Go to any upscale community, and you are likely to find a plethora of Lexus RX 350s. In fact, they are so ubiquitous, that Audi made a great commercial a couple years ago, about how when you went to look for your Lexus you couldn’t find them in a sea of sameness. The question then becomes, is the Lexus RX 350 so popular because it’s a good SUV, or just because it’s the safe choice. This is what we set out to find out.
Our all-wheel-drive test unit arrived just after a big snowstorm. When it arrived, it was a perfect example of what you would find at any upscale high school soccer match. Our test unit was white with a cream-colored interior. If you were to go to one of the local upscale malls, it definitely would be important to remember where you parked because, you are likely to see 30 or 40 other cars that look exactly like this test unit.
When you look at the styling of the Lexus RX 350 certainly doesn’t do anything wrong, but then again there is nothing to distinguish it either. Like most vehicles that sell well, styling that doesn’t it’s stand out is often a key factor. For some however, in not trying to offend anyone with conservative styling is in itself somewhat offensive. You could say much the same about the interior of the RX 350 as well. The materials are nice, fit and finish are excellent, as you would expect from a Toyota product, and the whole package itself inside is nice.
When we had the RX 350 in for review, it was a particularly cold week here in Metro Detroit. The extreme cold weather pointed out two glaring issues we had with the interior of the Lexus RX 350. Number one, was that the wood trimmed steering wheel had no heat element in it, therefore gripping it with un-gloved hands, in single digits to below zero Fahrenheit temperatures, was rather uncomfortable. We found ourselves using the sleeves of our coat to hold on to the steering wheel until the interior came up to temperature. We would gladly trade the wood rimmed wheel for leather wrapped one that had a heated steering unit for occasions such as this.
The second issue, was the fact that the seat heaters took forever to warm up, and on their highest setting of three, is what we would call in any other vehicle a low setting. Again, sitting down on a cold leather seat on a single degree Fahrenheit temperature day is not the most pleasant experience. The fact that it would take five or or ten minutes to feel any heat coming from the seat, this, certainly didn’t win any marks in our books.
With those two exceptions we had no other real gripes with the interior of RX 350. The the ride was very quiet , the telematics system worked good enough, once you got use to the “mouse” for navigation, the stereo was good though not exceptional, and for the kids our test unit had dual rear seat DVD players.
Driving the RX 350 was a rather unremarkable experience. Again, in typical Toyota fashion, it’s not that the Lexus does anything wrong, it’s just that nothing stands out. The Lexus drives down the road just fine, handles well, sucks up the potholes of Metro Detroit just fine, and transports you to your destination safely and comfortably.
The difficulty in evaluating this particular Lexus is that we don’t follow into its key demographic. Most of the people who drive the RX 350, are upper-middle-class soccer moms, who live in suburbia where conformity is the norm. What we mean by conformity, is that they all send tend to shop at the same big-box stores, watch the same home-improvement shows, and have the same aspirations for their children. If you’ve ever seen the movie Pleasantville it’s kind of like that, just a bit more upscale.
As you can imagine, as a 41-year-old white male with no children, save one large dog, it’s not exactly the vehicle that with appeal to us. However, we can say, that the RX 350 does do a good job of hauling an eight-year-old English mastiff around. In any SUV that comes to us for testing, this is one of the most important test for us. After all, since we have no children to haul around, no school runs to make, and are more likely to head to the Home Depot or Lowe’s, rather than hardware restoration or the Pottery Barn, these are the measurements that we had.
Fuel mileage for the Lexus was reasonable during our time with the vehicle. In very cold conditions in mixed driving, we saw 22 miles to the gallon. While this is nothing that stands out in the class, it is right in line with the norms. The V-6 engine provides plenty of power, sure, it would be nice to have more, but for 95% of the people who will buy this vehicle, it would be pointless. The RX 350 accelerates away from stoplights just fine has plenty of power for merging onto the freeways, and will roll down those freeways at 80 miles an hour with nary a worry.
Trying to come up with an overall evaluation of the RX 350 was fairly difficult for us. It’s a vehicle designed for people that we aren’t. Lexus’ tend to be for people who view cars as appliances, but like a little bit of luxury with their appliances. Think of it this way, the Lexus RX 350 is like going into Best Buy, and getting a Samsung refrigerator, but buying the stainless steel model, rather than the white one. It’s not a Viking, or SubZero, or a Wolf, it’s just a very nice refrigerator with an upscale finish.
The idea with the RX 350, like most Lexus’, is to offer a comparable non-offensive way to transfer yourself, and your family, in a bit of luxury. The RX 350 will do nothing to offend you, and for most people that’s exactly what they’re looking for. People who buy Lexus’ are not enthusiast, and therefore you can’t look at the Lexus through the microscope that an enthusiast would. For an enthusiast, it’s hard to imagine buying a vehicle, that doesn’t either excite you, or make you look forward to driving it. For a vast majority of America, they just want something that gets the job done. The Lexus RX 350 certainly does that. If you like to blend into the crowd, want of vehicle that’ll never have to worry about, or not have your neighbors shocked by the choice of vehicle showing up in your driveway, the RX 350 certainly qualifies.
The best way to sum up the Lexus RX 350 as this, it is Häagen-Dazs French vanilla ice cream. It’s very good, it’s much better than the store brand, it’s a great standby, it’s just not something that’s going to get you excited.
If you’d like to see the rest of the pictures of the Lexus RX 350, please have a look in our photo gallery here.
Our guest this week comes straight from one of the greatest museums in the world with a fantastic car collection of all makes. Bob Casey is the Curator of Transportation for The Henry Ford and an automobile historian. We’ll be asking him what’s on his wishlist for the museum and if there’s ever been “one that got away.” As always, we’ll be sure to get into the news of the week including March sales results, whether Saab is on its last legs, and a new hope for Detroit called Tech Shop. John McElroy is also joined in studio by the Autoextremist, Peter De Lorenzo, as well as Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press.
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