1999 Lexus RX 300 Review

Pros & Cons

  • Relatively inexpensive (as Lexus vehicles go, anyway).
  • Don't kid yourself, it's not a real SUV.
Other years
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List Price Estimate
$1,322 - $2,322

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Vehicle overview

Lexus, like many manufacturers these days, is jumping on the sedan/sport-utility hybrid bandwagon with the all-new RX300. Touted as a "new breed of SUV," the RX300 is supposed to offer the style, versatility, and poor-weather traction of an all-wheel drive SUV without the compromise in ride, fuel economy, or ease of entry/exit associated with most SUVs.

While it may be "new" for Lexus, this luxury market segment had already been addressed by Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz and the new Jeep Grand Cherokee. However, Lexus chose to base the RX300 on a car, rather than truck, platform. Consumers who want all the luxury of a high-end sedan along with the apparent security and beefiness of a truck are buying these vehicles faster than the manufacturers can produce them.

Powering the RX300 is a 3.0-liter 24-valve V6 that makes 220 horsepower and 222 pound-feet of torque. Lexus' trademark Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVTi) is used to create 80 percent of the engine's torque at 1,600 rpm. It also enhances fuel economy and reduces emissions.

For buyers living in mild climates, the RX300 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.

In keeping with its Lexus nameplate, the RX offers numerous luxury features like a dash-mounted liquid crystal display for relaying climate control and trip computer information. A standard 190-watt Pioneer system can be upgraded to an optional 230-watt Nakamichi sound system for audiophiles who like to scare the wild life while slogging though the wilderness.

With its long list of luxury and safety features (side airbags are standard in the RX300) 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.

1999 Highlights

The RX 300 is an all-new car-based SUV from Lexus designed to compete in the luxury SUV segment.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the Used 1999 Lexus RX 300.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Best Vehicle I have ever owned. I have owned lots.
Jay Alan,06/25/2018
I have a 1999 and it is going strong with 228,000 miles and the only maintenance so far has been brakes, tires, oil filter, air filter, AC Recharge, and bulbs replacement. Considering it is the first year make and model I would rate that reliability tremendous. I think was is the most impressive feature of the RX 300 AWD is how great it performs in the snow, It has been in 2 to 3 feet in Wyoming and in the Sierra Mountains in California and Nevada. Never been stuck and have never had to chain up. The only complaint I have is the durability of the leather on the front seats. The leather wore out after about 10 years and now have to use seat covers.
Good older SUV
I bought this with 167k on it as a "winter beater" three years ago, never thinking that with that many miles it would be as great a vehicle as it is. The only thing that's ever gone wrong is that the ignition coils needed to be replaced. Still gets 20-25mpg, passes California smog with flying colors, looks pretty good for a 14 year old Lexus. It did have the advantage of being a one owner vehicle serviced exclusively by a Lexus dealer (it even has a Lexus brand battery). I change fluids religiously and expect it to go another 100k.
Affordable Luxury
I bought this car in late Fall from a private party. After much debate about what kind of SUV to buy I can now say I made a great choice! I was comparing it to the 4Runner and other comparable SUVs. I was a litte hesitant about buying a Lexus because of the cost factor and I thought that it may be too much to maintain. Since I bought it all I have done is a front brake job which I knew it needed when I bought it. Of course at first I brought it to a Lexus dealer but after seeing their review and estimates I brought it to my local shop and they did the same work for a lot less. I saved about $150 on the brake job with them. I have been extremely satisfied with it so far!
Lexus saved our lives!!
Owned a 1999 Lexus Rx 300 for five years. Three weeks ago my husband and I was hit from behind by a full sized pick up while sitting at a stop light,then pushed into another SUV in front of us. The police report said that the driver of the pick up never even noticed us and never slowed down and hit us doing 45mph. Although we received back/neck injuries, we feel that because we were driving our Lexus, it saved our lives. A police officer and a fireman both called our Lexus a "little tank" and told me that we were lucky to be driving it. we were told it could have more serious. We are definitely purchasing another Lexus as soon as we settle with insurance co. Miss our Lexy!


NHTSA Overall Rating

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver4 / 5
    Passenger5 / 5
  • Side Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
  • Side Barrier Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    DriverNot Rated
    PassengerNot Rated
  • Combined Side Barrier & Pole Ratings
    Front SeatNot Rated
    Back SeatNot Rated
  • Rollover
    RolloverNot Rated
    Dynamic Test ResultNo Tip
    Risk Of RolloverNot Rated
IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Not Tested
  • Roof Strength Test
    Not Tested
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
    Not Tested
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test

More about the 1999 Lexus RX 300
More About This Model

We've heard it all before: the roads of America are becoming more treacherous, trucks and sport-utility vehicles are too wide to see around and too tall to see over, station wagons are not cool, and gas is cheap. All of these factors mean that car manufacturers are forced to adapt to America's changing tastes if they want to remain competitive. Luxury car marques have hit make-or-break times recently, scrambling to give their dealerships high-demand sport-utes for an equally high profit. It's enough to make car enthusiasts sick.

Lexus already sells the LX-series sport-utility vehicle that shares most of its parts with the Toyota Land Cruiser. Other automakers have not been so fortunate. Just this year, Cadillac was forced to stick their badge on a Chevrolet Tahoe just to have a competitor for the wildly popular Expedition twin Lincoln Navigator. But the truck-based sport-utes are not going to win over anyone who still enjoys driving. Big trucks handle poorly, are hard to park and fit in a garage, and, since nobody's driving these things off-road anyway, who needs a heavy-duty machine?

So a new class of truck was invented. Last year, Mercedes-Benz entered the foray with their compact-sized M-Class sport-ute, an instant success that even won some awards from the press. The M-Class displayed unique design and defined a new segment of the market: the car-like luxury utility vehicle. In the near future, even performance-oriented BMW and Porsche will enter the compact sport-ute market, proving that car companies must adapt to survive, just as Darwin predicted.

With the RX300, Lexus has taken a step in the right direction. Rather than rip off an existing platform from Toyota, such as the RAV4, Lexus quickly developed something they can call their very own. The RX300 has its own floorpan and platform, and one look will tell you that the design is truly unique.

This vehicle has the usable feel normally associated with a sedan, if not the looks of your conventional four-door. The exterior can only be described as different. Round headlights and taillights appear under distinctively shaped lenses. Small triangular quarter-windows hem in the side windows, a particularly odd effect from inside, where it makes you wonder why they didn't just mount the side mirrors on the A-pillars rather than the doors. The front and rear bumpers are finished in gray paint, which we mention because the paint on our test car was chipped in several places, revealing black plastic underneath. Monotone paint probably wouldn't hurt appearances any.

Exterior dimensions measure 180.1 inches long, 71.5 inches wide and 65.7 inches tall - similar to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, if a few inches closer to the ground. The RX300 displays similar dimensions, in fact, to several of today's minivans. Riding on a 103-inch wheelbase, the RX300 has a turning circle of just 40 feet. Not quite nimble, but not bad.

But unlike the Grand Cherokee, the RX300 is not meant for use off the road. At its heart is a front-wheel drive layout, which is good for traction on slippery roads but not on slippery rocks. Our all-wheel drive model benefited from better performance in the wet, something we were unable to test during the four sunny days we lived with the car.

Ground clearance is only 7.7 inches, and approach and departure angles (that's off-road speak for how steep a rock you can run into or roll off of) are 28 and 23 degrees, respectively. Let's put it this way: the RX300 is no Jeep Wrangler. Thankfully, Lexus resisted the temptation to stick running boards along the sides, something we find totally useless about the Nissan Pathfinder and Infiniti QX4 twins. Step-in ease is therefore improved, and most drivers won't have to climb in or duck down to enter - you simply slide into the thigh-level seat.

Sitting inside the RX300 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 more substantial than the plastic of a Mercedes M-Class. That may not be saying much given the cheap feel of the Mercedes sport sport-ute, but the Lexus family heritage is obvious in the RX300.

Standard equipment includes attractive 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a full-size spare tire, automatic climate control, powered front seats, power and heated side mirrors, cruise control, real wood trim, liquid crystal information display, tilt steering wheel, and a 190-watt seven-speaker AM/FM stereo with cassette. Safety items include seat-mounted side impact airbags, four-wheel antilock brakes, side impact door beams, headrests for all five seating positions and daytime running lights.

A tonneau cover is also standard, and that covers any valuables that may be stored behind the rear seat. The rear bench (headrests removed) folds flat for carrying cargo, creating over 130 cubic feet of total interior volume. With that much carpeted space available inside, who needs to go off-road to pitch a tent? Just plop the sleeping bag down in the back of the RX300 and you're roughing it in a luxurious mobile camper. We even found that the built-in clock has an alarm feature, but we didn't get a chance to test it out.

The instrument panel is uncluttered and perfectly useful, but the centrally located instrument screen is more of a novelty than a worthwhile feature. The 5.8-inch wide liquid crystal display says gimmick with a capital "G." Displaying such crucial bits of data such as the time, outside temperature, audio information, climate control information, average fuel consumption, average speed, etc., the purplish-blue readout spent most of its time with us dimmed to black. Please, if you must provide gee-whiz gadgetry, make it something we couldn't get from the normal sources like the odometer or digital radio dial. Small screen technology like this should be reserved for either television or GPS maps.

But back to more important matters. The driver is faced with a shift lever positioned at the lower middle of the center console, which can be a reach for those with shorter arms. Personally, I appreciated how the open floor space lent another area to stretch my legs, but my less vertically gifted wife complained of the distance between herself and the gear selector.

Power is provided by an all-aluminum, 3.0-liter 24-valve V6 engine with Continuously Variable Valve Timing (VVTi), the first-ever use of variable valve timing on a vehicle in this class. A three-stage variable intake system and two-way bypass exhaust system help to make eighty percent of the peak torque available at only 1,600 rpm, which makes acceleration a breeze. Horsepower peaks at 220, and torque at 222.

Lexus claims that the RX300 goes from zero-to-60 in 8.8 seconds (8.5 seconds on the two-wheel drive model), and the quarter mile comes in at 16.6 seconds. Top speed is only 112 mph, which is low for a vehicle with this kind of power. However, since nobody needs to drive that fast, it's not a concern. The fact is that getting up to high speeds in the RX300 is relatively easy for something with a curb weight of 4,037 lbs.

As for the drive itself, it couldn't be any more like a car or any further from a truck. The RX300 handles twisty roads like a pro. Its wheels stay planted around turns, body roll is like that of a GS sedan, the brakes are strong and hold up well under repeated use, the transmission is silky and seamless, and the steering displays closer kinship to a roadster than a road hog. Understeer was prevalent due to the high front-weight bias. The RX300 balances out at a 57/43 ratio, front to rear, and though the AWD system moves some of the driving force to the rear, you'll want to slow down around tight turns.

What we could use is more power, perhaps of the 4.0-liter variety with 300 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque. The 220 horsepower unit performed well enough around town, but this car couldn't get by with much less for more serious workouts. And with a meager 3,500 lb. towing capacity, forget about hauling a camping trailer for those cross-country summer trips to the mountains. In fact, our test of the RX300 was performed near sea level, and we might have been a harsher judge of character if we had had to get through Colorado's Eisenhower Tunnel.

Mercedes continues to offer the RX300's only real competition in the prestige section of the compact sport sport-ute market, and the Germans now offer a powerful 4.3-liter motor for performance seekers. If Lexus wants to stay in the game, all they need to do is keep their eyes on the competition, and hope that the RX300's styling is indeed the model for SUVs of the future. We'll reserve judgment until BMW and Porsche have spoken. Meanwhile, the trend has been set.

Used 1999 Lexus RX 300 Overview

The Used 1999 Lexus RX 300 is offered in the following submodels: RX 300 SUV. Available styles include 4dr SUV, and 4dr SUV AWD.

What's a good price on a Used 1999 Lexus RX 300?

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Which used 1999 Lexus RX 300s are available in my area?

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Should I lease or buy a 1999 Lexus RX 300?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

Check out Lexus lease specials
Check out Lexus RX 300 lease specials