Used 2001 Lexus RX 300 Review

Edmunds expert review

Looks like an SUV (sort of). Drives like a car. That's why this is Lexus' best-selling vehicle.

What's new for 2001

Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), traction control and BrakeAssist safety technologies are now standard, as is water-repellant front door and sideview mirror glass. Lights front and rear are revised, and the grille has been changed to a simpler design with chrome accents and a larger Lexus badge. HID headlights and chrome-plated wheels are optional for 2001, the full-size spare is newly mounted to a matching alloy wheel and a larger 19.8-gallon fuel tank increases driving range. Inside, new cloth upholstery debuts and an all-black leather option is available. Chrome door handles and scuff plates emblazoned with the Lexus logo class up the joint, while an additional cupholder is available to rear-seat occupants. Optional for 2001 are a wood-trimmed steering wheel and wood trimmed shift knob. Two-level seat heaters are also available. A DVD-based navigation system is optional, with the contiguous U.S. mapped onto a single disc. Child seat-tether anchors and ISO-FIX bars have been added this year. Models with 4WD get prewiring for towing and a standard rear bumper protector. Four new colors round out the list of changes for 2001.

Vehicle overview

Lexus was the first automaker to offer a true, car-based luxury SUV, and consumers have rewarded the company by making the RX 300 the best-selling Lexus in the land. Touted upon introduction as a "new breed of SUV," the RX 300 is supposed to offer the style, versatility, and poor-weather traction of a four-wheel-drive sport-ute without negatively affecting ride, fuel economy, or ease of entry/exit. We would deem the mission a success.

Rather than employ a conventional body-on-frame design, Lexus built the RX 300 on a unibody platform that shares more than a passing resemblance with the Toyota Camry. With dimensions similar to those of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the RX 300 can be classified a midsize SUV, thanks to a maximum cargo capacity measurement of 75 cubic feet.

Powering the RX 300 is a smooth-revving 3.0-liter V6 producing 220 horsepower and 222 foot-pounds of torque. Eighty percent of peak torque is available as low as 1,600 rpm, which translates into spirited acceleration around town. The front-wheel-drive version sprints from rest to 60 mph in just 8.5 seconds, according to Lexus.

Equipped with a silky four-speed automatic transmission and riding on a four-wheel independent suspension sprung with MacPherson struts at each corner, the RX 300 drives just like a lighter, marginally more nimble minivan. With a large, rakish windshield and goofy front quarter windows, the view from the driver's seat imparts the same feel as a Toyota Sienna.

Unlike the Sienna, the RX 300 can be had with your choice of front-wheel drive or full-time four-wheel drive. Not only does the FWD version perform better and get better fuel economy, but it benefits from standard electronic traction control to improve poor weather performance. Four-wheelers include a viscous center differential that directs torque to the wheels with the most traction whenever slippage occurs. For 2001, Lexus has added Vehicle Skid Control (VSC -- a stability control system) and Brake Assist (which applies full braking pressure in panic situations quicker than your feet can) as standard equipment on all RX 300s.

The RX 300 tackles daily driver tasks quite well. The softly sprung suspension soaks up road irregularities, the steering is light and linear, and the brakes are quite strong. However, when it comes to serious work, whether on or off the road, the Lexus proves ill equipped. It lacks a low-range transfer case for anything more than light off-roading, and maximum towing capacity is 3,500 pounds, which is 3,000 pounds less than a 4x4 Jeep Grand Cherokee V8. Don't expect to canyon carve, either, as the tires fold over and the suspension lets the body roll excessively when the RX is pushed hard in turns.

Inside, the RX 300 is spacious and comfortable up front; less so on the low-mounted rear bench. The optional leather package includes cowhide on the seating surfaces and headrests, and the stuff actually feels like leather instead of vinyl. Dashboard materials and instruments feel substantial, and are obviously shared with a number of other Toyota products.

Our primary gripe with the interior has to do with the gimmicky LCD screen mounted in the center of the dash. Audio and climate control functions partially rely on information displayed here, and because the screen is so large, the knobs and buttons for the stereo and HVAC are squashed and small. It is distracting and ergonomically inferior to proper switchgear, and we hate it.

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 a reasonable amount 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 a vehicle with the look and function of an SUV without the annoying truck-like ride and handling common to the class.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.