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2007 Lexus RX 350

2007 Lexus RX 350

Lexus dropped of its swish 2007 RX 350 today, and before the parking attendant could slot it between all the other Lexuses in CNET's parking garage, we snatched the keys and took it for a spin. The 3.5-liter V-6 RX 350 is more powerful than the Lexus RX 330's (the car it replaces), generating a healthy 270 horsepower and enough torque to spin the wheels off the line. Engine tech is also upgraded in the RX 350, which uses dual variable valve timing to optimize performance and reduce emissions.

The only significant exterior difference between the RX 350 and the outgoing RX 330 is the addition of a grille below the front bumper. While the 5-door RX 350 is technically an SUV, it is cut from different cloth than some of the suburban tanks we have recently reviewed, such as the 2007 GMC Yukon and the 2007 Cadillac Escalade. While calling the RX 350 nimble is a stretch, its throttle response is good, and it displays passable handling and road-holding when thrown into corners, albeit with some noticeable body roll.

Our 2WD tester came with a Performance package, which includes sequential automatic transmission, four-wheel air suspension (with settings for rough-terrain, normal, and "spirited" driving conditions), adaptive HID headlights, and rain-sensing wipers. Inside, our RX 350 was decked out with the usual Lexus cabin luxury in the shape of ivory-leather trim with (imaginatively named) golden bird's-eye maple accents. Unfortunately, our test model came without many of the optional gadgets that will differentiate the RX 350 from lesser SUVs.

Most conspicuously, it came without Lexus's fifth-generation navigation unit, which so impressed us in the 2006 Lexus IS 350. Navigation--along with a backup camera and a Bluetooth hands-free interface--is available for an additional $2,650 or as part of the Luxury Value Edition package, which also includes an upgraded 11-speaker 210-watt audio system from Mark Levinson. This upgraded system needs to be outstanding if it is to rival Lexus's standard six-disc in-dash system, which we found to be by far the most impressive feature of our admittedly low-tech tester. While the display of ID3-tag information for MP3 and WMA CDs is limited to a single, truncated line of text, sound quality through the six speakers is awesome, with enough clear bass to blow the doors off and high-quality separation right across the range.

Other major tech options available on the RX 350 are a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with roof-mounted LCD screen and wireless headphones, adaptive (or in Lexuspeak: "Dynamic Laser") cruise control, and heated front seats. Safety features on the RX 350 are impressive, with ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, variable stability control, and a tire-pressure monitoring system--all standard.

The Rx 350 bases at $37,400 but can approach the $50K mark when optioned up to the teeth.