DETROIT — The Lexus RX is the vehicle that catapulted the automaker into the front ranks of luxury brands. Yes, Lexus almost from its beginning had the reputation of manufacturing first-rate luxury cars. But it was the RX crossover that generated the volume that made it the best-selling luxury brand here for years.
Escalating gas prices cooled the sales of all utility vehicles and even though prices have fallen buyers are a little timid when considering that market. Still, crossovers dominate the U.S. market in terms of sales and manufacturers are meeting demands with vehicles that have power but don’t guzzle gasoline.
Today’s RX is a luxury midsize CUV. It had a 3.5-liter V6 that made 295 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque. The engine was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination had an EPA rating of 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined.
It was a smooth and efficient powertrain. Unless you read as I did, there is no way you would know that the transmission had eight forward gears. And it could be shifted manually with either the stalk or the paddle shifters.
There were five drive modes: normal, eco, custom, sport s and sport s+. I pretty much stuck to normal for the weeklong test drive. The driving experience was just that pleasant. The RX smoothed out some horrendous roads, it was quiet and it was quick.
The interior was dominated by a 12.3-inch infotainment and navigation screen. It was touch I think because it was perpendicular to the dash and set too far back to be reached safely. There was mouse on the console and Lexus has increased the torque a bit so it was much easier to control movement on the screen and enter information than with past models.
There were heated and cooled seats that could be linked with the automatic climate controls. The color heads up display could be adjusted and there was a 360-degree camera. Push a button and it would circle around the vehicle and then give a top down view.
The interior had a horizontal layout. That screen on top of the dash meant that Lexus designers didn’t have to try and cram all the instruments around a screen that was embedded in the dash. Climate controls were right in reach beneath the analogue clock. There was a thin band for entertainment controls beneath, followed by more controls on the center console including the gear shift.
I climbed into the back seat and found it really spacious. There was plenty of head and leg room I think three people could sit in the back seat somewhat comfortably. That was surprising since the RX 350 was so angular and curvy from the outside.
This was the fourth generation RX and it had been bestowed with the spindle grille with a chrome plated border. Standard were bi-LED headlights and there were signature L-shaped daytime running lights.
There were L-shaped taillights in the rear which seemed to wrap around the automatic tailgate. The C-pillars were blacked out creating a floating roof appearance. And the RX rode on 20-inch wheels.
There were a bunch of creature comforts: satellite radio, a navigation system, Bluetooth, a panorama moonroof, a reclining rear seat, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a suite of internet apps, power folding sideview mirrors, back up camera with cross traffic alert and automatic braking, a couple of USB jacks, an auxiliary jack and three 12V sockets.
What’s more, the power liftgate was touch-free and the RX also had blind spot monitoring and intuitive park assist.
The base price of my 2018 Lexus RX 350 F Sport was $50,320. Add the cost of options, with the shipping charge and the final sticker was $58,760.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.