2011 Lexus RX 350: Upscale, Up-Teched and Up-Powered


The Lexus RX has been America's best-selling luxury SUV since its introduction in 1998 and has increased its power and numerical name with each generation. As with many alpha- numerically named vehicles, the number indicates engine size.

The 1999 (brought out in March 1998) RX 300 was powered by a 3.0-liter engine; the 2004 RX 330 had a 3.3-liter engine and the 2007 RX 350, which has since been redesigned (in 2010), utilizes a 3.5-liter powerplant. Sister RX 400 and 450 models, predictably offer 4.0-liter and 4.5-liter engines.

RX was the first Lexus SUV and has been its entry into the luxury crossover niche for more than a dozen years. As the category has attracted more competition, RX has refined, upgraded, teched-up and improved its line.

Building a reputation for elegance, comfort, a luxury and high-tech interior, better-than-expected fuel economy, reliable performance and generous cargo capacity, the 2011 version lives up to the rep. The 4178-lb RX 350 is constructed with a unitized steel body and measures 187.8 inches long, 74.2 inches wide and 66.3 inches high on a 107.9-inch wheelbase, with ground clearance of 7.3 inches. Head-on, RX 350 shows a grille that is placed lower than the headlights for a strong face, and the lower edges of the grille form a unique arrowhead design. With a smooth and dynamic version of the trademark L-finesse design, RX 350 exhibits a sleek profile that is accentuated by broad shoulders for an athletic yet elegant presence. Bright finish side-window moldings follow a subtly concaved line across the A and C pillars, extending at the front and rear ends.

Under the hood, the 350 in its name is paid off with a 3.5-liter V-6 aluminum block engine that puts out 275hp and 257 lbs-ft of torque. Mated to a 6-speed multi-mode automatic transmission, (Electronically Controlled Transmission) with snow mode, RX 350 accelerates like a car with the confidence of a truck. On the track, my test ride sprinted from zero to 60mph in 7.2 seconds and managed a quarter-mile in 15.6, where 80mph felt like 60. On the highway, you must watch the speedometer, because the ride is so smooth, you can exceed the posted speed limit while the perception is that you are driving much slower.

Accelerating in traffic is effortless and maneuvering in town is equally easy, though backing, even with a rear camera, is filled with blind spots and spatial misperceptions. We always advise that even with a back-up camera, swivel your head and look around … don’t rely only on the tech.

EPA rated at 18mpg in city driving and 24 on the highway, with an average estimated at 20mpg, my test, which took me from the BWI airport and Beltway, up to I-70 and into Hagerstown then across the border on I-81 into Central Pennsylvania in snowy conditions, averaged 22.1mpg with highway-to-town driving at about a 5-to-1 ratio.
The electric power rack and pinion with electronic power assist was not instantaneous and the lag produced tiny understeer, but the all-wheel-drive set-up, accentuated by electronically controlled active torque control provided a smooth, non-swaying experience during quick changes in course. The MacPherson front suspension with coil springs and the rear double wishbone, leveled out most road inadequacies

In the cabin the experience was quiet and the environment was refined and filled with high-tech, though the change from a touchscreen brain center to the current toggle system is not as user friendly as was the previous generation.

Interior dimensions show front headroom (with moonroof) of 39.1 inches and 37.7 in row two; legroom is 43.1 inches in front and 37.1 inches in the rear and shoulder room of 58.0 inches and 57.6 inches. Cabin amenities include Lexus premium audio with 9 speakers, AM/FM antenna integrated into rear spoiler, Bluetooth® audio streaming from compatible devices, in-dash six-disc CD auto-changer, XM radio, 10-way power driver and front passenger's seat with lumbar support, auto dual-zone climate control with rear seat vents, dust and pollen particle and deodorizing interior air filter, power tilt and telescopic steering column, power windows and door locks, genuine wood interior trim, LCD screen, rear black privacy glass with integrated spoiler, fabric-trim seats, Organic white Light-Emitting Diode instrument display, steering wheel audio controls and a tool kit.

Rated one of the top safety performers in its class and earning a 4-star (out of 5) rollover rating, RX 350 is outfitted with such safety items as driver and front passenger airbags, driver and front passenger knee airbags, front and rear seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags, disc brakes with four-channel ABS and brake assist, stability control, and traction control.

Aggressively base priced at $39,275, my test ride added a Comfort package of rain-sensing wipers with mist control, high-intensity headlamps and driver and passenger heated and ventilated seats for $1950; 12-speaker audio system for $110; Luxury package of leather seats, heated outside mirrors, rear camera, 19-inch alloy wheels and driver seat memory for $4900; Navigational system for $2465, intuitive parking assist for $500; cargo net for $50 and delivery fees of $875 for a drive-off of $50,234 plus tax and license.

Content provided by Carlisle Events. Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

by Mike Blake, All About Cars