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2013 Lexus RX 350 Offers Luxury, Comfort and Utility

Njuguna Kabugi | 9/4/2013, 3 p.m.
The Lexus RX 350 has a reputation for being not just refined and comfortable, but also for being exceptionally well-equipped. (Courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.)

Back in the day, that is before 1998, an SUV was a lightly made over truck. That meant an upright windshield, live axles fore and aft, wrapped in an angular, flat-faced farm-boy body styling.

Those were the days when an SUV in the driveway gave the impression your family had interesting and exotic destinations that simply could not be reached by car – even better if there was also a boat to tow. But, like the trucks they were derived from, these SUVs consumed too much gasoline and were not particularly designed for everyday use.

Sensing opportunity, Toyota placed the body of a sporty mid-size SUV on top of a platform designed for the Camry sedan and called it the Lexus RX 300. The luxury utility vehicle offered a commanding view of the road and plenty of usable interior space, like a traditional SUV, combined with the fuel efficiency and smooth ride of a car.

The crossover was an instant hit, and provided a first-win for the Japanese automaker’s skirmishes against the German luxury brands. While Lexus may have lagged behind BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz with its sedans and coupes, the RX gave the automaker a loyal following of repeat owners and buyers not swayed by the European rivals.

The RX is more practical, often less expensive, and has standout safety and entertainment features. It also has a long-established reputation for reliability and dealer service. The RX is also a money mint for Lexus. In 2012 Lexus sold nearly 250,000 vehicles in the United States. Almost 100,000 of these were RX SUVs.

We recently tested the RX 350 and were pleasantly surprised that the 2013 model still retains the qualities that have made the RX series a standout for over a decade. Not only is the RX luxurious with a well-crafted cabin and easy-to-use Lexus remote-touch technology, it is also a blast to drive.

The new RX 350 comes in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. There is also a hybrid, the RX 450h, and an F-Sport version. The 2013 model features an updated look with the new bolder, signature Lexus spindle grille, exterior enhancements, and an upgraded interior.

Though the RX 350 is no sports car, if you're used to driving SUVs that feel heavy and a bit sluggish, this vehicle will be a pleasure. The 3.5-liter V6 engine puts out 270 hp with plenty of torque to propel you safely in town and on the freeway.

The front seats are comfortable, but the passenger seat doesn’t have the same range of electric adjustability as the driver’s seat. The rear seats are higher off the ground for greater visibility and mercifully, the RX has no differentiable “hump” in the rear making sitting three-across far less painful than in many RWD based crossovers.

For cargo hauling, the RX provides the largest hold in the five passenger luxury category. The SUV is equipped with 10 standard airbags, including side curtain airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, rear side airbags (for the outboard seating positions) and knee airbags for the driver and the front passenger. Safety features include a Pre-Collision System (PCS) with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control that uses millimeter-wave radar to measure and help maintain a pre-set following distance from a vehicle traveling directly ahead.

The RX 350 is not cheap, though for this category it can be considered reasonable. Our test model had a suggested retail price just above $40,000. Options pushed the price a whopping 10k, and with the addition of a destination charge, the final invoice came to $50,860. EPA fuel ratings place the RX 450h at up to 32 mpg city, 28 highway. Our gasoline powered tester had an EPA city/highway driving rating of 18/26 mpg.