Lexus' RX model manages to pick up awards almost yearly, from J.D. Power and Associates' Vehicle Dependability to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick. So it isn't too surprising that Lexus has made only minor changes to this luxury SUV since the current generation's introduction in 2008.
Continuing this theme, the 2015 Lexus RX 350 merely adds a few features over the previous year, now gaining a head-up display and LED headlights, both designed to keep pace with the competition.
What the RX 350 does most successfully, similar to other Lexus and Toyota models, is provide dependable transportation and a driving experience that requires little engagement.
The RX 350, with its five-passenger SUV design, will accommodate most families. At the same time, 40 cubic feet of cargo space means plenty of room for luggage or the spoils of a shopping expedition. An elegant design and comfortable ride make it perfectly suitable as a commute car. The design lets it serve a variety of purposes, part of its popular appeal.
Less than expected
Getting into this new RX 350, I was surprised how small the LCD in the dashboard looked. The RX 350 comes standard with a 7-inch display, but the navigation option, included in the car I tested, bumps up the LCD size to 8 inches. Given the comfortable leather seats and generally nice interior design, I was expecting the wider LCDs I've seen in BMW and Mercedes-Benz models.
The Lexus Remote Touch interface, a square joystick on the console controlling a cursor on the screen, was more familiar. Lexus launched this interface controller some years ago, and I've always felt it was a good idea poorly executed. The controller movement needs more heft to fit the RX 350's luxury theme, and I often had trouble clicking exactly what I wanted, as the controller tended to slip under my hand.
That said, Lexus did a nice job with the onscreen graphics, especially for the main menu. I found them intuitive to use and liked the look.
Lexus has done little to update the navigation system in the RX 350 over the years. The maps only show in a top-down format, and live traffic coverage is not as comprehensive as in competitor models. However, the system does its job reasonably well, offering solid route guidance to destinations.
The available head-up display (HUD) contributes to guidance by showing turn-by-turn directions projected low on the windshield, next to a digital speed indicator. This HUD shows only graphics in monochrome, unlike the multicolored HUD graphics in BMW models. As with other features in the RX 350, the HUD works well but doesn't push ahead of, or even stay even with, the competition's.
Destination search is one area where Lexus has improved the RX 350's navigation system. Along with address entry and the points-of-interest database, Lexus has added its Enform telematics system. With it, from the car you can call up a concierge for help finding businesses, but more interesting is the Enform app integration. With the Enform app running on my phone, which I then paired to the car's Bluetooth network, I could access Bing search, Yelp, OpenTable, and Facebook Places.
Bing offers a free-form local business search similar to the way other automakers integrate Google local search. On the RX 350's LCD, I could either enter text with the Remote Touch controller, or choose a microphone icon to activate voice entry. I was disappointed to see that Lexus hadn't gone for full integration, and made Bing search accessible through the car's general voice-command system, activated from a button on the steering wheel.
Yelp, OpenTable, and Facebook Places also help in finding destinations for the navigation system, but sadly lack any voice control.
Despite Lexus burying the Enform apps under a couple of menus, I preferred using them to find destinations, as the system worked fast and gave me business addresses that were more up-to-date than what I found in the car's own points-of-interest database. The Yelp listings helped me determine whether a listed restaurant was actually any good.
Lexus includes a couple of music apps, iHeartRadio and Pandora, with Enform. These complement the car's own HD radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming, and USB port. I most often used my iPhone in the RX 350 as an audio source, either plugging it into the USB port or streaming it via Bluetooth. I was impressed that I could use the car's interface to choose music from the iPhone when it was streaming over Bluetooth. The RX 350's voice command also let me request specific artists or albums when the iPhone was cabled to the USB port.