2015 Lexus RX350 AWD Review
By Ken Glassman
Let’s set our way-back machine to 1999, when Lexus created the mid-size luxury SUV market with the RX 300. It was an immediate success, and sent the rest of the industry scrambling to catch up. Within a few years, all the major luxury brands were turning out competitor vehicles, and they all got better and better.
Today, the competition is fierce with Acura, BMW, Audi, Lincoln, Cadillac, and Infinity all vying for a share of the pie. But the RX has remained one of the most successful models of all time. The last refresh of the model came in 2013, and there isn’t much that has changed since. Why mess with success?
The RX 350, both in 2-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive, is equipped with a 3.5 liter V-6, mated to a six speed manumatic transmission. (The more performance oriented F-Series uses an 8-speed tranny.) The engine makes 270hp and 248 ft. lbs. of torque, and is an absolute gem of a powerplant.
Just step on the gas pedal and the RX has plenty of go to move away from a stop light, or to spool up the speed when passing on a two lane road. And it all happens, smoothly and quietly, like an expensive Swiss watch. Gas mileage on the front wheel drive version rates 18 City and 25 mpg Highway. The heavier AWD version I drove, keep the City mileage but loses 1 mpg on the Highway. Both recommend premium fuel. Oddly, the hybrid version gets only 28mpg on the highway, a gain of only 4 miles per gallon.
On the flip side, the steering is way over-boosted; it feels numb and the driver doesn’t get much feel or feedback as to what the car is doing, especially at speed. The same can be said of the suspension. It is so isolating, even on broken and pock marked pavement, that it’s hard for the driver to feel engaged with the road.
And at highway speeds the cabin is so quiet, with virtually no wind noise, that if there is no traffic to use as a gauge, you can find yourself going 85 miles per hour, when you think you’re doing 65.
While I personally prefer vehicles that connects the driver to the road more, like the European makes, I fully understand and appreciate that many drivers do not. The mission statement for Lexus is different than those of the German SUV’s. The Lexus is for those who want a vehicle that does everything smoothly and effortlessly. It tries to isolate the driver from any harshness on the road, and to travel the highway like a hovercraft. And they make no apologies for that, nor should they.
In fact, the passengers that I chauffeured remarked at how comfortable they were, and marveled at the smooth, quiet and comfortable operation. Lexus knows their intended customers, and they provide an outstanding vehicle for them. And this RX 350 is one of them.
The cabin is a comfortable place to spend time. The test car included the $2,760 Premium Package which adds, among other things, leather trim seats. The $1,390 Comfort Package adds heating and cooling to those seats. The heated portion is fine, the cooled portion, not so much.
We’ve found the cooled seats lacking in all the Lexus vehicles we’ve tested. But the appointments in the cabin are well thought out, and stylish. There is enough wood trim around the console and door switches to break up the leather look, and brightwork is kept to a minimum. Soft touch materials are everywhere and make for comfortable elbows on the console, or door armrests.
Rear seat passengers have a very nice fold down armrest with cup holders and storage. Even tall passengers will have plenty of headroom, as the roofline slopes over the cargo area, rather than the passenger area. Leg and shoulder room is also generous.
And speaking of generous, the cargo volume is outstanding with 40 cu.ft. with the rear seats up or 80 cu.ft. with the seats folded flat. That beats the Cadillac, Audi and Acura by a good margin, and gives you all the cargo space you want in an SUV.
And there are levers on each side of the cargo area that are spring loaded to drop the rear seats when necessary. Also, a push button to lower the liftgate is another luxury touch that you’d expect in a Lexus.
The Nav System is pricey at $1,915, but you get a large 7” screen, and the voice command Lexus Enform system, which has a lot of interesting features, such as Destination Assist which can send route information from an operator to your in-car nav system, in addition to all of the connectivity to music sources and your favorite apps.
That aforementioned Premium Package includes some excellent features such as Blind Spot Monitoring in your heated outside mirrors, a moon roof, roof rails and memory seats.
For $1,500 extra, the Pre-Collision system with radar adaptive cruise control, and Pre-Brake and Forward Collision Warning adds to the other safety features of the car, and that radar adaptive cruise control is a terrific feature for anyone who spends a lot of time on the highway.
You can literally drive for hours without the need to adjust your speed with the gas or brake pedal, and without fiddling with any switch controls on the steering wheel.
One feature we absolutely hated and complained about it on the GS sedan, was the mouse like device on the console that controls the infotainment and other systems on the car through the Nav screen. It is way too sensitive and when toggling up/down, or side to side, it is hard to zero in on the place you want to stop at. And when you get to the place you want, to select that item, you are required to push down on the mouse, which if you aren’t very careful, can move the curser way off course and land you on something inches away from your intended target.
It can be very frustrating when inputting an address into the Nav system when stopped, and extremely frustrating to use it for simple things like radio inputs while driving. Many manufacturers are trying for a wow factor when it comes to operating their advanced electronics, when good old fashioned knobs and switches would be better.
The Lexus RX 350 AWD is an excellent luxury SUV. It is pleasant to look at, inside and out. It has a full range of luxury amenities, and an outstanding powertrain. If your driving desires includes a more dynamic feel for the road, and a more visceral driving experience, this might not be the one for you. But is your automotive tastes run to the soft, comfortable, smooth, and quiet end of the spectrum, it will be hard to find a better fit than this one.
The top line on the sticker was $42,195. Optioned out, and with the destination charges, the bottom line came to $50,090, which puts it in the mix with similar equipped offerings from the other luxury makers. So each buyer will have to choose their pleasure.
RX 350 F Sport
2015 Lexus RX350 AWD
By Ken Glassman
Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman has been a motor journalist for over 30 years, reviewing automobile, as well as motorcycle ride reviews and accessory reviews.
His car articles have appeared in Robb Report Magazine, Autoguide.com, Car-Revs-Daily.com and other media. His work has also appeared in Road Bike Magazine, Motorcycle Tour and Cruiser, SpeedTV.com, MotorcycleUSA.com and others.
As motorcycle columnist for The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, the paper became the only major circulation newspaper in the country to have a separate weekly section devoted to motorcycles. Later he wrote a weekly column for Cyclefocus Magazine.