After watching the 1994 Toyota Rav4’s success in the compact SUV market, Toyota decided to use its Lexus division to launch a luxury SUV. Introduced in 1998, the Lexus RX was considered one of the world’s first luxury SUVs. Using an enlarged version of the sixth generation Camry’s platform (shared with the Lexus ES also), the RX combined car like performance with ground clearance akin to an SUV. Its success prompted other rival companies to take notice. The Mercedes-Benz M-Class and the BMW X5 are the results. As the RX reached even more sales, it grew in size. Whereas the original was a compact SUV, the second generation (2003-2008) was labeled as a midsize SUV. This iteration also introduced the world’s first production luxury hybrid, the RX400h. Lexus redesigned the RX in 2009. It received a facelift in 2012 which included mechanical improvements as well as revised exterior and interior updates that brought it in line with Lexus’ latest design philosophy.
When you look at the RX head on, you immediately notice the grille. Dubbed the “spindle grille”, this grille is part of Lexus’ L-Finesse design philosophy. The more I looked at it, the more I liked it. It may be unusual, but it works. The rest of the front fascia is elegant and suiting to this car’s mission as a luxury SUV. The character line does little to the unexciting side profile. I particularly detest the lower part of the doors’ crease. It looks out of place. The rear is just okay in terms of appearance, if a little bulbous in shape. It’s an attractive car, but it does not do anything for me. The interior has a high tech feel, and the two tone scheme is appealing.
Having driven a 2011 Lexus RX350, I was expecting lackluster handling from this RX. Truth is, the RX provides an underwhelming driving experience. It is much better than the 2011, but I would not call this fun to drive. True of a Lexus, the steering is overly light, and there is no actual feel. The steering’s light weight pays dividends when parking, but it is easily unsettled by huge bumps or potholes. You can literally feel the tires losing grip in corners as the steering wheel becomes squirmy. The dramatic body lean does little to inspire confidence in the RX’s abilities. However, the ride quality is superb. It rivals many luxury sedans costing far more. Bumps are well suppressed, and huge road imperfections are met with a slight thud. Driving this car is analogous to driving on a cloud. The brake pedal feels mushy, but performance is decent overall.
With 270 horsepower and 248 lbs of torque, the RX is quick. Acceleration is sprightly, and the whole time I was driving, I never asked for more power. This engine suits this car well. Not much effort is needed to get the RX moving with traffic yet when you really need power, it will deliver. In this front wheel drive model, torque steer is constant if you floor it. In a typical Lexus manner, the six speed shifts seamlessly. Curiously, an eight speed automatic transmission is available on the RX350 F Sport AWD but not on the RX350 FWD and RX350 AWD (RX450h comes with an eight speed automatic transmission in both FWD and AWD versions). Fuel economy is decent at 18/25/21 mpg (city/highway/combined).
Refinement is excellent. There is just a whisper of wind noise at speeds past 40 mph. The engine remains muted, but when pressed, it produces quite a trashy engine note unfitting of this price.
When you sit in the cabin, you are aware that Lexus does not skimp on interior quality. The interior is beautifully finished with swarms of leather and plush surfaces throughout. The power tilt and telescoping wheel is a handy feature, and it is easy to get comfortable. You get a commanding view of the road ahead. The seats with their soft padding provide sumptuous comfort. There is generous headroom and legroom, especially in the rear. The rear seats are spacious, and they recline. Cargo space is skimpy though, and visibility is problematic. The Lexus’ mouse controller for the navigation has been criticized for being too fussy to use. The thing is, once you take the time to learn it, it is actually easy. You use the mouse to click on functions in the navigation system. It works well because it selects the functions for you so it is not like you will be pointing it randomly in the screen. The controls are easy to use. The only problem I have is that the navigation will not let you change/select your destination when the car is moving. The parking sensors are overly sensitive.
Honestly, when I first drove the 2011 Lexus RX, I hated it. I hated the styling and the uninspired handling. But with this 2014 RX, I got to spend more time with this car. The perplexing thing is that I actually like this car a lot. I am not being sexist, but this car is designed for women with its focus towards comfort. Lexus admitted that a majority of the RX’s buyers are women. But once you get past that, you’ll find that the RX is a very compelling package. It is not designed to be as sporty as say a BMW X3, but it does everything else well. The RX is one of very few cars I found completely relaxing to drive. The seats hugged me, and the quietness and the ease of the controls all made for a very peaceful environment. Part of being a car guy is being able to appreciate a car for what it is rather than lambasting for what it cannot do. The RX is a genuinely good car, and it is not hard to understand the secret to its success.
I currently own a 2010 RX450h. The driving experience isn’t exactly what you’d call exciting or engaging, but it is very comfortable on long trips. The best part about the hybrid model is the amazing 30 MPG (or right around there) that you get with highway driving, which is about seventy percent of my daily commute.