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Review of: 2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD 4dr
2016 Lexus RX 350: Pretty nice, but not quite pretty
By Chris Chase
Jul. 22, 2016
In 1999, Lexus was one of the first automakers to enter what was then a new upscale crossover segment: its first-generation RX was sandwiched between the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, introduced just a year earlier, and the BMW X5 and Acura MDX that followed in 2000.
I’ve always thought Lexus nailed the style of that original RX, with clean lines that looked elegant next to BMW and Benz’s awkward efforts to create a new type of vehicle that would still be recognizable to the brands’ loyalists.
That issue was less of a concern for Lexus, a brand that at the time had only been around about 10 years — a fraction of the time BMW and Mercedes-Benz had spent establishing themselves as builders of high-performance cars. That reputation prompted many German-car loyalists to scoff at the idea of a mainstream high-riding SUV model.
Pros & Cons
- + Well-matched engine/transmission
- + Interior materials
- + Usable technology
- - Attention-getting styling
- - Touchscreen display
But as time passed, it became more important to make it easy to find an upscale brand’s models in a crowd, and the Lexus “spindle” grille was born. The fourth-generation RX is the latest model to get the spindle treatment, and if it doesn’t help you distinguish this mid-size crossover from its competitors, it’s probably time to visit the optometrist. I’d hardly call it pretty, but it sure is distinctive, and after a week with this car, I actually started to like the look of the bold grille next to my tester’s “autumn shimmer” (metallic brown) paint.
If you’re expecting an interior as daring as the RX’s new face, you’ll be disappointed. That’s a good thing, because the instrument panel presents a very conventional control layout that combines hard controls for basic audio and climate functions with Lexus’ “remote touch” interface to access more advanced controls via the dash-top display.
In theory, I like the remote touch system, which lets you navigate the “buttons” on the display as you would a computer screen with a mouse or touchpad. I find that method more natural than scrolling through menus, as you do in BMW’s iDrive or Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND systems.
The Lexus joystick vibrates when the cursor lands on a button so that, in theory, it’s easier to use without having to look away from the road. In practice, however, using the system will always require a certain amount of attention, and figuring out the joystick’s sensitivity to movement takes some practice. Better to get things set up the way you want before you drive away.
My tester’s interior was enhanced with the $14,050 executive package, which added a raft of convenience features that include navigation, rear door sunshades, panoramic sunroof, LED headlights, premium leather seats, 10-way adjustable front seats (including adjustable thigh supports and four-way lumbar), and power-folding rear seats with a power recline function. It wasn’t until I checked the specs that I realized the ventilated front seats are a standard feature. In my tester, the wood trim on the centre console and doors sported sharp-looking metallic accents.
Standard tech includes intelligent keyless entry with push-button start, power-adjustable steering column, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, auto-dimming side mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers.
That executive package also included a sweet-sounding 15-speaker stereo, touch-free power tailgate (operated by hovering a hand in front of the Lexus badge), wireless smartphone charging, head-up display, 360-degree exterior camera system, lane departure alert and prevention, navigation (which brings with it a 12.3-inch screen in place of the base 8.0-inch display), radar cruise control, and pre-collision system.
The upsized display screen incorporates a useful split-screen function that lets you view navigation and audio information at the same time.
The fourth-generation RX’s most significant mechanical update is an eight-speed automatic transmission, replacing last year’s six-speed, and it’s the star of this show.
Lexus’ 3.5L V6 (shared with a bunch of Toyota models) has always been a great performer, but the eight-speed’s tighter gear ratios make it feel stronger than its rather ordinary ratings of 295 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque would suggest. Like any transmission with this many ratios, it’s busy in normal acceleration, but does its work imperceptibly. Call on most of those 295 horses, and the gearbox’s rapid-fire performance rivals that of BMW’s eight-speed models.
Ride comfort is excellent and body motions are generally well-controlled, but the base package’s soft suspension may be a turn-off to shoppers who have driven any of the RX’s German competitors. An adaptive air suspension, bundled into two “F Sport” option packages, is available to firm up the ride.
All RX models get a drive mode selector that lets the driver choose between eco, sport, and normal settings, which change throttle response and steering feel. In F Sport models, this system also tightens up the RX’s suspension.
My tester posted average fuel consumption figures of 11.3 L/100 km in a mix of city and highway driving, and 10.1 L/100 km in straight highway cruising. The RX 350’s Natural Resources Canada estimates are 12.2/8.9 L/100 km (city/highway); if you crave more thrift than that, the gas-electric hybrid RX 450h’s estimates are 7.7/8.2 L/100 km, and averaged 8.4 in real-world city driving.
Two different people, when asked to guess the RX’s starting price, undervalued this mid-size crossover by nearly $10,000, and were surprised by its as-tested price of $68,000 and change. But even at that price, the RX is a very good value compared to its German competitors — the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne — the least-expensive of which (the Benz) starts at $63,200, and none come standard with many of the features found in my optioned-up tester. The restyled 2017 Acura MDX, however, has a similar list of standard features in its top-end Elite trim, for less than $66,000.
That value has helped make the RX one of Canada’s best-selling upscale crossovers. Its popularity has been bolstered by the easy driving nature of its previous iterations, offering an alternative for crossover shoppers not keen on the sharper driving feel that defines the German competition, or even the Acura MDX. The RX’s new look may be controversial, but far from driving buyers away, I think it’s going to do a lot to establish this crossover as a true equal to those better-known German models.