When visitors, who vote with purses and wallets, gave it a big thumbs up, it was approved for production and renamed RX300 for sale in March 1998.
The newest rendition, the 2010 RX350, is available in front-wheel drive for warm climes and all-wheel drive for the Snow Belt, with the hybrid RX450h due this summer.
We tested the AWD version. It packs a 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 teamed with a 6-speed automatic, an upgrade from a 3.5-liter, 270-h.p. V-6 with 5-speed automatic. Though it has a little more muscle, the V-6 gets better mileage as well, 18 m.p.g. city/24 highway with AWD, up from 17/22. Not bad, considering the security of AWD and capacity for five people and luggage, with neither stacked horizontally.
On a trip to Michigan and back along Interstate Highway 94, the RX never lacked for energy when passing or merging. And it cruised comfortably and quietly at 80 m.p.h., the local idling speed. Only time the RX had to back down is when conservation police in their sedans napped in the passing lane.
The RX has proved most popular among women, who make up the majority of drivers. So while energetic, its ride also is smooth and jostle-free. No tossing folks around the cabin.
Since women are the primary drivers, and kids the most frequent passengers, Lexus focuses on safety with stability and traction control. Combined with AWD, the RX350 is nearly bulletproof in keeping the wheels down. Just in case, anti-lock brakes and side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors are standard too.
As part of a $2,000 comfort package, the test vehicle added adaptive front lighting in which the headlamps turn in the same direction as the front end. The comfort package includes rain-sensing wipers that start up when the drops fall down, intelligent high-beam headlamps that use sensors in the sideview mirrors to revert to low beams when a car approaches, and heated, ventilated seats.
A pre-collision cruise-control option uses radar to keep a safe distance from vehicles ahead, though it wasn't on the test car. Instead, it had a $4,980 package, with voice-command navigation, a rear-seat entertainment system with screens in the front-seat headrests and a backup camera that gives you a look in the navi screen at what's behind.
There also are nozzles to clean headlamps and a power hatchlid as part of a $4,800 luxury package, and remote start ($175) to warm or cool the car before you get in. Keyless entry with push-button start is a novelty—a no-cost option.
Lexus improved the voice command of its navi system, which also includes audio and climate controls. Rather than the old stilted way of talking—"phone Bob" or "radio on" or "air conditioning on" or "restaurant, Japanese"—you can be conversational—"call Bob at home" or "make it cooler" or "let's find XM Channel 150" or "Gimme a Japanese restaurant." Still waiting for "Hey, dude, text my 'American Idol' vote."
Nice touches include tool and first-aid kits, though both are in the cargo hold, so it's not handy if a bandage is needed. There's room for a purse under the center console, and illuminated cupholders to help spot the coffee at night to avoid having to pull over and reach into the cargo hold for first-aid kit to treat any burns.
Other nice touches include a shade to hide packages in the cargo hold, pull handles to release rear-seat backs and a small stowage space under the cargo floor.
Unlike BMW and its complex iCommand, the Lexus gizmo is a mouselike control in the center console to call up such things as radio and climate settings on the info screen. To turn on the radio, for example, you press the menu button, slide the arrow on the navi screen to the radio icon, then reach back and press Enter on the side of the mouse.
Or, you touch the radio button on the instrument panel and the radio turns on to the dismay of the techno-wizards.
The RX350 with AWD starts at $38,200, with all power goodies standard. The front-wheel-drive version is $36,800. Opt for the adaptive lighting, power moonroof and navi system with magical mouse, and add just under $12,000 to the sticker.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at email@example.com.
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