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2010 Lexus RX: The strong get stronger

Wed, 07 Jan 2009

If you've loved the Lexus RX for the past decade, you won't be able to keep your hands off the new one. This third-gen soft-ute does everything for which it has been celebrated--providing a stylish, nontruck experience, lathered with luxury froth and festooned with technical widgets--and does it better than ever.

This is no mere facelift. It looks similar to the outgoing model, but there's much more going on. It is bigger and wider, increasing interior volume to benefit shoulders, knees, hips and heads. It feels spacious, which equals comfort, yet it is not cumbersome on the road.

Designers didn't waste that extra space. Soft-touch leather is buttery good; the seats are firm and reward long stints with little fatigue; the instrument panel opens wide, with large, easy-to-read gauges. Sightlines improve thanks to an A-pillar corner window and larger rear glass. The RX also gets the new industry leader in center-console-mounted driver-control devices, this one called Remote Touch. It replaces a touch-screen interface on earlier models, with ergonomically superior effect. Force feedback can be boosted or softened, depending on driver desire.

The RX shines on the road. It has never been accused of being a "driver's vehicle," nor should a crossover ever be confused with such. But this new model does afford an experience to remember.

Maybe we can credit its newly designed double-wishbone independent rear suspension for those manners. While the front remains a MacPherson strut setup, the newly designed rear is compact, with a wide arm span and rigid trailing arms. Low absorber mounting points allow for more luggage space.

Lexus RX 350

Drivers enjoy the expected quiet of a Lexus cocoon. But there's more, as when you gently back out of the 275-hp V6 to decelerate from a high-speed straight and set up a constant-radius corner; this RX takes a firm stance that doesn't waver from its course. Speed-sensitive power steering is tuned so that no lag comes through the wheel. Electronic power steering is not overly boosted; it kicks in when needed during slow maneuvers and "tightens up" at speed. Engineers say the EPS enjoys a 3 percent efficiency gain over a hydraulic system.

The hybrid incorporates a number of new technological features, such as an Atkinson-cycle engine. It boasts a next-gen hybrid power-control inverter, an ECO mode and an EV (only) switch. How can you tell you're seeing a hybrid? It's all blue. Up front are blue-tinted headlamp covers and a blue hybrid logo, hybrid logos are affixed to the sides, and out back are a blue RX 450h badge, a blue hybrid logo and blue taillight lens highlights.

An AWD RX 350 has fuel economy of 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined (with a 1-mpg increase for front-drive models), while the AWD RX 450h gets 28, 26 and 27 mpg.

The 2010 Lexus RX could be the ultimate package for those who want safety, comfort, style, performance and functionality in their SUVs. Yes, Lexus has done it again.


ON SALE: February

BASE PRICE: $38,775 (est)

DRIVETRAIN: 3.5-liter, 275-hp, 257-lb-ft V6; FWD, six-speed automatic

CURB WEIGHT: 4,340 lb

0-62 MPH: 7.4 sec (mfr)

FUEL ECONOMY: 21 mpg (mfr est)

By Dutch Mandel