Mountain Wheels: Lexus’ larger crossover gains some family members
Special to the Daily
2015 Lexus RX 350
MSRP: $42,195; as tested, $55,099
Powertrain: 270-HP 3.5-liter V6; six-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 20 mpg combined; 18 city and 24 highway
It’s uncanny how the stats between this week’s subject, the 2015 variation of Lexus’ ever-popular RX 350 crossover, and last week’s Acura MDX, come out in the wash. Like they were separated at birth.
Not a lot has changed in the newest iteration of the rounded RX, which got a face-lift to Lexus’ company-wide spindle-shaped grille and a few mildly aggressive points and angles a couple of years back.
But it remains a pleasant machine and, despite the catcalls of some of my acquaintances — one of whom drives a 9-year-old Maxima, for God’s sake — it is not an “old lady” car.
I cannot speak to the demographic of ownership, particularly in south Denver-area Arapahoe County, but I can very reasonably say that drivers of any age and gender will appreciate the RX’s looks, its modern interior and its ability to comfortably ferry passengers through otherwise tragic winter driving conditions.
It’s also not going to be the only game in town on the Lexus crossover list, as the new, smaller NX has recently been debuted — going after a busy premium-small-crossover market that includes vehicles like the new Mercedes GLA, the new Audi Q3 and the still-new Porsche Macan.
But those are all tight fits for even normal-sized people, and while they tend to say they’ll be more affordable, they all price high when optioned heavily. By comparison, a well-equipped RX 350 starts at about $42,200 and was pretty loaded at a not-unreasonable $55,000: leather, sunroof, Mark Levinson stereo and DVD system with screens mounted on the back of the front-seat headrests, 19-inch wheels, real wood finishing details and xenon headlamps.
Besides all those goodies, what sets this larger Lexus apart from its crowded field of competitors? I’d say it’s just a pleasantly progressive and unassumingly advanced choice for those aiming at moderately luxurious, weather-capable motoring, with 80.3 cubic feet of interior space, back seats dropped, to lay in all of your goods.
Power is about mid-pack for the group, with a 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 offering just-right kind of thrust, and middling 22-24 mpg as a real-world result. The hybrid version, the RX 450h, does make a bit more total power — 295 HP — but you’ll mostly be able to harness the gas engine model’s power when you need it, and cruise up those long, long hills with ease.
Full-time active torque control all-wheel drive also keeps the RX as grounded as one can with 4,343 pounds underneath (the AWD version of the hybrid is a little porky at 4,652 pounds); I found it a capable and solid performer, though without dedicated winter tires you still need to pay plenty of attention to absolutely frozen corners and steep slopes. The car’s constrained bigness also gently dissuades you from truly aggressive driving, though the 19-inch-tires do add to the grounded feel.
You’ll also find the six-speed automatic transmission — with its console-mounted shifter and an old-fashioned J-gate — will appear just a bit jaggedy and high-revving when you’re attempting to use the sequential shifting to shave off speed on a very steep incline like the I-70 chute into Silverthorne from Frisco.
As before, if you want an RX that can play a little more aggressively, the F Sport version is an option with its eight-speed automatic transmission and a litany of stylistic upgrades.
Inside, some may feel that the RX’s all-black interior is just a little too black for its own good, broken up just a bit with the bird’s-eye maple trim and some silver highlights — in this case, the sunroof did help brighten things up a bit. The most recent wave of cabin redesign means some cool sweeps and curves across the dash and doors; the asymmetrical wedge of a center stack is slightly wonky (passenger heat controls are slightly hidden, for instance), but it is kind of cool looking.
I would say I am still not entirely a fan of the palm-rest-style mousepad controller for Lexus’ navigation and Enform system, but it’s still a unique solution to data input.
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