Lexus RX 350 Lives Up to its History of Luxury

Lexus RX350Lexus introduced the first luxury crossover, the RX 300, in 1998 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Since then, the best-selling RX has been redesigned, updated and relabeled ? RX 330 in 2003, reflecting the larger-displacement engine, and RX 350 in 2007 when a 3.5-liter V-6 engine was added.

In 2010, changes included bigger standard wheels (18-inch versus 17-inch), bigger brakes, more air bags, new six-speed transmission, mouse-style controller for on-screen functions, and a keyless ignition.

The second-generation 2003 Lexus RX 330 became the first Lexus built outside Japan at an assembly plant in Ontario, Canada.

For 2014, the RX 350 brings a pre-collision braking technology and forward collision warning; a 115-volt AC power outlet for the Luxury and F-Sport models; optional Siri Eyes Free mode for the infotainment system; and Ultra White exterior for the F-Sport trim.

The RX 350 comes in three trims ? front-wheel drive (my tester), all-wheel drive and all-wheel drive F-Sport ? priced from $39,760-$47,450, all with a 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine. There are also two gasoline-electric hybrid versions, called the RX 450h, ranging from $46,410-$47,810.

F-Sport has an eight-speed automatic transmission, replacing the six-speed on the other models. My six-speed RX 350 had a ?snow mode? setting, which I didn?t need, as the ?Blizzards of 2014? had (temporarily) moved on.

All RX 350s are EPA-rated for at least 18 mpg in the city, with the front-wheel drive rated for 25 on the highway, the all-wheel drive 24 highway, and the F-Sport all-wheel drive 26 highway. My RX 350 averaged 20.8 mpg with mostly local driving, using cruise control whenever possible.

My RX 350 was Deep Sea Mica, an almost-black blue, with parchment leather interior, trimmed in espresso bird?s eye maple, riding on 18-inch painted five-spoke alloy wheels. There are nine available RX 350 exteriors and eight interior combinations with either ebony or espresso bird?s eye maple.

The Premium Leather Package included a blind-spot monitor, one-touch open-and-close moon roof, power-folding heated outside mirrors, driver?s seat/steering wheel/mirror memory with three settings, and roof rails.

My tester had a navigation system with voice command, which included a backup camera and eight-inch display; Lexus Enform, with destination assist and eDestination; SiriusXM traffic, weather, sports, stocks, and fuel prices; and subscription-free Enform App Suite.

Safety Connect is standard on the RX 350 and includes automatic collision notification; stolen-vehicle location; emergency-assist button (SOS, located on the headliner away from other buttons to help avoid accidental activation while trying to turn on the reading light or open the moon roof); and enhanced roadside assistance.

The display screen sits high on the dash and has a deep overhang, which helps to cut down on reflected glare and makes the screen easier to see. The mouse-style controller sits near the front of the center console, where the driver?s hand can rest comfortably on the wrist support.

In addition to navigation and the apps suite (includes Bing, iHeart Radio, OpenTable, Pandora, Facebook Places and more), the controller/display screen are used for fuel-consumption information, audio functions, Lexus Insider (provides occasional audio messages from Lexus to your navigation system, consisting of tips on using Lexus vehicle technologies and providing travel highlights, recommendations and exclusive owner benefits), climate and Bluetooth services.

Certain climate and audio functions may also be controlled using old-school buttons and knobs. Controls for phone, audio and information displays are also located on the steering wheel.

Voice Control allows Bluetooth-enabled phone calls plus climate, audio, and navigation control using everyday speech. Siri Eyes Free mode allows texting, emailing and more without using your hands.

With the Fuel Guide, the operator (or co-pilot/passenger) can search by price/grade/brand/distance and, after making a selection, display directions on the navigation screen.

NavTraffic shows up-to-date traffic conditions such as speed, estimated travel time and detour information to avoid tie-ups.

NavWeather continuously updates local weather reports, including severe weather alerts and three-day forecasts for a specific destination.

The Sports and Stocks apps bring access to game schedules, scores and team news and/or customized stock quotes and miscellaneous information.

For these reviews, I program the navigation system, which also gives insight into the other functions/folders. With a few exceptions, programming and following directions was relatively easy, although time-consuming as I had to click several times to access each function. The default screen was a split screen showing a partial map and another chosen function, requiring the operator to click at least twice to get the full navigation screen.

RX 350?s shifter is at the bottom of the center stack, where it doesn?t interfere with access to the controller or to the two large cupholders, located out of the way to the right of the controller, under a wood-trimmed door. The driver also has a pop-out dash cupholder to the left of the steering wheel.

The armrest opens on a large bi-level cubby with USB and auxiliary ports and a removable tray. The glove box is wide and deep, with a shelf for the large owner?s manual, and the door opens almost flat (think fast-food tray). There is a large open space under the front console with ridges, raised edges and an outlet, handy for my purse and phone charger.

The 12-speaker Premium Audio Package (included) with DVD/CD and HD radio with iTunes tagging provides remarkable sound, due to the careful placement and angle of every speaker. HD radio improves the reception on AM stations and provides CD-quality sound on FM stations. Satellite radio is included, with a 90-day free trial. The audio system also provides USB, iPod and MP3 control.

The cargo capacity of the RX 350 is flexible, from 40 cubic feet behind the rear seat to 80.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded flat. The cargo area is easy to access through the power rear door, raised or lowered using a switch inside the vehicle or the remote SmartAccess key fob.

The seatbacks fold and recline in a 40/20/40 configuration using handles on the side of the seat cushion or on either side of the cargo compartment, and the seats slide fore and aft using a lever on the seat front.

The middle seat is fairly comfortable, with a flat floor and reclining seatback. The seatback drops down for a center armrest with a large covered storage tray and two flexible cupholders under a wood-trimmed pop-up door.

My RX 350 was agile and as easy to handle as a luxury sedan, with a unique double-wishbone rear suspension and fully independent MacPherson strut front suspension.

Other extras on my vehicle included intuitive parking assist, a cargo mat, a cargo net, and wheel locks.

2014 LEXUS RX 350:

?Base price: $39,760

?Price as tested: $46,040

Prices exclude destination charge.

Source: MCT Information Services