Lexus RX 330
If the Mercedes ML is all about hardware, this latest Lexus SUV places heavy emphasis on software. Not the electronic kind, but software that takes away the cares of the world. Smooth and quiet, the RX 330 is a masterful execution of the traditional luxury-car philosophy as applied to the sport/utility concept. And it reflects how most SUV buyers really use their vehicles: as roadgoing cars that occasionally carry something too bulky to fit in a sedan. For all intents and purposes, this is a wagon version of the soon-to-debut ES 330 sedan.
Quiet, spacious, luxurious--the RX 330 cabin is a fine place to spend time. The extensive
The new RX is a crucial vehicle for Lexus. Before the introduction of its predecessor, the RX 300, Lexus trailed Mercedes in luxury-brand sales; afterward, the premium Toyota division never looked back, outselling the M-Class two to one. A few years ago, the RX 300 represented more than 40 percent of all Lexus sales.
The '04 RX 330 is longer, wider, roomier, and, to most eyes, a lot nicer looking than the model it replaces. There's 6.1 more cubic feet of cargo space inside, and a 4.0-inch increase in wheelbase provides more stretch-out room in the cabin (a split-folding 40-20-40 rear seat that slides fore and aft lets you apportion passenger and cargo space as needed). The RX 330 looks like the old RX 300 stretched on a taffy pull, the designers having elongated what had been a somewhat lumpy but well-received shape. There are some interesting new flourishes, too, particularly the aggressively sloping rear roof pillars and the uplifted clear-lens taillamps.
Inside, the new RX pampers its occupants in an exquisitely tailored ensemble of warm wood inlays; electroluminescent, virtual-image gauges; metallic trim; and optional, buttery-soft two-tone leather. Quiet almost to a fault, the RX 330 is an isolation chamber that removes the driver and passengers from the rude realities of less-than-perfect pavement. Though the ride quality is exemplary, Lexus novocaine results in numb steering, and there's a lot of body roll and pitch in turns and dive during hard braking. Optional 18-inch tires put bigger contact patches on the road, but pronounced understeer is the order of the day. Our tester was equipped with the optional air suspension, which has four selectable ride-height settings and automatic load leveling.