Full 2009 Lexus RX 350 Review
What's New for 2009
Apart from a new Pebble Beach edition, the Lexus RX 350 sees no changes for 2009.
By the early 1990s, Lexus had solidified its reputation as a builder of upscale luxury vehicles that appealed to those who prized a magic carpet ride over sports car handling dynamics. In keeping with that philosophy, the company rolled out the first luxury crossover SUV, the RX 300, in 1999. Meeting affluent consumers' increasing desire for sensibly sized SUVs that were easy to drive in suburbia and furnished to luxury sedan standards, the RX 300 was a home run for Lexus. Contributing to its success was its easygoing personality, upscale cabin, virtually silent powertrain and outstanding build quality.
The next-generation RX (the 330) arrived for 2004, sporting more aggressive styling and a larger (3.3-liter) V6. Three years later, a more muscular V6 filled the engine bay, and the name changed to RX 350. Now in its sixth year, the second generation of Lexus' midsize crossover is nearing the end of its life cycle, yet it remains a strong choice in its segment.
Like other luxury crossover SUVs, the 2009 Lexus RX 350 is based on a car platform, in this case the 2002-'06 Toyota Camry. As one may rightfully assume, this makes the RX 350 a serene highway cruiser, but not exactly an athlete. Still, the current RX can be a touch sporty if equipped with the available air suspension and 18-inch wheels. Acceleration, on the other hand, would make Carl Lewis grin, thanks to that potent 3.5-liter V6 transplant that Lexus performed a few years ago.
Even when squaring off against more modern rivals, the 2009 Lexus RX 350 serves as a fine example of what a luxury crossover SUV should be. Yes, sportier competitors like the Acura MDX, BMW X5 and Infiniti FX35 are better choices if corner-carving handling dynamics are a top priority. And 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.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Lexus RX 350 is a luxury crossover SUV of midsize dimensions that seats five. Standard features include 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 a CD changer and steering-wheel-mounted controls) and second-row seats that slide and recline.
Leather upholstery is optional but the chances of finding a cloth-upholstered RX are highly unlikely. Most models will have the Premium Package, which adds leather seating, seat memory, a power tilt/telescoping wheel, a sunroof and a roof rack. Opt for Premium Plus and you'll also get adaptive bi-xenon HID headlights. The Performance Package includes all the preceding plus an adaptive air suspension and 18-inch wheels. This year also brings the Pebble Beach edition, which includes chrome wheels and grille accents, leather seating, walnut cabin accents and a golf-and-travel-themed gift pack.
Other extras available include a user-friendly 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. Other options include adaptive cruise control, front seat heaters, rain-sensing wipers and towing preparation.
Powertrains and Performance
A 3.5-liter V6 rated at 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque powers the 2009 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 either version will run from zero to 60 mph in under 7.5 seconds.
Fuel economy estimates stand at 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for the FWD model, with the AWD version rating 17/22 mpg. Properly equipped, the RX 350 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
The RX 350 comes standard with front-seat side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags and a knee airbag for the driver. Standard stability- and traction-control systems as well as antilock brakes with brake assist are on hand to help one avoid an accident in the first place.
In government crash tests, the 2009 Lexus RX 350 scored a perfect five stars for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts. In side-impact tests, the RX 350 again 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 its frontal-offset crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although the RX 350 is an entry-level luxury SUV, the cabin gives the impression that this could be the company's flagship. Real wood and leather trim on the console, door panels and steering wheel come standard and make for a rich ambience. The optional Mark Levinson sound system rivals the best systems available anywhere, and the available voice-activated navigation system boasts one of the most user-friendly interfaces. Rear passengers can get comfortable thanks to the seat's reclining and sliding adjustments. That seat is split 40/20/40 to optimize both passenger comfort and cargo-carrying flexibility. When it's time to turn this luxury cruiser into a beast of burden, the standard power liftgate makes life easier and allows easy access to the RX 350's maximum cargo capacity of 85 cubic feet.
In true Lexus fashion, the 2009 Lexus RX 350 possesses a smooth and sophisticated personality. Acceleration is swift and silent thanks to the 3.5-liter V6 and quiet cabin. 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 performance tires.