THE 2012 LEXUS RX 350 REVIEW
Full Review by Andy: A Drop in Octane
For 2012, Lexus has introduced two changes to its bread-and-butter luxury SUV, the RX 350. First, the hue nebula gray pearl has been banished, replaced by smoky granite mica. Second, the recommended octane fuel rating has dropped from a premium 91-octane to 87-octane (regular unleaded).
Once Upon a Time
The RX is credited with inventing the North American premium crossover SUV category back at the turn of the century. In 2000, just one year after its debut, almost 90,000 RX’s rolled off dealership lots.
Affluent American families continue to woo the RX, now in 350 and 450h (reviewed separately) guises. Despite declining sales, Lexus’s protégé remains one of the best-selling luxury vehicles – period. Yet, like its recommended octane fuel rating, the RX’s gusto has dropped over the years.
Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
When the RX 330 arrived in 2003, the exterior was cool and smooth, prestigious but not pretentious. Luxury-minded women everywhere loved it. Ditto for 2009, when the L-finesse design language debuted. Competitors took a cue, and the market was soon flooded by a deluge of look-a-likes. Unfortunately, the phenomenon boomeranged and reinterpreted itself, and now, juxtaposed with the Mercedes M-Class, Audi Q7, and Infiniti FX, the RX 350 looks a little outdated.
A Drop in Testosterone
Besides fuel, high-octane anything was never something the Lexus RX had in spades. Since 2010, the RX 350 has been propelled by a 3.5-liter V6. Due to the lowered octane rating, output dips slightly to 270 horsepower, but fuel economy remains the same at 18/25/21 mpg, stellar numbers for the class. (See annual fuel costs with the RX 350). Available front wheel-biased AWD lowers the EPA figures to 17/24 mpg.
Thanks to a lot of electromechanical wizardry, the RX’s powertrain is smoother than Keith Stone. The six-speed automatic transmission with partial manual shift control is adroit at choosing the best gear, and 90 percent of torque is available from 2,300-6,100 rpm. The SUV has a comfortable and composed ride that sets the bar for the class, and a respectable 6.8-second 0-60 mph dash.
This effortless performance has long endeared the RX to soccer moms everywhere. The braking, steering, and ride quality is light but not twitchy. Enthusiasts may find the milquetoast Lexus the depth of the doldrums.
Recent RX models have lost more than octane; they have also lost solitude. Thanks to roof rails and a retuned exhaust from 2011, a good bit of tire and engine noise intrudes into the cabin, a disappointing performance from an SUV once renowned for its interior ambiance.
Excellence in Engineering
The IIHS named the 2012 RX a Top Safety Pick – again. J.D. Power and Associates almost popped the question. Standard safety features include ten airbags and Safety Connect telematics. A myriad of active safety aids are available. The RX 350 is not only an extremely safe and reliable vehicle, but it also claims a substantial resale value.
What Matters Most
What matters most in a car is the same that matters most in a marriage: a spouse that washes the laundry, gives massages, and balances the checkbook. Glamorous looks and raucous energy do little to maintain a relationship through hardship (See Appendix: Hollywood marriages). That is why the Lexus RX 350 outsells the Infiniti FX, a competitor that is fun to drive but hard to live with.
The RX 350’s luxury starts with the interior design: simple, suave, an extraordinarily avant-garde place for a Lexus. The asymmetrical control cluster houses a console-mounted gear selector, large display screen, physical buttons, and a Remote Touch interface with haptic feedback to control functions. Then it moves to the materials: premium leather upholstery and authentic wood trim.
Wait – rewind. In base configuration, the RX 350 has no leather upholstery, nor does it have power-adjustable exterior mirrors, heated seats, a sunroof, or even a gosh-darn rear seat armrest. What happened to luxury? The Japanese automaker moved it to the options roster, then jacked up the price. The base RX 350 is well-built and comfortable, with spacious reclining/sliding rear seats and power front seats. A cavernous boot is welcome, and who doesn’t want iPod/USB integration? Yet all those things and more are available for less. A $37,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited makes the RX 350 look like a rinky-dink Yugo GV.
(See a full list of standard and optional features for the 2012 Lexus RX 350).
The 2012 Lexus RX 350 has lost more than its fuel octane rating. It has lost some of its competitiveness to upstarts like the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee and luxury standbys like the Audi Q7. A new RX debuts next year. Let’s hope it has more octane.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6: 270 hp @6,200 rpm/248 lb-ft of torque @4,700 rpm
Transmission: six-speed shiftable automatic
Fuel Economy: 18/25 mpg
Base MSRP: $39,075
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