Few automakers do luxury as well as Lexus does these days, and it shows with the interior and ride quality of the 2010 Lexus RX 350. A simple five-seat SUV, the RX 350 damps out the bumps in the road while treating occupants to a well-styled cabin. Forget trips into back country or sporting drives over twisting mountain roads, the RX 350 is a civilized city runner.
Updated and upgraded
The 2010 RX represents a serious update over the previous model year. The power train remains a 3.5-liter V-6, but the automatic transmission goes from five to six gears, the rear gets supported by a double wishbone suspension to maximize cargo room, and Lexus gives the cabin electronics a welcome upgrade. The RX is still available in front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive formats. We reviewed the all-wheel-drive version. The hybrid version, called the RX 450h, is also available, and we will review that car at a later date.
Where previous RX 350 models could be had with an air suspension that could be raised for tough terrain, Lexus has now removed that option. But the new RX 350 feels more solid than the old one, most noticeably in the steering. Where you could turn the steering wheel in the previous RX with a single finger, the 2010 model shows a comfortable amount of resistance, just enough so it feels like you are actually controlling the car.
The 3.5-liter V-6 engine puts modest power to the wheels, only 275 horsepower and 257 pound-feet of torque, enough for a 7.5-second stroll up to 60 mph, according to Lexus. In our driving, the engine felt adequate to run up hills and generally get ahead of traffic, but there are no head-snapping starts off the line. We were surprised that the engine uses port injection, and not the direct and port injection combination used in the IS 350 C. Direct injection would make the RX 350 more efficient, and the company already has the engines.
As it is, the 2010 RX 350 gets an EPA rated 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. Our average from mixed driving on freeways, mountain roads, and in city traffic came in at 20.2 mpg, not a bad number for an SUV of this size. The new six-speed automatic helps, letting the engine run slower at high speeds with the tall, sixth gear engaged.
The transmission includes a sport mode, although that label is questionable, and a manual mode, mostly good for engine braking. Sport mode keeps it out of fifth and sixth gears, but shows no aggressive downshifting. It also didn't keep the engine speed particularly high as we thrashed the car around our usual mountain course. The manual mode doesn't feel built for sport shifting at all, as gear changes engage slowly and softly. You will be through a turn before it gets around to finishing a gear change.
Being able to put the RX 350 in low gears primarily helps for cold climates. Lexus enhances the car's capabilities in slippery road conditions with a differential lock on the all-wheel-drive version, which will keep power going to all wheels, ensuring maximum grip. Heated seats help for cold weather comfort, while a sunroof and seat coolers make the RX 350 livable when the mercury rises.
Mouse-controlled cabin tech
We first saw Lexus' new electronics suite in the IS 350 C, although that car relied on a touch screen. The 2010 RX 350 comes with an innovative new cabin tech controller called Remote Touch, which is basically a joystick on the console that moves a pointer on the car's LCD. If you've used a mouse, Remote Touch will be second nature. The ergonomic joystick and mount fits easily into your hand, with an enter button on the side of the mount.
At the front of the mount are buttons for the main menu and quick access to the navigation system map. We would also have liked quick access buttons for audio and phone systems. But we found it easy to quickly select menu items with the joystick--it's faster than even Infiniti's cabin controller, which has been our favorite for usability. The new Lexus controller delivers haptic feedback as you move its cursor over menu items, making it easy to use while paying attention to the road. And the amount of feedback can be adjusted.