Lexus' RX line has been a strong seller since it first went on sale in 1998. Its huge numbers (many years have seen sales of more than 100,000 annually) have made it the one to beat in the luxury SUV category. The new generation returns for 2010 with a new look, refreshed interior, revised engine, new transmission, and new technology. It's still available in front- or all-wheel drive, with a 3.5-liter V-6 on its own or as part of a hybrid system.
On the outside, the 2010 RX 350 seems to be a contradiction: It was given crisper body lines and enough changes to show that it's a new model, yet it takes a careful look at one to realize it isn't, in fact, the older RX sitting in front of you. And some could argue that the only thing the changes achieved was that they made the SUV less attractive than it was before.
Along with the new style come new dimensions: The new model is 1.6 inches longer on a 1.0-inch-longer wheelbase, and it's 1.6 inches wider and a touch taller. Headroom is down, but other than that, driver and passengers have more space to stretch in the quiet cabin than they did before. The second row is notably roomy, even though the numbers show only minor improvements in head-, leg-, and hiproom. The driver-side door closes with a confident "thunk," and slipping behind the steering wheel of the new RX is far from a shock to the system. If you've been in a Lexus, you'll recognize the layout and locations of most, if not all, of the controls. Our RX 350 came with a 12-speaker AM/FM/CD/XM with NavTraffic and NavWeather; aux jack; heated, ventilated front seats; and a one-touch open/close moonroof. One feature that's new for 2010 is the Remote Touch Controller, which functions much like a computer mouse for the nav system, but our tester wasn't equipped with this item.
The RX serves as reliable, smooth transportation, but it won't make your heart race. There is plenty of power coming from the 3.5-liter V-6 (with five more horses and six more pound-feet than it had last year), and that it's been upgraded from a five- to a six-speed automatic is a huge plus. However, its steering is somewhat numb. In addition, the RX feels heavy and large on the road. At the track, the all-wheel-drive RX 350 we tested reached 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, and went a quarter mile in 15.3 seconds at 91.4 mph; both are close to what we saw in the 2008 RX 350 (6.7 seconds to 60, 15.2 seconds at 90 mph in the quarter). Braking from 60 mph requires 138 feet (significantly up from the 124 feet it took the 2008 to stop), and comes courtesy of a system that includes 12.9-inch ventilated discs in front, 12.2-inch discs in the rear, four-channel, four-sensor ABS, and Brake Assist. Other standard safety equipment includes VSC with traction control, 10 airbags (dual front, dual front knee, front/rear side curtain, front seat-mounted side, and rear seat-mounted side), and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The RX may sell well because of what it has as opposed to what it does. It isn't a driver's car, and it isn't going to thrill you on canyon roads. What it offers, though, is sound build quality, a wide array of safety equipment, a ton of creature comforts, and some really cool technology that we could see becoming industry standards in the near future. And those who loved the RX before will line up for the new model.