Full 2008 Lexus RX 350 Review
What's New for 2008
A new grille design and chrome exterior door handles distinguish the 2008 Lexus RX 350 from last year's model. In addition, there's a new graphite-finish 18-inch wheel design on the options list, and in models with a gray interior, you'll find black bird's eye maple trim.
The introduction of the Lexus RX series was perfectly timed to meet affluent consumers' emerging desire for SUVs that were easy to drive in suburbia and furnished to luxury sedan standards. The first of the luxury crossover SUVs, the RX 300 quickly became the brand's best-selling vehicle. It won over shoppers with its easygoing personality, upscale cabin, virtually silent powertrain and outstanding build quality. Now badged as the RX 350, this midsize crossover is nearing the end of its second generation but remains a strong competitor in its class. Rivals surpass the 2008 Lexus RX 350 in the handling department, but for buyers seeking comfort and serenity in large helpings, it easily satisfies.
Like other luxury crossover SUVs, the Lexus RX 350 is built on a car chassis, in this case the 2002-'06 Toyota Camry platform. These origins provide an immediate clue to the RX 350's personality: It's a serene and forgiving highway cruiser, but has never been much of an athlete, even by sport-utility standards. That said, the current-generation RX feels a touch sportier than the original, thanks to the availability of an adaptive air suspension and 18-inch wheels. Adding to the effect is the potent 3.5-liter V6 Lexus slotted into its crossover SUV last year. Rated for 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque, this V6 allows an all-wheel-drive RX 350 to accelerate to 60 mph in the mid 7-second range -- impressive for a V6-equipped midsize SUV.
In addition to comfort and quickness, the current RX has always been known for its arsenal of technology, and despite a recent flurry of redesigns in the premium SUV segment, it's still up to speed in this regard. It was the first crossover SUV to offer adaptive headlights, and its optional Mark Levinson sound system rivals the best stereos in this class, provided you're not put off by the $6,200 price tag on this package option. A navigation system with a rearview camera is also available, of course, and unlike in many competitors, the interface is user-friendly and easy to understand.
Overall, the 2008 Lexus RX 350 serves as an excellent example of what we think a luxury crossover utility vehicle should be. Certainly, competitors like the Acura MDX, BMW X5 and Infiniti FX35 will serve you better if sporty handling dynamics are a priority, while those needing third-row accommodations should check out the Cadillac SRX, Mercedes-Benz R350 or Volvo XC90. However, for consumers interested in a plush, convenience-laden five-passenger crossover, the RX 350 remains a worthy candidate in this very competitive market segment.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Lexus RX 350 is a luxury crossover SUV of midsize dimensions. It comes in a single trim level with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The RX 350's level of standard equipment is impressive and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a power rear liftgate, auto-dimming mirrors all around, 10-way power front seats, wood interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-speaker stereo with an in-dash CD changer, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, four one-touch power windows and second-row seats that slide and recline.
Leather upholstery is technically optional on the Lexus RX 350, but the chances of finding a cloth-upholstered RX on a dealer lot are virtually nil. Most models will have at least the Premium Package, which supplies leather, seat memory, a power tilt/telescoping wheel, a sunroof and a roof rack. Opt for Premium Plus and you'll get all of the above, plus adaptive bi-xenon HID headlights. Or, you could go for the Performance Package, which has all the Plus Package goodies, plus an adaptive air suspension and 18-inch wheels. Other high-tech extras available on the RX 350 include a navigation system, a rearview camera, a stunning Mark Levinson audio system and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones. The nav and entertainment systems can be purchased à la carte, but the Mark Levinson system is only available as part of a pricey package. Stand-alone options include laser-based adaptive cruise control, front seat heaters, rain-sensing wipers and towing preparation.
Powertrains and Performance
A 3.5-liter V6 rated at 270 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque powers the 2008 Lexus RX 350. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard, and buyers have a choice of either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Lexus claims a 0-60-mph time of 7.3 seconds for the FWD model and 7.4 ticks for the AWD version. Fuel economy estimates are down this year due to revised EPA testing procedures, but the RX is still efficient for such a powerful SUV. The ratings are 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway for the FWD model and 17/22 for the AWD version. Properly equipped, the RX 350 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
All the latest airbags are found on the RX 350, with standard front, side, head and even driver-knee airbags. Standard stability and traction control systems are on hand to help one avoid an accident in the first place. Although NHTSA has not tested an RX 350, the structurally similar RX 330 scored a perfect five stars for driver protection in frontal impacts and four stars for the front passenger. In side-impact tests, the RX 330 earned five stars across the board. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the current-generation RX a "Good" rating (the highest possible) in frontal-offset crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
Looking at the cabin of the Lexus RX 350, you'd never guess this is an entry-level luxury SUV. Real wood and leather trim on the console, door panels and steering wheel come standard and make for a rich ambience. Available features such as a rearview camera, adaptive headlights (which swivel slightly in the direction you are turning) and a voice-activated navigation system mean that this midsize luxury sport-ute gives up nothing to the more expensive prestige-brand SUVs when it comes to technology. The second-row seat reclines, slides fore and aft and is split 40/20/40 to optimize both passenger comfort and cargo-carrying flexibility. Behind that seat there are 38.3 cubic feet of luggage space; flip the seat down and cargo capacity increases to 85 cubes. Highly refined it its operation, the standard power liftgate makes life easier when the RX 350 is used as a beast of burden.
In true Lexus fashion, the 2008 Lexus RX 350 possesses a smooth and sophisticated personality. Performance is swift and silent. This is first and foremost a luxury vehicle, and as such the suspension is tuned more for a plush ride than sporty handling. Although the RX never feels floaty, those seeking a firmer dynamic should consider the Performance Package, which includes an air suspension along with 18-inch wheels fitted with lower-profile (235/55VR18 vs. 225/65SR17) performance tires.