3.5-liter, V6 engine mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. Lexus says new engine mounts, a retuned suspension and improved body rigidity result in an improved ride in the 2016 RX, and we concur.
The V6 makes 295 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque, both improvements over the outgoing model. The transmission also has been tweaked to yield more off-the-mark power.
The government says to expect a new RX 350 to average 26 miles per gallon highway and 19 mpg city. Penny-pinchers will like the fact it operates on 87-octane fuel. Three drive modes — eco, normal and sport — provide a range of suspension tuning and transmission shift points at your finger tips.
Lexus was recently named the luxury brand with best resale value by Kelley Blue Book. That, along with the brand’s legendary durability and cutting-edge styling, make the RX 350 an excellent choice for those looking for five-passenger opulence.