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.
The six-speed automatic includes sport and manual modes.
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.
With the all-wheel-drive RX 350, you can lock the differential for better traction on slippery roads.
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.
The new cabin tech controller works like a mouse, moving a cursor on the LCD.
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.
The new navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive, although Lexus didn't do much to improve the maps themselves. The RX 350 offers only 2D maps, as opposed to the 3D maps becoming common with other automakers. The RX 350's maps show good resolution and are overlaid with traffic information, including traffic flow in red, amber, or green, and incidents. Although we had the navigation system set for dynamic routing around traffic incidents, we still had to go through about three menus to make it recalculate our route after it announced slow traffic on the road ahead. This part of the interface needs refining.
The navigation system includes traffic information, but routing around bad traffic is not intuitive.
Route guidance itself works well, with graphics to show upcoming turns and text-to-speech, where the system reads out the names of upcoming streets. One annoyance we had with this navigation system is that, when giving voice guidance, it didn't mute the stereo. We could barely hear the navigation instructions when playing music at moderate volume, and not at all when playing music loud.
The 2010 RX 350 offers most of the music sources we've come to expect from a modern system. Along with satellite radio, there is an MP3 compatible in-dash six-CD changer, a USB port that can also accept an iPod cable, an auxiliary input, and Bluetooth audio streaming. The only things it lacks are HD radio and the option to rip CDs to the navigation system's hard drive. The CD changer seemed very slow to read discs, but that might be more our perception when comparing it with the iPod access.
The Remote Touch controller does its job well for selecting music. USB drives and MP3 CDs are just shown in file and folder format, while iPod integration lets you select music by album, artist, and genre. Another annoyance: when viewing the song detail screen, to see which songs are playing on a satellite radio station, for example, the LCD automatically switched back to the map screen after about 30 seconds.
The Premium audio system, one step below the available Mark Levinson system, sounded very good.
Our RX 350 with the Premium audio system, included with the navigation option package, used 12 speakers, including a center channel and subwoofer. The audio quality was excellent with this system, delivering distinct highs and very legible midrange frequencies. The bass wasn't overly strong, but balanced well with the rest of the system. As another step up, a Mark Levinson system is available with the RX 350; it uses 15 speakers and replaces the CD changer with a DVD changer.
Although the audio system didn't mute for navigation guidance prompts, it did for the Bluetooth phone system. This system is the same one we saw in the IS 350 C, and it does everything we could ask. It paired easily to an iPhone and let us upload the phone's contact list to the car. Contacts were available on the LCD, using the Remote Touch controller, but, more conveniently, each contact can be dialed by name with the car's voice command system.
The voice command system is very capable in the RX 350, letting you enter addresses, dial numbers, and providing basic control over the audio system.
As a luxury vehicle, the 2010 Lexus RX 350 is successful, but will be quickly out of its element off-road, and won't perform well for the sport-minded. Most importantly, it's better than the previous generation, and doesn't try to be something it is not.
For performance tech, we like that Lexus went to a six-speed transmission, but direct injection on the engine might have added some efficiency. From that perspective, the RX 350 is fairly ordinary, but we do like the comfort level of the suspension. Cabin tech is nicely enhanced, and the new controller is particularly innovative. The phone system joins Ford and Kia in getting ahead of the curve, but the rest of the cabin tech is fairly standard stuff. Adaptive cruise control is also available, but wasn't present on our car. As for design, we had some issues with the interface on the LCD. The overall look of the car is very good, with nice, modern lines and smoothed sides. It does a good job of communicating Lexus style without looking outlandish.
|Model||2010 Lexus RX 350|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6|
|EPA fuel economy||18 mpg city/24 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible six-CD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Premium 12-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Sonar parking sensors, rear-view camera|
|Price as tested||$47,825|