It's fitting that the 2010 Lexus RX 350 was introduced in Napa Valley, California, the heartland of American wineries. When crafting a delicate Pinot Noir, taking a conservative approach is well advised. One false step can be the difference between perfection and swill. And much like a fine wine, Lexus' best-selling vehicle was developed carefully in a measured, logical fashion; one false, radical step could mean the difference between star and also-ran.
Though at a passing glance the 2010 RX 350 looks similar to the outgoing model, not much is shared between the two. Yet with the exception of semi-significant increases in track width (2.2 inches front, 2.6 inches rear), most key dimensions are similar to last year's RX. However, with a weight gain of more than 400 pounds, the 2010 RX 350 is substantially more full-bodied.
There are a couple of solid reasons for the increased mass — a more robust structure to promote greater crashworthiness and more standard features. The latter include heavier 18-inch wheels and tires (versus last year's 17s), bigger brakes and a keyless ignition system. Because of the typical negative effects on performance and fuel economy, we usually regard weight gain with the same disdain as The Biggest Loser fitness instructors do. Yet it doesn't seem to affect the new RX 350 which, based on our back-to-back drives of 2009 and 2010 editions, feels more athletic thanks to sharpened steering and a revamped suspension. The latter features a rear double-wishbone setup that not only improves handling but opens up more cargo space behind the seats thanks to its more compact design.
In addition to its more composed road manners, the 2010 Lexus RX 350 also brings an easier way to operate its available navigation system. Called Remote Touch, the new interface replaces the former touchscreen setup with a mouselike controller located on the center console. The new interface is immediately intuitive and a comfort to those spooked by previous exposure to multifunction controllers (iDrive, anyone?).
As before, the Lexus RX 350 is a pleasant drive. Incrementally improved, the latest RX should prove to be as palatable to luxury SUV consumers as a carefully crafted Pinot Noir.
Under the Lexus RX 350's hood is the familiar and well-respected Toyota/Lexus 3.5-liter V6, but various revisions (intake and exhaust systems, cylinder heads) bump up the output to 275 horsepower and 257 pound-feet of torque (up 5 hp and 6 lb-ft, respectively). A new six-speed automatic offers one more gear than last year, and the greater spread of ratios allows the new RX 350 to be as quick as the lighter, previous version. Lexus puts the 0-60-mph dash at a quick 7.4 seconds for the front-drive version and 7.5 ticks with AWD. Yet this performance comes with improved fuel economy as well, standing at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway for FWD and18/24 for the AWD, according to Lexus.
As before, the RX performs admirably without calling attention to itself. The transmission shifts so smoothly that oftentimes only the telltale, sudden movement of the tachometer's needle is proof that a gearchange has occurred. Similarly, braking performance is linear and smooth.
But it's in the area of handling where the new RX shows the most improvement. While we still wouldn't call it sporty — though the steering is quick and precise, it still lacks road feel — the 2010 Lexus RX feels confident on a winding road. Even with the added pudge factor, body roll is kept in check and the ride is, as expected, luxuriously smooth and quiet. We also sampled an RX 350 with the optional sport suspension, but apart from a somewhat firmer ride, we didn't notice much of a difference. In fairness, we didn't push it that hard (no track time at this event) but we imagine that most RX intenders would be happy with the standard setup.
Softly padded but well-shaped, the front seats offer enough support to make an all-day drive comfortable. The power tilt-telescoping steering wheel was welcomed by short and tall editors alike. The second-row seats are up high enough to provide proper thigh support and, as with the previous generation, recline and slide to adjust to a variety of passengers. The lack of a third seat option with this redesign may seem odd to some folks, but consumer feedback told Lexus that current (and perhaps future) RX owners felt that the vehicle's size was just right and that a third row wasn't a requirement.
In keeping with Lexus tradition, the 2010 RX 350 doesn't overwhelm its driver with the operation of its luxury features. The aforementioned Remote Touch control is one good example. If you've ever used a computer mouse, then it should be immediately familiar — simply move the omni-directional knob to move the screen's cursor and then thumb-click the side-mounted "enter" button to select whatever you're pointing at. Also appreciated are the stereo's inclusion of time-tested volume and tuning knobs and the newly standard keyless ignition/entry system.
In addition to optimizing occupant comfort, those multiadjustable second-row seats also make installing a baby seat easier. By sliding back, they allow more room for a parent to maneuver the seat into place, while the recline feature can adjust to suit the angle of the baby seat when facing forward.
Compared to last year's RX 350, cargo space with the second-row seats raised increases by a couple of cubic feet to 40 cubes. Flipping the rear seats down (which can also be done easily via release handles in the cargo bay) reveals a respectable 80.3 cubic feet, which is nevertheless down 5 cubes compared to the '09 RX. Though we can't imagine RX owners hauling anything bigger than a few sets of Pings and/or a couple of Louis Vuitton bags, it can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Design/Fit and Finish
Looking at the 2010 Lexus RX 350 straight on, you may confuse it with an IS sedan, as the trapezoidal grille looks as if it was lifted from that car. A closer look reveals the top edge of the grille bleeding into the Camry-like headlights. The overall profile and window treatment mimics the outgoing RX. But the new sheet metal has some strange contours — notably down low on the rear doors — ostensibly to give it a sporty look. Out back, the distinctive taillights that melded with the rear window are gone, replaced by more generic units set into the more standard location below. We prefer last year's styling, but that's just us.
The cabin is cleanly styled and fitted with quality materials (including real walnut wood accents) assembled with great care. Our test vehicles were pre-production units, but you'd never guess that given their excellent build quality. There were no squeaks or rattles, even when cruising along a Napa Valley vineyard trail.
Who should consider this vehicle
Previous (and current) owners of any Lexus RX as well as anyone looking for a midsize luxury SUV that provides comfort and impeccable build quality, as well as a sterling reputation for reliability and low upkeep costs.
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