Lexus is the best-selling luxury brand in the U.S., and the RX crossover is Lexus' best-selling model. It's the vehicle for everyone with money -- the practical people-mover for people with a multi-car garage full of exotics; the entry-luxury model for the upper-middle-class leasing slightly beyond their means; the wheels of choice for those who were lucky enough to get a second mortgage on their McMansions before the credit market imploded. This Lexus is for old money, too, its anonymous, transportation pod styling whispering, "We're too cool for a minivan."

Just imagine the profit margin for a model that starts a tad under $40k. In normal years, meaning before 2008, Lexus sold more than 100,000 RXes per year in the U.S. Lexus has been able to pour a lot of cash back into the relentless pursuit of beating less-reliable European crossovers into submission.

The 2010 Lexus RX 350 is the all-new Mk III model, following the 1999 Mk I and 2004 Mk II. It will continue to lead its segment and it will continue to be the best-selling Lexus. Big, body-on-frame SUVs may be so 2005, but crossovers are the latest thing, as if they've just been discovered.

They are a new discovery for Cadillac. The CTS aside, the GM luxury division's slow, decade-long comeback has rested on the back of its gargantuan Escalade body-on-frame sport/utility. The rear-drive Sigma-based SRX is classified as a crossover, but it's really more a tall, modern station wagon with optional all-wheel-drive. It's part of old, STS-Cadillac, not new, CTS-Cadillac. SRX sales were one-fifth of RX sales in 2007.

With the 2008 CTS giving New Cadillac renewed attitude, it's time to go after luxury's big kahuna. And so, the all-new 2010 Cadillac SRX switches to a front-drive platform, one using large bits of Epsilon II (Opel Insignia and 2010 Buick LaCrosse) and Theta (2010 Chevy Equinox/GMC Terrain) and shared with the upcoming Saab 9-4x (yes, production is still on).

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Design is how Cadillac most seriously takes on the Lexus. Whereas the RX 350 is soft-looking and amorphous, the 2010 SRX is sharp, hard-edged and wedgy, playing Cadillac "Art & Science" design language to the hilt, from the vertically rectangular headlamp covers that extend to a point atop the front fenders to the LED taillamps designed to evoke 1950s tailfins.

SRX's new profile is pleasing to the eye, and not just ours, judging from the reaction of fellow motorists. It's only the dead-on rear view that betrays the limitations of making a tall two-box vehicle look sexy.

Inside, the RX 350 is visually unmemorable, defined by unsurpassed sumptuousness, fit, and finish. The new better-than-iDrive mouse-controlled navigation/audio control keeps fingerprints off the screen, and a steering wheel button that turns on a camera under the passenger side-view mirror is a true surprise/delight feature.

The SRX interior, which borrows a lot from the CTS sedan, stands out for its looks. The stitched leather dash cover opens up to reveal brushed metal accents along the front part of the instrument panel cover, near the cowl. A slick instrument cluster control on the turn-signal stalk allows you to switch the center gauge between timer, average speed, fuel consumed, fuel economy, fuel range, trip odometer, speedometer, navigation, and a real-time readout that displays the speed limit on major roads -- including speed warnings for slower corners. It's a useful bit of what interior designers have come to call "theater." If you have the navigation system off, the CTS-monolith style nav screen pops up for the backup camera only as long as you're in reverse.

The center gauge also features two light pipes built into the binnacle that are turn-signal indicator repeaters, blinking green when you use the signal. It's a minor thing, a nice bit of post-modern flavor inside the crossover, and it might get more SRX drivers to use turn signals.

Here's the rub: The Lexus handily whips the Caddy's interior for quality, fit, and finish. The RX's soft, smooth leather would do an LS proud, while the SRX leather seems cost-controlled and maybe slightly cheaper than the CTS'. The SRX has power lumbar support for both driver and front passenger, but the SRX has a manual leg bolster for the driver and not the passenger. And when we pulled out that driver's bolster, the finish was sub-standard. Velcro for the inner leather (or, more likely, pleather) piece was undone, showing off some hard plastic pieces that were meant to be out of sight. The piece should have been sewed together at least.



The Cadillac driver's seat automatically slid back to its farthest position when we shut off the engine, even after we tried to reset it. And this revealed poorly finished seat tracks, exposing a connecting bolt.

The Lexus' rear seat moves fore and aft and reclines. The Cadillac's rear seat only reclines, and the ratchet control for it is on the seatback, inconveniently above the passengers' outboard shoulders. There's much more headroom in the RX, the result of both a thinner bottom cushion in the Lexus and the huge, optional vista sunroof in the Cadillac.

The Lexus has heated and cooled front seats, while the Caddy's are just heated. The price difference between the two could account for this (although a fully equipped 2010 Buick LaCrosse comes with cooled front seats, at less than $40k). The front-drive SRX starts about at $34,155. The Haldex all-wheel-drive comes only with other standard equipment, bringing base AWD models to $40,230. The SRX features several different packages, and so our tester begins at $45,820 and ends pretty nicely equipped, if sans cooled seats, just $1,295 more. The RX 350 base is $39,075. Our tester totaled $8,580 more than the Caddy.

No doubt we could option these two out with similar equipment for similar pricing. Point is, adding all the equipment to the Cadillac won't solve the shortcomings in refinement next to the Lexus.

The RX 350 is more isolated, with road impacts notably quieter and less harsh. The SRX's optional 20-inch wheels don't help. The Lexus is quicker, its 3.5-liter V-6 making just 10 more horses than the Cadillac's new 3.0-liter gas direct-injection V-6, but making 34 foot-pounds more torque, with better EPA and observed fuel economy.

The SRX is slightly longer and 127 pounds heavier than the RX 350, and feels like it. The Lexus accelerates out of turns more quickly, though the Cadillac feels pretty willing, its 3.0-liter giving off a pleasing snarl. The premium SRX engine, a 2.8-liter turbocharged gas direct-injection V-6 built in Australia and available only with AWD and the FE3 suspension, will be added in early fall, and will certainly bring both acceleration performance and price up to Lexus levels.


Which brings us to the turning point of this comparison, the Perry Mason moment. Remember how Mason could suddenly wear down a witness and get him/her to confess to the murder? How his grateful client would be quickly, cleanly exonerated?

The Cadillac SRX is more fun and rewarding to drive.

While the Lexus RX offers plenty of cornering grip, the Cadillac is more sharp-edged, a crossover designed to unwind the esses. Shift the much less-sporting RX's six-speed automatic into "sport" mode and it doesn't hold lower gears or behave differently than in normal mode. It does switch off the "Eco" mode, though.

The SRX's six-speed automatic's sport mode holds whichever gear you choose, and it changes the Sachs shocks' damping, as well. It's firmer than the RX without venturing into BMW X5 territory in terms of ride harshness. Steering provides good feel and feedback and is quicker than the RX 350's numb steering. The Cadillac's brakes are better and firmer than the Lexus' brakes.

Simply put, the new Cadillac SRX drives the way it looks: sexy, fun, apart from the pack. It's full of brand flavor, even if budget shortcuts reveal ragged edges under some of the covers. The Lexus RX 350 drives the way it looks, too: almost annoyingly competent. Cushy and comfortable, reliable and unobtrusive.

Those of you who value Lexus' "relentless pursuit of perfection" will puzzle over our values in choosing this comparison's winner. Those of you who understand how we value entertaining driving dynamics over all else will understand. The '10 Cadillac SRX is refined enough to overlook its shortcomings and take over the Lexus RX 350 because it's the luxury crossover we'd prefer to look at and drive, every day. If Cadillac could close its refinement gap with Lexus, the new SRX crossover would be unbeatable in the marketplace.

First Place: Cadillac SRX
Good dynamics with a nice ride-handling compromise overcome refinement shortcomings. Turns out that Cadillac style and attitude work in this segment.

Second Place: Lexus RX 350
This is the benchmark for refinement and sumptuousness in luxury vehicles under $60,000. You will remember feeling coddled; you will immediately forget the drive experience.


  2010 Cadillac SRX 2010 Lexus RX 350
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front-engine, AWD Front-engine, AWD
Engine type 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 182.9 cu in/2997cc 210.9 cu in/3456cc
Compression ratio 11.7:1 10.8:1
Power (SAE net) 265 hp @ 6950 rpm* 275 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 223 lb-ft @ 5100 rpm* 257 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Weight to power 17.3 lb/hp 16.2 lb/hp
Transmission 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
Axle/final ratios 3.39:1 / 2.51:1 4.40:1 / 2.67:1
Suspension, front; rear Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, adj shocks, coil springs, anti-roll bar Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 16.5:1 14.8:1
Turns lock-to-lock 2.8 2.8
Brakes, f;r 13.6-in vented disc; 12.4-in vented disc, ABS 12.9-in vented disc; 12.2-in disc, ABS
Wheels, f;r 8.0 x 20-in, cast aluminum 7.5 x 19-in, cast aluminum
Tires, f;r 235/55R20 102H Michelin Latitude Tour HP 235/55R19 101V, Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 110.5 in 107.9 in
Track, f/r 63.8/63.4 in 64.2/63.8 in
Length x width x height 190.3 x 75.2 x 65.7 in 187.8 x 74.2 x 66.3 in
Ground clearance 7.0 in 7.3 in
Apprch/depart angle 11.6/23.5 deg 28.6/24.9 deg
Turning circle 40.3 ft 38.8 ft
Curb weight 4590 lb 4463 lb
Weight dist., f/r 57/43 % 57/43 %
Towing capacity 2500 lb** 2000 lb**
Seating capacity 5 5
Headroom, f/r 39.7/38.4 in 39.1/37.7 in
Legroom, f/r 41.2/36.3 in 43.1/36.8 in
Shoulder room, f/r 58.3/56.2 in 58.0/57.6 in
Cargo vol behind f/r 61.2/29.2 cu ft 80.3/40.0 cu ft
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 3.1 sec 2.1 sec
0-40 4.7 3.4
0-50 6.6 5
0-60 8.6 6.7
0-70 11.9 8.9
0-80 15.4 11.2
0-90 19.4 14.7
0-100 25.7 18.6
Passing, 45-65 mph 4.5 sec 3.5
Quarter mile 16.8 sec @ 83.9 mph 15.1 sec @ 91.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 119 ft 131 ft
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 1750 rpm 1900 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $40,230 $39,075
Price as tested $47,115 $55,695
Stability/traction control Yes/yes Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee
Basic warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 miles 6 yrs/70,000 miles
Roadside assistance 5 yrs/100,000 miles 4 yrs/unlimited miles
Fuel capacity 21.0 gal 19.2 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 17/23 mpg 18/24 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.01 lb/mile 0.96 lb/mile
MT obs fuel econ 15.8 mpg 18.3 mpg
Recommended fuel Unleaded regular Unleaded premium
*SAE Certified
**Max towing capacity for each vehicle is 3500 lb with optional towing packages fitted.

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