Lexus long has been known for three things:
3.A certain corporate unhappiness within its own skin. This is something we often see in individuals and companies that excel at something. They always wonder, as the Peggy Lee song goes, “Is that all there is?’’ At Lexus, that feeling, and the desire for a bigger market share, has led to:
A.The F-labeled series of performance-oriented vehicles.
B.And the oversized “Spindle Grille.’’
Today’s test car, the all-wheel-drive 2016 Lexus RX 350 SUV, isn’t one of the F-Series models, but it does have “The Grille.’’
Now, it should be said, I’d been thinking of something decidedly unkind to say about “The Grille’’ as we waited for the school bus to deliver our grandson from his last day of third grade.
Sitting on the lawn in the sun, looking at the spindle grille, with its chrome surround, instead of terming the chrome outline “lipstick on a pig,’’ I started to come around.
Criticizing something is easy. So is following the crowd. It’s also always nice to remember my parents’ admonition: “If you can’t say something nice, sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all.’’
Goodness knows, I’ve come up with lame excuses in the past to avoid reviewing a vehicle I couldn’t “get along’’ with. There may or may not have been design or mechanical shortcomings, but I just couldn’t enjoy the experience.
Now, Lexus knows first impressions mean a lot in style and design. So, to combat the thousands of previous impressions we have of Lexus, its designers are using the grille across the model lineup to try and change Item No. 1 above (conservative styling).
I found myself starting to consider this giant maw a design feature that’s ready to eat up hundreds of thousands of miles of roadways over the life of a Lexus.
And, as I’m gazing at the RX 350 from this low angle, the L-shaped LED running lights are obvious as is the sleeker silhouette. Lexus has extended the roofline with a rear lip that hangs out over the rear window (the rear wiper is housed in here). That overhang is as outsized as the grille but it flows with the design so well you don’t realize its length until you’re washing the vehicle.
Another design tweak is the blacked out C pillars (the rear roof support). From the outside it makes the vehicle look sleeker; from the inside, it’s not obvious because there’s a small fixed-pane of glass there.
Our test car, while pricey, actually falls in the right spot for its premium content.Base price was $44,240 (including destination).
The long list of options contained many advanced features we recommend, including: Blind spot mirror with rear cross-traffic alert ($500) and the Lexus Safety System+, a bargain at $635.
The safety system adds all-speed dynamic cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, intelligent high-beam control, and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and auto braking.
In addition, the pre-braking warning illuminates the brake lights to warn following vehicles that you’re going to be decelerating imminently.
Other options included a dark mocha interior trim ($400) that adds to an already outstanding interior, a touch-free power rear liftgate ($200), heated and ventilated front seats ($640), intuitive parking assist ($500), and heated leather steering wheel ($150).
Extra packages included the Nav system with a 12.3-inch multimedia display ($2,180), moonroof ($1,100), and a Premium package ($1,085) that adds leather trim seats, power-folding outside mirrors, driver’s memory, rain-sensing wipers, and aluminum roof rails.
That’s a bottom line figure of $51,630 for a vehicle that I think closely goes head to head with the Acura MDX—two of which reside in my daughter and son-in-law’s garage.
Granted, they’ve got some years and miles on them but the new RX definitely wins in the smooth-ride and interior quality departments. The MDX has the advantage of the third-row seat although that feature becomes moot if you’re trying to put anyone larger than the average 10-year-old back there.
Comparing them on one of my favorite bad stretches of road—a downhill, 40-yard chunk of true washboard leading to a stop sign—the Lexus was decidedly smoother. (Though neither did as well as another recent test vehicle the new Chrysler Pacifica minivan with its longer wheelbase.)
Our test vehicle had the standard 18-inch wheels. We didn’t see any need (style-wise or performance-wise) to opt for the fancier 20-inch wheels and tires unless you prefer to spend more on the eventual replacement tires.
The RX is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces a sufficient 295 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque that goes to the wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. Performance is adequate when driven in the “Normal’’ mode, decidedly reduced in “Eco’’ mode, and definitely sprightlier when “Sport’’ is selected.
Fuel economy ratings are 22 combined in a range of 19 (city) to 26 (highway). We averaged 23.4 in a week that included one long highway stretch.
Ease of entry is a given, but visibility is improved by a significantly lowered dashboard design. That 12.3-inch screen immediately grabs the attention of first-timers in the cabin, especially youngsters.
Rear passengers in our test car didn’t have rear DVD screens, but they did have heated and sliding/reclining seat options.
The RX 350 and its predecessors have been terrific vehicles since the model was introduced in 1998.
There’s no need to pretend to be anything different from a first-class premium SUV.
2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD SUV
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $44,240 / $51,630. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 19 city / 26 highway / 22 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 24.4. Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive. Body: 5-passenger unibody SUV.
Horsepower: 295. Torque: 267 lb.-ft. Overall length: 192.5 in. Wheelbase:109.8 in. Height: 67.7 in.
Width: 74.6 in. Curb weight: 4,387 lbs.
Quality interior, top reliability ratings, Top Safety pick (with Lexus Safety System), comfortable (carlike) driving experience.
Aggravating mouse-like touch screen controller (others have better systems), adequate-but-not-spacious cargo room.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In today’s market, a premium value at a good price.
Acura MDX, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Volvo XC90.