What's New for 2000
The RX 300 remains mechanically unchanged. A Mineral Green Opalescent paint replaces Desert Bronze Metallic on the order sheet.
Lexus, like many manufacturers these days, has jumped on the sedan/sport-utility hybrid bandwagon with the RX 300. Touted as a "new breed of SUV," the RX 300 is supposed to offer the style, versatility, and poor-weather traction of an all-wheel-drive SUV without negatively affecting ride, fuel economy, or ease of entry/exit.
Rather than a conventional body-on-frame design, the RX 300 is built on a unibody platform. It is a mid-sized SUV, with dimensions similar to those of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Powering the RX 300 is a 3.0-liter V6 producing 220 horsepower and 222 foot-pounds of torque. A continuously variable valve timing (VVT-i) system allows the Lexus engine to generate more low-end torque for more pulling power and standing-start response. Eighty percent of peak torque is available as low as 1,600 rpm.
Now in its second year of production, the RX 300 can be had in front-wheel drive, which improves both performance and gas mileage. To add to the front-wheel-drive model's capability in less than perfect weather, electronic traction control is optional. Full-time four-wheel drive is also available with a viscous center coupling that directs torque to the wheels with the most traction whenever slippage occurs.
The RX 300 tackles urban pavement quite well. Body roll isn't excessive and the brakes are strong. City driving is made easy thanks to a smooth four-speed automatic transmission. The RX 300 gets a bit chicken when it comes to the serious stuff, however. It lacks a low-range transfer case, and maximum towing capacity is 3,500 pounds, which is 3,000 pounds less than a 4x4 Jeep Grand Cherokee V8's maximum towing capacity.
Sitting inside the RX 300 is like sitting in a sedan with excellent road visibility. It's spacious and comfortable in the front seats or the rear bench. The optional leather package includes leather trim on the seating surfaces and headrests, and the surfaces actually feel like leather instead of vinyl. The seats, both front and back, offer plenty of thigh support for a variety of leg sizes. Dashboard material and instruments feel substantial, though the center-console display screen can wash out in sunlight.
With its long list of luxury and safety features (side airbags are standard in the RX 300) Lexus is able to offer a lot of car (in the guise of a truck) for not a lot of money. While we wouldn't recommend the RX to anyone with serious off-road aspirations, it fulfills its intended mission of giving semi-affluent buyers an SUV that won't offend the other country club members.