Euphemisms are our friends. If it weren’t for “calamari” my kids would have never tried squid. Similarly, the SUV became a more palatable version of the station wagon—although I am not sure how the wagon became an object of scorn by my generation. I have many happy memories slouched down in the third row, kissing girls. I suppose piloting one of those behemoths might have tempered my enthusiasm for the genre. The early SUVs were thinly disguised trucks and evolved to become more like tall wagons currently known as crossovers. If the designers over at BMW have their way, mutant ninja vehicles will soon replace the crossovers. In the meantime, we have the 2010 Lexus RX350.
The RX is the best selling Lexus model of all time. Clearly, understandably, the folks in Toyota City didn’t want to stray too far from a successful formula. (From baby Benz to proscription Benzos). Though appropriately soporific, the 2010 RX350 is not an improvement on gen 2, which had one or two good angles. The best I can say about the new RX’s exterior: the front looks slightly less goofy. The new exterior color choices are, however, goofier than Donald D.’s standing canine companion. I haven’t seen a color like “Golden Almond Metallic” since I last changed my daughter’s diapers.
The RX350’s interior is a horse [power] of a different color: cool, modern, contemporary and uncluttered. It’s the best Lexus interior since the recently lamented SC400. The RX350’s seats are plush and inviting, made more so by the new perforated leather. They won’t hold you in place during frisky driving maneuvers, but then you won’t be making any. Mark this part of the report card “comfortably numb.”
The seats’ heating and cooling controls are inconveniently hidden beneath the front part of the center armrest, which slides rearward to reveal twin rotary dials. When I pressed the start button, the seat and steering wheel moved into driving position, a first for the RX (only the steering wheel presents itself in the outgoing model). I did miss the old RX’s handy, albeit somewhat flimsy compartment in the center console, which held all manner of cell phones, Kleenex boxes and my wife’s not insubstantial purse. Fortunately, the new glove box is a gaping maw which looks capable of swallowing a medium sized dog.
The RX 350’s Mark Levinson sound system remains an aural delight but it’s no longer head of the class. The gizmo count is impressive but breaks little original ground: heads up displays, XM real-time traffic and weather, dynamic radar cruise, intuitive parking assist—all new to the RX but not to the world of luxury automobiles.
Typically, Japanese luxury vehicles telegraph their pretense of technical sophistication by haphazardly scattering various subsystem controls all about the dash, counterintuitive to ergonomics. In the previous model, I always struggled to change the settings for the heat or figure out which radio station I was listening to. Not so the 2010 RX, which assembles the major controls into one iDrive like unit.
I know what you are thinking, here comes the rant (again). But the RX 350’s multimedia controller is transparent in its operation. There was hardly any learning curve (or leaning curve, but we’ll get to that): the device operates pretty much like a computer mouse with a selector button on the side. One of my biggest complaints about my current RX: I can’t operate the navigation system while in motion. As I fiddled around and checked to see if the new model had changed this, I ran a red light. Which illustrated exactly why they set things up this way.
The RX 350’s driving experience is somewhat improved, mostly attributable to the addition of a few hundred pounds of needed ballast. The old RX always felt too light and uncontrolled. The 2010 model feels more buttoned down and even a bit Germanic. The optional sport package may prove as transformational as it is on the LS, or it may not. Meanwhile, I sampled an RX 350 with the nineteen inch wheels. They ruined the ride quality without a concomitant contribution to the driving fun quotient.
The RX 350’s acceleration is crisp and creamy. The seemingly step-less six-speed is nearly as seamless as a CVT. Performance is mid-pack for the crossover competition. She’ll waft from 0 to 60 in a respectable 7.5 seconds, consuming 20 miles per gallon on average. More to the point, at least for the RX 350’s core clientele, the sound insulation is improved largely via reduced wind noise.
There is little doubt that this is best RX yet, although perhaps not the best looking. The RX 350 offers more luxury, more features, more conveniences, more . . . where was I? Oh, yes. The 2010 RX will be heading to my garage soon. It’s not a wagon, not really an SUV, and CUV seems somehow . . . forced. Let’s just call it “perfect.”