Lexus’ RX 350 still swallows you up in capable comfort |

Lexus’ RX 350 still swallows you up in capable comfort

Andy Stonehouse
Summit Daily auto writer
Special to the Daily 2011 Lexus RX 350

Chances are your mom would still like a Lexus RX 350. It really would be a nice present, one to show you how much you love her, and to indicate your success in life.

And while that will invariably be the theme of those ads you see closer to holiday season, maybe it’s not so far from the truth.

Lexus’ best-selling RX, which debuted in its third-generation form for the 2010 model year, continues to be the benchmark for the luxury crossover world. Even though the competition has collectively aped the RX’s successful swoopy style and elegant and roomy interior … it remains finely finished and revolutionary.

So much so that the RX is probably the mental image you get when you think of the word Lexus. And that’s not such a bad thing, as the large (but not too large) RX is still stylistically ahead of the curve and full of all of the brand’s trademark perks.

The most pronounced of which is a commanding ride that’s utterly and almost impossibly quiet and smooth, almost distractingly so at times. Leaving you occasionally locked in a semi-detached state of silent bliss, which might be a little dangerous.

But with 275 horsepower, full-time all-wheel drive and smooth-rolling 19-inch wheels, RX’s feel is completely balanced and smooth, even at freeway speed. About the only perceptible encumbrance is the slightly strong inputs required for the electrically assisted steering (which I noticed for the first few days but largely forgot); RX accelerates easily, stops confidently and despite its size (4,343 pounds, 66 inches high), exhibits no special feelings of body roll or wobble.

Put RX into mild offroading mode and it’s equally capable, with an AWD lock button on the center console to firm things up for snow or some medium-duty trails, if required.

I was also able to get a steady 24 miles per gallon, the EPA estimate for highway driving, which is reasonably acceptable for the vehicle class.

The RX’s design has also evolved nicely since the automobile’s debut in 1998, with more contour lines (particularly an inverted line below the front doors) but the same general rounded swoop. That oft-imitated poly-angular look is still attractive.

Inside, the flavor and feel of more rounded swoops and swirls on the dash and throughout the cabin also remains intriguing and contemporary, from the small, aircraft-styled microwindows in front of the side mirrors to the blend of leather, plastic, polished hardwood and chrome.

It’s all soft to the touch and all discretely contoured, including the small tweeter speakers in the door panels; combine that with the bright and precise electro-luminescent gauges and a deeply recessed color navigation screen, and the treatment is subtle but sweet.

RX 350 also does not suffer from Lexus Button Overload, happily; critical controls are mildly hidden (seat heater and ventilation knobs are underneath the sliding center console armrest, for instance). The still-new “Remote Touch” joystick/mouse-styled controller allows nearly seamless and eyes-on-the-road inputs for the navigation, audio and climate control, though it would still be nice to have hard, external controls for fan speed.

RX starts at just below $40,000 but the long list of options can start to inflate that sum, though the options are still pretty cunning: the ever-impressive 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo system with a DVD changer; a radar-operated pre-collision and cruise control system; wide-view camera for easier parking maneuvers; or even an optional head-up display for eye-level information.

Throughout it all, comfort is paramount and the RX delivers, with wide, ventilated leather seating with just enough sporty back support to not disappear entirely into those thrones. Rear passengers also get large doors for easier entrances and impressive leg room, so much so that the rear seats slide as well.

Pop open the power liftgate and there’s 40 cubic feet of standard storage or more than 80 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks dropped.

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