2009 RX 350 New Car Test Drive
The Lexus RX is smooth and comfortable, and it's flexible when it comes to hauling people or cargo. It's finished with style and built like the proverbial Swiss watch, and it offers all the latest features.
The RX 350 offers brisk acceleration performance to its powerful yet efficient 3.5-liter V6 engine introduced on 2007 models. The RX 400h features a hybrid gas-electric powerplant.
For 2008, the changes are mainly cosmetic. The only mechanical change is the addition of a Vehicle Stability Control cut-off switch.
The 2008 Lexus RX 350 features a new front grille design and chrome door handles. Two new exterior colors are available as well as a new interior wood trim option, black bird's-eye maple, available with the light-gray interior. Newly optional are seven-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels with a liquid graphite finish.
The 2008 Lexus RX 400h gets a new finish on the grille, a blue hybrid badge on the front of models without the towing package, chrome door handles, new finish for the five-spoke, 18-inch wheels, a color-keyed rear spoiler, seven new colors, and black bird's-eye maple wood trim is available with light-gray interiors.
With the RX series, Lexus pioneered the crossover-style SUV, based on a unit-body car platform rather than a heavy-duty truck frame. Crossover utility vehicles offer better ride and handling and better fuel economy than truck-based SUVs, but they still deliver many of the things buyers want in an SUV: more cargo space than a car, a better view over traffic and a sense of security that accompanies an elevated driving position. The RX doesn't offer the big towing capacity or off-road capability of a true truck, but an all-wheel-drive RX 350 handles gravel and snow with ease, and it can tow up to 3500 pounds with the optional trailer package.
The RX is as quiet inside as most cars. It's easy to drive and easier than most SUVs to park, with light steering and responsive brakes. It also offers the latest technology: headlights that swivel to help the driver see around corners, a rear-mounted camera that displays what's behind on the dash-mounted navigation screen, a voice-activated hands-free telephone system, cruise control that can adjust for changes in traffic and a giant sunroof. It's equipped with the latest in passive safety features, including seven airbags.
The RX 400h combines a gasoline-powered V6 with one high-torque electric motor-generator on the front-wheel-drive model, and two motors on the all-wheel-drive model. The gas engine can propel the car or recharge the batteries. Most of the time the RX 400h runs on a combination of the V6 and electric motors, but in certain situations it will run strictly on the V6 engine, and in others strictly with the electric motors.
Emissions are extremely low, reducing the impact on the environment to something in the neighborhood of nil. The RX 400h burns about as much gas as a compact car. Yet it drives essentially the same as the RX 350. It accelerates as quickly off the line (which is quite quick), and more quickly at certain speeds. The main difference comes when the RX 400h runs only on the electric motors: when it glides serenely through a parking lot or down a neighborhood street.
In short, the RX 400h delivers the performance of some V8-powered SUVs with the economy of a four-cylinder. There are lots of good reasons to choose it over the standard RX 350, but not economic reasons. The RX 350 is a very efficient vehicle in its own right, and now that Lexus has equipped both variants identically, the $4,000 price premium for the RX 400h pays strictly for the hybrid drivetrain.
The Lexus RX 350 is well-suited for just about any assignment, from a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway to a camping trip in the Sierra Nevada. It's stylish and at home in the valet line at a fancy restaurant.
The 2008 Lexus RX 350 is available with a choice of front-wheel drive ($37,400) or permanent all-wheel drive ($38,800). The RX 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 engine that delivers 270 horsepower through a five-speed automatic transmission. The RX 400h comes standard with the same equipment as the RX 350, except its hybrid gas-electric powertrain. The RX 400h also offers a choice of front drive ($41,180) and all-wheel drive ($42,580).
Standard features: cloth upholstery, automatic dual-zone climate control, a 132-watt AM/FM/cassette stereo with eight-speakers and an in-dash, six-CD changer, cruise control, privacy glass, automatic headlamps, 10-way power adjustment for both front seats, 17-inch aluminum wheels and leather trim for the steering wheel and shift knob.
Options for both the RX 350 and RX 400h: The Premium Package ($1,245) includes leather upholstery, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, a roof rack, power moonroof and entry lights that illuminate the ground below the doors. The Premium Plus Package ($2,060) includes the features from the Premium Package and adds high-intensity discharge headlamps that turn in the direction of travel.
The navigation system ($2,650) with Bluetooth and voice command capability includes a rear-view camera that projects an image of what's behind whenever reverse is engaged.
The navigation system with Mark Levinson audio ($6,190) on the RX 350 starts with the Premium Plus Package and adds 210 watts, more speakers with a subwoofer and high-tech digital sound processing. On the RX 400h, it costs less ($4,130) but requires purchasing either the Premium or Premium Plus Package. The Mark Levinson audio system is available as a stand-alone option on the RX 400h ($980).
A heated-seat package ($665) comes with rain-sensing wipers and headlight washers. The Tow Prep ($160) package includes a transmission cooler, heavy-duty alternator and larger radiator. Other options include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,740 for the RX 350; $1,840 for the RX 400h), laser-managed Dynamic Cruise Control ($600), and HID headlamps ($815). XM and Sirius satellite radio are offered as a dealer-installed option.
A few options are available on only the RX 350: The giant multi-panel sunroof ($2,840) comes packaged with features from the Premium Package. The Performance Package ($4,055) includes all of the items in the Premium PLUS Package, plus 18-inch graphite-colored aluminum alloy wheels with wider tires, height-adjustable air suspension, sequential-shifting transmission, and rain-sensing wipers. Heated front seats ($540) can be ordered as a stand-alone option.
Safety features that come standard include the mandated front airbags, plus a smaller airbag to protect the driver's knees. Front passengers get side-impact airbags for torso protection, while the curtain-style head protection airbags span both rows and deploy to offer head protection if the vehicle senses the possibility of a rollover. Advanced ABS, traction control and electronic stability control come standard.