First Drive: 2010 Lexus RX

Higher potency, fewer side effects, fewer refills

Ron Kiino
Jan 19, 2009
"The RX is arguably our most iconic vehicle." Those are the words of Lexus group vice president and general manager Mark Templin, who made the claim at the 2010 RX's press preview in Northern California. More symbolic than the IS, the GS, and even the LS, the lux sedan that spearheaded Lexus's U.S. launch in 1989 and sent the Europeans back to the drawing boards? According to Templin, it's entirely possible.
Perhaps he's right; since the RX 300 created the luxury-crossover segment in 1998 and the RX 400h -- the first hybrid luxury crossover -- turned gas pumps cold in 2005, consumers have often referred to the RX as the Lexus SUV or the Lexus hybrid, despite the fact that there are other notable sport/utes and hybrids in Lexus's lineup. Plus, RX sales numbers don't lie: Through November 2008, it was Lexus's best-selling vehicle not to mention the best-selling luxury SUV in the U.S.
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So how does one improve upon an icon? According to RX chief engineer Takayuki Katsuda, "I wanted to reinvent the new RX," which loosely translates to a more luxurious and user-friendly interior, a stouter 3.5-liter V-6, a more-efficient Atkinson-cycle engine for the hybrid, and additional safety features, improved driving dynamics, and better fuel economy.
The new RX also welcomes Lexus's "L-finesse" design theme -- styling language introduced on the 2006 GS -- although you'd be hard-pressed to notice. While each exterior dimension is up about an inch and every body panel is unique from that of its predecessor, the 2010 RX appears conspicuously similar to the 2009 model. Maybe "L-no difference" is more apt. Regardless, the RX looks conservative in light of such bolder competitors as the Mercedes-Benz GLK and Volvo XC60, but it'll no doubt appease the RX faithful.
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Those faithful, along with newcomers, will fancy the cabin, which is grander in size and style. While the interior volume hike is rather insignificant -- 140.9 cubic feet versus 140.8 -- the jumps in legroom (0.6 inch front, 0.2 inch rear) and rear shoulder room (0.5 inch) are not. There's even an additional 1.7 cubic feet of cargo space, thanks to an all-new rear control-arm suspension that eliminates the 2009 model's impeding strut towers.
Lexus has fitted the RX with numerous interior tech tidbits: rearview mirror backup camera display (on vehicles without nav), intuitive park assist, Smart Key access system, XM NavTraffic and Weather, heads-up display, rear-seat entertainment, 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio, and standard Bluetooth, to name a few. But it's the new Remote Touch controller (standard with navigation) that's most noteworthy. Similar in function and feel to a computer mouse, the center console-mounted Remote Touch, which controls the nav system, many audio and HVAC controls, and personalization functions, minimizes the number of hard buttons and eliminates grimy fingerprints on the display screen. It's an ingenious and intuitive feature that will certainly find its way into future Lexus products. Ditto for the white OLED (organic LED) multi-information display, which is thinner and more efficient than LCD, and the available wideview side monitor, a system that uses a right sideview mirror-mounted camera to display the passenger-side blind spot when parking.
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As before, the RX is available in two gas (RX 350 FWD and AWD) and two gas/electric trims (RX 450h FWD and AWD). The RX 350 receives an upgraded 3.5-liter 275-horsepower, 257-pound-foot V-6 that represents increases of five horses and six pound-feet, and, with help from a new six-speed automatic, delivers an estimated combined-fuel-economy bump of one mpg. Reside in the Snowbelt? Then opt for the all-wheel-drive version, which gets a new Active Torque Control system that uses an electromagnetic coupler bolted to the rear differential to apportion up to 45 percent of torque to the rear wheels. The coupler, which eliminates the center differential, helps the new system tout weight savings of 66 pounds.
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Photo 10/14   |   Both the RX 350 (above) and 450h can tow up to 3500 pounds.
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The RX 450h, with its unique front grille and bumper and blue-tinted badges and headlamp and taillamp covers, replaces the previous 3.3-liter V-6 with an Atkinson-cycle (shorter compression stroke) 3.5-liter that puts out 245 horsepower and 234 pound-feet. FWD hybrids utilize a 167-horsepower electric motor while AWD versions supplement that with a 68-horse electric motor that drives the rear wheels. Either way, combined system power is rated at 295 horses. Estimated combined fuel economy, at 27 mpg for FWD and 28 for AWD, denotes a significant surge compared with the RX 400h's 25 mpg, and is a testament to the 450h's innovative exhaust-heat recovery system (reduces engine and coolant warmup time, enabling engine to shut off earlier and more frequently) and exhaust-gas recirculation system, which lowers engine pumping losses.
Photo 12/14   |   The RX 450h's hybrid system makes 27 hp more than that of previous 400h.
In addition to implementing the aforementioned rear control arms, Lexus engineers retuned the front struts for improved feel and even went so far as to offer an optional Sport Package that includes stiffer springs and 19-inch wheels. Sans the sport pack, all RXs come standard with 18-inch alloys. The electric power steering has been retuned as well and delivers commendable feedback and linearity. Further, the brakes are larger front and rear and the front calipers switch from a single-piston to a dual-piston design-a useful upgrade considering the RX has gained roughly 500 pounds. Naturally, we get the usual array of Lexus security nets, including VSC, EBD, and VDIM (standard on 450h), but there are some fresh safety tools, to boot, namely Hill-Start Assist Control, active front headrests, rear-seat side airbags (10 airbags total), LED headlamps (available on 450h), and headlamps that automatically switch from high to low beams when a camera in the rearview mirror detects lights from vehicles ahead.
While it's unlikely the neighbors will be able to detect that the 2010 RX is all-new or that it's crammed with about as much tech as the International Space Station, don't worry -- once behind the wheel, you'll easily discern that the new model is the most impressive RX yet.
Photo 13/14   |   Lexus RX350
Photo 14/14   |   Lexus RX450h

2010 Lexus RX
Base Price $39,000-$43,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door, SUV
Engines 3.5L/275-hp/257-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6; 3.5L/245-hp/ 234-lb-ft Atkinson-cycle DOHC 24-valve V-6, plus 167-hp/247-lb-ft front and 68-hp/103-lb-ft rear electric motors (AWD only)
Transmissions 6-speed automatic, CVT
Curb weight (dist f/r) 4350-4800 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 107.9 in
Length x width x height 187.8 x 74.2 x 66.3 in
0-60 mph 6.5-7.5 sec (MT est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 18-28/24-27 mpg (est)
CO2 emissions 0.70-0.96 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S. Currently

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Lexus RX350

Fair Market Price
$38,067
Editors' Overall Rating
Basic Specifications
MSRP: $40,970
Mileage: 18 / 25
Engine: 3.5L V6
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