Posts tagged Lexus RX 350
Do you answer your critics or double down on what got you there?
That’s the question facing Lexus these days. Every few years since 1998 Lexus has launched a new RX in the American market. Each version is lauded as the pinnacle of comfort and practicality and gently dismissed as lacking performance and excitement.
The RX then spends another year at the top of the Luxury Crossover SUV segment, often selling 100,000 units and beating the market by a wide margin.
This year, more than ever before, the RX looked to answer the criticism with a renewed emphasis on driver experience and performance.
The new RX has ditched the egg shaped profile of its past, leaving previous models looking a bit tame by comparison. The redesign lets us read the tea leaves into the next 5 years of design from the Toyota Motor Corp. They have embraced sharp angles and masculine lines and gone all in on their now signature spindle grille. This younger, more masculine look will undoubtedly move down the line until finally landing on the Corolla. Notes like L shaped LED daytime running lamps give a brightness to the front end of the car. The vehicle uses long, pronounced lines and the appearance of a floating roof to make it look as though more than 5″ has been added to last years model.
Even more than the visual redesign, this is where Lexus tried to address their critics the most. Easily the biggest improvement in the F Sport trim level is the addition of the Adaptive Variable Suspension. This allows you to adjust the ride to “S+” mode, which lowers the vehicle by nearly an inch and tightens the shocks. This stiffens the ride, allowing for a better driver experience with tighter turning and less body roll. The winding roads of Marin County and the Pacific Coast Highway proved a fine testing ground for the 25 extra horsepower and tightened suspension. For a vehicle with a curb weight of almost 4,400 pounds it performed well in and out of turns and provided enough acceleration to pass slower traffic with ease. Though far from a sports car, the improvements to handling and acceleration are noticeable and worthy of the F Sport badge.
Classy. Pronounced stitching and premium materials give the interior a very posh appearance. The optional 12.3″ navigation system (8″ standard) perches atop the center of the dash and communicates all of the entertainment, climate control and navigation information clearly. The Remote Touch makes a slightly less clunky reappearance. The software now predicts what you’re trying to interact with to varying degrees of success. As you get used to the tendencies it gets easier but the industry wide struggle for intuitive controls continues another year. The 2016 edition builds on the success of its previous incarnations with a comfortable and luxurious ride up front with just enough space in back for average sized adults. The driver centered cabin helps the operator and vehicle communicate safely and comfortably.
It’s not often I get into a car and get surprised by a new bell or whistle. The empirical nature of auto design gives away the surprise a little at a time every year, so by the time a feature is in place it’s already been hinted at for years.
Not so with the 360 degree view shown when you put the RX in reverse. Four cameras are used, one in the grille, one under each side mirror and the backup camera in the rear. The resulting image is stitched together by all four, giving you a helicopter style view in tight spaces. Think the original Grand Theft Auto overhead view. I called it my validation cam. Get into a tight spot, engage the overhead camera and see how great (or terrible) of a parking job you did. The usefulness of the technology really shines when reversing out of parking spaces into busy streets or lots. The Rear Cross Traffic Alert warns of any bogeys coming in from the side, the overhead camera gives a 360 degree view and the parking assist shows the line that the car will continue on if the wheels are set in that direction. For a car with a big hood and a long body these features are invaluable for visibility. Absolutely loved them and used them constantly.
Then there’s All Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Alphabet soup, I know. That rather wordy feature is new to the RX and can be summed up easily. It is quite simply the future of driving. Set the maximum speed you wish the car to attain and let your foot off the gas. The vehicle will maintain a safe follow distance up to that speed without any input from the driver. On a long road trip this feature is an absolute game changer. Set the control to 73 and rest your legs. The car will sense when the vehicle in front slows down and adjust speed safely until the desired follow distance is achieved.
This feature works with normal traffic and unexpected stops alike. If necessary it is capable of bringing the car to a complete stop.
Anyone who has driven the 5 Freeway through central California just salivated a little at the idea. I felt fresh as a daisy and never strayed too far over the speed limit. As an enthusiast I can’t say I looked forward to the driverless car but this feature got me thinking.
For Lexus, and every automaker, design and engineering is a balancing act. Go too far to the new and they lose their roots. Too much performance usually means too much comfort, too much comfort makes for a pedestrian ride. A vehicle that sits squarely in the middle will be accused of being vanilla and lacking identity. This years Lexus RX is a great redesign in that respect. They manage to push back against their detractors without losing much of what a hundred thousand buyers a year are looking for.
Now, about those self driving cars…
2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport
3.5L V6 Engine with 295 HP
8 speed automatic transmission
0-60 6.9 seconds
$55,645 – $59,325
2014 RX 350 Review
It’s been 16 years since Lexus launched the RX series and the iconic luxury crossover still claims some tricks up it’s sleeves. My welcome assignment? Drive the RX 350 through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and into the glorious back country of Northern California and Nevada. I was joined by my lovely fiance for the second part of our mission, to find a venue suitable to be wed next September. The RX and all of it’s grown up sensibilities provided us an appropriate chariot for this symbolic drive towards family life. Discussing a modest wedding budget while driving a $53,000 car was a risk I was willing to take.
Upon delivery of the test car the first thing I notice is the addition of the spindle grill. Previous incarnations of the 3rd generation RX had a more muted look with their trapezoidal grill about half the size of the 2014’s. It gives the new model a bolder look in spite of many of the same lines and a very similar shape. Overall the car manages to appear refined and luxurious without being garish or stately. It’s a luxury SUV that hides it’s heft with an egg shaped profile and long lines from nose to peak.
Simply put, impressive. In my week of testing this vehicle I would estimate that I was behind the wheel for over 30 hours. Never once did I get tightness or cramps in my legs, my back remained well supported, my head fit the headrest suitably. Each time out of the car the seat would automatically move backwards to give me more room to exit. Once back in the car it finds your preset custom position again without prompting. We put a couple of adults in the back seat for a field trip to the casino and they spent half the ride exclaiming about how much room they had and how soft the seats were. A center console was discovered, side door cup holders used. The largest of our passengers reclined his seat and made me turn to look at how comfortable he was. Our loaner didn’t include the optional entertainment options for the back seat or I may have found myself alone up front on the long drive home.
The car is packed with features inside and out. We had a near fully loaded F Sport edition but a quick glance at the base model’s pricing tells me you’ll be well equipped even at their lowest price point. Premium audio systems, dual climate control, heated and cooling seats to name a few favorites. The 7” LCD screen remains your base for all information and entertainment needs. Most of your interactions with the system go through the standard Remote Touch Controller, a clunky but valiant effort to clean up some of the interface issues that plague every in dash computer system I’ve encountered. Most of the issues with the system come from the software end, the design lacks intuition and overall ease of use.
Thankfully though the feature keeps me from hunting and pecking on a touchscreen and for that I give it a pass. I beg the automaker gods to use google maps and be done with it. The new “Siri Eyes Free Mode” incorporates your iPhone into the infotainment system but that remains only as effective as the Siri software itself. The new Lexus Enform app for Android and iPhone devices is a nice touch but those with limited data plans may one day balk at using their own data stream. The ability to essentially tether to my device and use the in dash system to stream Pandora and search for a lunch spot on Yelp is undoubtably useful but until the user interface can be as easily manipulated as the one on our phones it remains a limited solution.
Safe as can be. This car’s list of safety features runs as long as it’s luxury ones. Intuitive airbags line the vehicle, crumple zones await the sudden and unexpected. Assistive brake technology can sense when a crash is imminent, blind spot monitor keeps watch where you can’t quite see. I might have been the dummy once or twice on our trip but thankfully our days with the RX were void of any real life crash testing. The optional Parking Assist came in handy when navigating tight parking lots in the medium size vehicle and the optional Heads Up Display quickly became my primary method of checking speed, gears and turns through the nav system.
Handling and Performance
Kind of a catch twenty two here. On one hand you have a car who’s strength and focus remains luxury and comfort. It’s hard to expect what is largely accepted as the most comfortable vehicle in it’s class to carve the roads like a sports car. On the other hand you have the promise of the F Sport badge and all the aggressive driving it represents. Ultimately for me the performance angle fell a little flat. The 270hp engine had enough get up and go to pass any of the countless semis I encountered on the highway, especially when using the 8 speed manual paddle shifters. Down shift from cruising gears with the throttle down and the car seamlessly accelerates to speed, covering 60 to 80 in a proper fashion. The soft handling and body roll associated with the comfort mostly showed on the downhills of the mountain roads as our weight distribution rolled through the wheel base. On long and winding uphill stretches the car showed off it’s strengths, gamely accelerating to speed, hugging the lines while finding the apex of the turn. Sorely missing is the “Drive Mode Select” found in the sedan versions of the F Series. That dial and all of the suspension tightening it controls would instantly firm the ride up and likely change all my minor quibbles about the handling. Maybe next year.
Our brief foray into the snow demonstrated a capable AWD system. The 7.3 inches of ground clearance were high enough to drive over the days old remains of an unplowed snow storm. The Active Torque Control system only had to kick in once and like all AWD cars the nose of the car led the way out of the slide. Our rain sensing windshield wipers stayed hidden in the dry mountain air and our Emergency Assistance button remained mercifully untouched.
The 2014 RX 350 manages to retain it’s broad based luxury appeal, hitting all of it’s notes without becoming vanilla or uninspired. It does not possess the raw handling that I’ve come to expect from an F Series but it certainly compensates for it with a comfortable and luxurious ride. It’s a good fit for a man looking towards the days when a little more space might be needed and safety becomes the priority concern.
Oh, the wedding? We found a spot. Look for more from Tahoe in the coming months.
2014 Lexus RX 350 F Series Specs
- 3.5 Liter 270hp Four Cam 24 Valve V6 Engine
- 18/26 mpg
- 8 speed automatic transmission
- 0-60 in 7.7 seconds
- $39,760 – $54,000