By on December 1, 2008

A note to TTAC’s Best and Brightest: if this comparo sounds oddly familiar, that’s because something stinks. But it’s not the husky, malodorous adhesives wafting from the pleather-wrapped Hyundai Veracuz. Nor is it the you-gotta-be-kidding me popularity of a premium-priced Toyota Camry sitting on stilts. The funk comes from mentioning both in the same breath. But I swear on the effeminate grille of a B9 Tribeca that I’ve never read a certain Motor Trend review elucidating this very notion. Fair enough?

Neither model disappoints the crossover breed: the blend of fast curves and a quick D-pillar (of a car-wannabe) work fine with the height advantage (so to speak) of a pretend SUV. Sure, both the Hyundai and Lexus are cursed by the two-box design limitations, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: the Korean upstart did a fine job ripping-off the RX 350’s recipe for success.

Until they inevitability park side-by-side at the local grocery store: the Veracruz is the Ugly Betty to the hotness that’s the RX 350’s Hilda Suarez sheetmetal. Sure, the Lexus has a flashier badge, but that expensive dress comes with a slimmer waistline, toned buttocks, and a flirtatious kick-up in the quarter windows. Score one for the original luxo CUV: the bloated, taperless contours of the Veracruz send it deep into undesirable minivan territory.

The race tightens up within the confines of both, provided you have a bad case of Anosmia. The Hyundai’s interior has a fine blend of wood-ish trim, soft vinyl, silver toned plastic and chrome bits. At first glance, the Veracruz interior matches the Lexus RX’s trimmings right down to the electroluminescent logos on the door sills. But the flat-black gauges look somewhat down market, and the smell of The Ghosts of Hyundais Past is (tragically) present and accounted for. Hyundai better take their quality game up from the usual sight, sound and touch parameters, because no other brand competing in the $20,000+ territory has a new car smell this unattractive.

By contrast, the RX 350 is a safe haven for the stressed-out soccer mom archetype, providing the tranquil reassurance of a Japanese rock garden with no empty promises from a presidential campaign. The leather and wood rimmed tiller feels more expensive than any vehicle remotely near its price class. Though Hyundai matches its Japanese role model for interior content (real wood accents notwithstanding), the Lexus simply feels like a more expensive vehicle.

Even with the Hyundai’s larger accommodations, somewhat acceptable 3rd row seating and superior front seat bottoms, this is a no brainer: the Lexus promise of nice trees, fragrant leather, and gorgeous Optitron gauges wins the day.

Motivating the 3800lb RX 350 is Toyota’s corporate 3.5L V6. It sports more power (10hp) than the 3.8L V6 offered in the 4300lb Veracruz. Stomp the RX 350 from a standstill and the front wheels furiously grasp for traction when the motor sings in first gear. Even with an extra forward gear, the Veracruz slowly stately builds steam, unhappily revving to an overburdened power peak. Even if the Veracruz possessed the liquid smooth mill of the RX 350, its extra 500lbs of girth are impossible to mask. Advantage: Lexus.

Luckily the Veracruz’s extra weight translates to a controlled, plush ride on any surface. While RX 350 is soft and spongy, its lack of girth translates into less than inspiring control. With its top-heavy design on float-inducing highways, the Lexus’ cabin briefly gives the sensation of dropping hundreds of feet in a rickety wooden roller coaster, when its front suspension goes from unloaded to loaded. This is an easy win for the big body Hyundai.

On the handling front, let’s call it a draw. The smaller RX 350 cuts a corner with less inertia-fed, front wheel drive push, lowering the holy shit factor for all occupants. But if you think either of these CUVs have a lick of noteworthy dynamic qualities, please broaden your automotive horizons. There’s a reason why Pistonheads lament the (gradual) extinction of the station wagon.

That said, we all know Minivans are the king of carrying mind-numbing amounts of stuff, while almost driving like a car. SUVs haul like nobody’s business and teach smaller, lighter vehicles the cold reality of Newtonian Physics. True to crossover form, the Hyundai Veracruz and Lexus RX 350 do none of the above remarkably well. So there’s no winner?

Negative! At $41k, the nicely loaded Lexus is around $5000 more than a Limited-grade Veracruz. Factor in the stinky interior and the derivative “this ain’t no game-changing Genesis” drive train, and the luxo-budget Veracruz cannot gel for this much coin. So if you (or your significant other) demand a CUV, pimp the ride that’ll instantly impress your friends and neighbors: the Lexus is the winner in this challenge between two whips not likely to be cross-shopped.

[Carmax provided both vehicles, insurance and a tank of gas.]

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33 Comments on “Comparo: Lexus RX350 vs. Hyundai Veracruz...”

  • avatar

    Newtonian Physics?

    You mean SUV can flip over when doing high speed on turns?

  • avatar

    Isn’t it scary that we can now compare Hyundai and Lexus in the same breath, and it isn’t a joke?

    Hyundai gets a gold star for being able to be in this review without it being satirical.

  • avatar

    I don’t get how the Hyundai manages to be 500lbs heavier than the RX. While only 13% its still huge in absolute terms.

    In a CUV with no preventions of off-road ability this is quite bloated.

  • avatar

    A quick look at fleabay, shows at least one 2007 Veracruz, with 10k miles, for $19k. Every RX of the same year is at least $10k more.

    The Veracruz may not be the best new car buy, but could well be a very good late model, preowned buy, assuming of course, you’re looking for an ersatz Lexus!

  • avatar

    CARMAX provided the cars? What the heck?

    I HATE Carmax. I am declaring this review invalid for that reason.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Ummmmmm…..without sounding blasphemous, can we see a comparo between the Lexus and say, an Enclave? Ya know, just for kicks….and try not to make it ‘satiric’..

  • avatar

    CARMAX provided the cars? What the heck?

    I HATE Carmax. I am declaring this review invalid for that reason.

    Here in Columbus they were on the news…they offered someone x dollars for a trade, then said “whoops, that was wrong, we’re giving you thousands less.” Whatta ripoff.


  • avatar

    Wife owns an RX. They are very, very nice vehicles. Based on test drives and ownership of past Lex/Toyota products, we didn’t even drive this thing before we bought it.

    I later learned that in the Lexus/Toyota world, it’s very common for folks to buy a car without taking a test drive. They have that much faith in the cars.

    Anyway, the cross shopping for us was the RX, an ML Benz, Grand Cherokee, or a strippo V6 Cayenne. Definitely not a Hyundai or Buick.

  • avatar

    JK43123: “CARMAX provided the cars? What the heck?”

    Um, my guess is CARMAX unknowingly provided the cars.

  • avatar

    My wife and I test drove this beast last year. While cruising down the highway, we both came to the conclusion that it felt, handled and accelerated like our beater Montana minivan. We took a pass.

    During your testing, did you look at real gas mileage? I believe the Veracruz is a bit of a pig.

  • avatar

    Sorry, but these are definitely NOT cross-shopped.

    The ‘Cruz is a 7 passenger vehicle, and the RX is strictly 5-up.

    I know MT and others like to compare them ,but they are really not in the same league. Cruz vs. Acadia vs. Pilot vs. CX-9 vs. Flex, maybe.

    The Cruz is an OK vehicle, but suffers from the usual Hyundai cheapness factor. From my unscientific observations, the Cruz is not selling well. I rarely see them in ATL, while RX’s are a dime a dozen.

  • avatar

    the hotness that’s the RX 350’s Hilda Suarez sheetmetal


    It may just be my humble opinion, but the RX stands out like a sheep in a flock. But then again, maybe that’s the allure for some ranch-hands to lie about in Texas.

    Or maybe I’m just jaded because I’m sick to death of seeing the stilted Camry in every affluent suburban driveway such that they’ve become ubiquitous.

    The RX is a poseur car: as the H2 was to machismo types, the RX is to yuppies.

    Rant over.

  • avatar

    If you are looking for a CUV, probably the best deal right now are on ’08 Infiniti FX models. FX35’s around me (So. FL) can be had for around $8-10K off MSRP. Beats the hell out of a Hyundai for the same price.

  • avatar

    TrueDelta now tracks the ten most common price comparisons for each model, which gives some indication of cross-shopping. The Veracruz is nowhere in the RX’ top ten. The RX is #10 in the Veracruz’ list.

    No reliability information on either just yet–possibly in February. The Toyota Highlander has had low repair rates. The Hyundai Santa Fe had a rough launch, but has improved to average.

    We need more participants for the RX and Veracruz. If you know an owner of either who might be interested, send them here:

  • avatar

    I’ve driven both of these vehicles. They are really aimed at two different types of customers. Maybe stack the Veracruz up against the Flex???

    While I would agree that the RX is a higher end car, the ones I looked at – fully loaded – were MUCH more than a $5000 premium over the Veracruz when fully equipped. More like a $15 grand difference, which starts to make more sense. Especially since Hyundai is offering incentives too! I also drove the “real” leather version (I never saw a pleather one, actually) and it wasn’t “stinky” at all.

    I ended up getting a Murano. I liked the Nissan style and the techno stuff – and it too was way cheaper than an FX35 AND the RX fully loaded (and bigger inside too). Neither of these are 7 passenger vehicles either though (which is a Good Thing).

  • avatar

    I’d take the FX35 or Murano over either of these. The FX is beautiful inside and out and rides amazingly well. But gods-be-damned, why does it have to have that stupid-assed exhaust note?

  • avatar

    RE: jgholt

    I agree, because the RX is so ubiquitous, especially since it’s their 5th year of selling this car.

    But also, RX might not stand out because literally 95% of them are either white or silver. If you want to stand out there’s tons of different colors they come in that are really unique like purple, red, light bright blue, etc. :) Also, they should be more like BMW and offer more colors for the interior. :/ The beige gets dirty really quick and black is just dreary.

  • avatar


    Thank you!!!

    Why does every Infiniti/Nissan V-6 have that awful “Pep-Boys-Fart-Can” exhaust note?

    I’d pass on any of them because I’d hate to listen to that noise for 5-10 years.

  • avatar

    We cross shopped and test drove nearly every CUV in November 2007 before buying a ’08 Cruz Limited FWD, loaded. One key criteria for us was decent 7 passenger space for our growing kids & their friends.

    This eliminated the RX350 early on because it’s really a 5 passenger vehicle. Ditto the FX-35.

    The lambdas were a bit larger than we wanted, and the Enclave we drove hunted for gears.

    A ~ 2006 CPO Volvo XC90 and an ’08 CX-9 were other top contenders. The Hyundai won over both on value and handling. We paid just under $31k, new, fully equipped. This was a full $5k less than a similar Mazda. We also liked the softer ride the Veracruz offers since the express point of this car is to get our family comfortably down the highway.

    13 months later, we’re still very happy with the choice and would make it again.

    I’d agree the Lexus is a healthy notch above the Hyundai in styling, handling and price.

    If we wanted to spend an extra $10-15k and get a 5 passenger CUV, the RX would be a great pick.

  • avatar

    highrpm :

    People in the Lexus/Toyota world buy cars without test-driving them because they have no interest in how a car actually drives, only that it will get them from point A to point B reliably and in comfort (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not really something to brag about either)

  • avatar

    The RX is the usual loaner car at my Lexus dealer. It always strikes me as an old car. Doesn’t fit in with the newer Lexus models. Yet it is the real estate ladies’ ride of choice. Desperately in need of an update, though…

  • avatar

    IF you can skip the “bubble boy” CUV look – and really like a Toyo/Lexus – save even MORE $$$$ and get a “loaded to the max” 2008 Highlander Limited…Same platform as the RX and has a true 5,000 lb towing capacity, plus a semi-useable 3rd row and far more cargo capacity – all with the same outside dimensions, same silky 3.5 V6, excellent Lexus-like fit & finish – and a list of $38K with a “take me home price” of $32K-$33K (if you are a bad negotiator). Not many SUV/CUVs look all that badass outside of Infiniti but at least the Highlander gets part way there with the 5-spoke 19’s and mini-Tundra grill…

  • avatar

    An alternative would be a 4 year old RX (same body style) for ~$18K-$20K. The money you save on insurance and taxes will cover the extra maintenance costs, and you can bank the $20K difference.

  • avatar

    I later learned that in the Lexus/Toyota world, it’s very common for folks to buy a car without taking a test drive. They have that much faith in the cars.

    Too late to warn my aunt and her new Avalon purchase. The thing has 24,000 miles on it and has been in the shop 5 times for bullshiat trans and steering problems. She bought into the whole “all Detroit cars or shiatty” mantra and it bit her in the ass.

    She never took it for a test drive either.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    The Veracruz is an appealing Lexus RX alternative if you were born without the olfactory sense and have uncorrected poor vision. However, I’m not especially enamored with the RX either. I would love to see a CX-9 versus RX matchup instead, because I think Mazda’s CUV gets a lot closer to Lexus-beating status than Hyundai’s underdog. It certainly drives better (unless you like the Lexus novocaine effect), and the interior design, while not as plush, is exceedingly well thought out and beats the Lexus on some details.

    Yes, the CX-9 is a seven-passenger vehicle, but the advantage of the seven-seaters is that you can pretend they’re five-seaters with a bit more cargo room if you fold down that third row.

  • avatar

    @wisguy: Buh… buh… buh… the Veracruz handled better than the CX9? Yes, the ride is softer, but darn it, when I drove the two back-to-back, it was like comparing an Expedition to an X5… the Veracruz just feels like a big, soft, soft-thing. Just not awe-inspiring.

    I’d get the Veracruz for family use… well-appointed, real third row… but the chassis just isn’t world class… not yet… there’s some chassis flex over rough bumps, the suspension doesn’t have enough control, and the steering is dead as a door-nail.

    The CX9, on the other hand, has a chassis that feels as solid as anything I’ve driven… has good dynamics for such a big car, and, IMHO, aside from the FX (the old FX, that is), is the best-looking car in the whole darn segment.

    Sure, the rear seats aren’t all that, but who cares? It’s bigger than everything but the Veracruz, and it has a great engine, to boot.

  • avatar


    Yea, but the seat fabric is rough to the touch and the seats are hard as rock. My ass was numb even when we just went for 15 minutes. That’s a deal breaker for many.

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    “So if you (or your significant other) demand a CUV, pimp the ride that’ll instantly impress your friends and neighbors: the Lexus is the winner in this challenge between two whips not likely to be cross-shopped.”

    You’re joking, right?

  • avatar

    “Stinky interior” (plastic)?

    Where did you get that comment?

    All the major magazines disagree with that, and it shouldn’t be difficult for people to find plastic on a car.

  • avatar

    Buick Enclave/GMC Acadia beats all
    The Lexus is old, new one’s coming for 2010

    thetopdog-absolutely right, you should see all the new complaints about “uncomfortable headrests” from people on places like Consumer Reports. Apparently, smaller people, (say a 5’2″ woman) when they drive cars with new style “better” head restraints their head gets pushed down into their chest when sitting in the seat. These complaints are coming from people who already own the cars they are talking about! They obviously bought the cars without sitting in it much less test driving one.

  • avatar

    As always, thank you all for reading. I’m really surprised how many of our B&B want more Crossover comparos. I think a CX-9 vs.Traverse might be interesting. And pit a Taurus X against a Flex just for fun.

    BEAT : Newtonian Physics? You mean SUV can flip over when doing high speed on turns?

    If that brings you comfort when a teenager in his hand-me-down 1999 Tahoe runs a red light while horsing around with his high school buddies after class, go with it.

    crackers : During your testing, did you look at real gas mileage? I believe the Veracruz is a bit of a pig.

    I averaged 19-20 mpg in mixed driving (Houston traffic too) over the course of 50-70 miles. This was going by the computer on the dash, so take it FWIW. But from the EPA ratings, the Hyundai V6 seems awful thirsty in every vehicle that it finds a home in. I remember the XG350 was especially bad for its class.

    jgholt: the hotness that’s the RX 350’s Hilda Suarez sheetmetal ???

    Now, now! The RX is beautiful compared to the Hyundai. In the world of crossovers, I’d wager its one of the most universally admired bodies on the planet. Yes, I am damning with it faint praise, and now everyone knows how difficult it was writing this Comparo test!!!

    klossfam : same silky 3.5 V6, excellent Lexus-like fit & finish – and a list of $38K with a “take me home price” of $32K-$33K (if you are a bad negotiator).

    You lost me at the fit and finish part. The Veracruz may smell funny, but that’s temporary. The rest of its soft touch polymers are far superior. Don’t believe me? Talk to Berkowitz.

    Michael Ayoub : You’re joking, right?

    I can’t believe the number of people I know who go bonkers at the sight of this crossover with its “L” badge. This ride has suburban upper-middle class snob appeal in any city…that isn’t dominated by domestic nameplates.

    jybt : “Stinky interior” (plastic)? Where did you get that comment? All the major magazines disagree with that, and it shouldn’t be difficult for people to find plastic on a car.

    I got that from 15+ years of sitting in new Hyundais at the Auto Show. In fairness, I had a Sonata rental with 12k on the clock, it smelled okay. Ditto my beat-up Elantra (70k) loaner car, which I rather liked…the new only Hyundai that doesn’t smell funny is the Genesis 4.6, with its upgraded leather interior over the V6 model.

    Its funny you mention the “major magazines” because I swore that I recently read a C/D review mentioning the Hyundai’s funk in their highs/lows comment box. Granted C/D has gone down the crapper in recent years, but I’d still consider ‘em a major car rag.

  • avatar

    Regarding the weight issue:

    I can’t comment on Lexus, but Nissan and Honda vehicles are not built with the same robustness as our new Hyundai (Santa Fe). The Hyundai’s doors close with a more solid Whump, plastic parts are thicker, and the undercarriage appears sturdier and better sealed. Overall structure is very tight and quiet.

    Where Hyundai still lags is in the finer points. Suspension technology is good but not great, transmission is smooth but a bit sluggish, and the “luxury” veneer seems a bit thin in places. That – plus the snob factor – is what Hyundai has to overcome in future models.

  • avatar

    What this fails to mention is the ride smoothness, wind noise, long-term maintenance and resell value…Hyundai shouldn’t even be mentioned in this article, a better comparison would be a Lexus and Mercedes Benz…and my Mercedes had more issues in 18 months then my Lexus ever had.  Hands down, it’s the RX350 all the way, it’s not even close.

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