Patrick Rall's picture

The New Lexus RX350: Big Luxury in a Big Cabin with a Small Price

The Lexus RX lineup has long been the bestselling luxury SUV in America, but with the newest generation of the RX350 arriving for the 2016 model year, the RX is better appointed and roomier than ever – and it offers all of this for a relatively low price in the luxury world.
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The boom in popularity of sport utility vehicles and crossovers in the US has led to an influx of luxury SUVs of all shapes and sizes, along with an upscale shift in the SUVs from non-luxury brands. The Lexus RX has always led the midsized luxury SUV segment by a comfortable margin, without any real challenge in the luxury world. However, as vehicles like the Ford Edge have been packed with premium amenities for a less-than-premium price, Lexus has been forced to make improvements to the RX in order to stay ahead of all of the competition. Also, since the lower cost models have gained so much premium content without climbing into the premium luxury price range, Lexus has had to make these improvements to the RX without driving the price up.

The result of this pressure from around the industry is a midsized luxury SUV with a roomy interior that is packed with high end features, and you can get into the 2016-2017 Lexus RX350 with AWD and all of the amenities discussed below for under $52k. That is significantly cheaper than comparably equipped rivals in the luxury segment, while only being slightly more expensive than the non-luxury SUVs chock full of premium features.

Lexus RX350 Pricing
The 2016 Lexus RX350 with all-wheel drive starts at $45,515 with destination, while there are plenty of options which will drive the price well north of $60k, you can get a very nicely appointed RX350 for just over $50k. Included in my list of “RX350 essentials” is the $600 color heads up display, the $640 heated/cooled seats, the Premium Package for $960 (which is required to add the $1,600 panoramic glass roof) and the $1,690 Navigation package (which adds Nav, the Lexus Enform App Suite, the remote touch control system and a 12 speaker sound system to the standard 8 inch touchscreen infotainment setup). With these options, the 2017 Lexus RX350 AWD has an MSRP of $50,905.

16 rx350 rear

The only other option which I would recommend to those RX350 buyers – or anyone buying any new Lexus product – it the Mark Levinson audio system. The Levinson systems are, in my opinion, among the best on the market and while the $2,700 price tag for that upgrade might turn someone off, the RX350 with all of the features above except for the Navigation package (which is replaced by the Levinson package), the RX350 MSRP only rises to $51,985.

Now, to many people, calling $50,905 a “relatively low price” is preposterous, but in the world of the luxury SUV, $51k for these features makes the RX350 a bargain. However, having tested a great many midsized SUVs in the luxury and non-luxury segments, I find the Lexus RX350 to be an amazing vehicle for the price, even with the slight added cost of the premium Levinson sound system.

The Exterior
On the outside, the new Lexus RX350 wears the familiar spindle grille design which has been applied to all of the modern Lexus models. This exterior styling is aggressive and polarizing, with some people making it very clear that they do not care for the collection of angles. On the other hand, I like the aggressive Lexus design language and on the RX350, I think that it makes for one sharp looking luxury sport utility vehicle.(More on the Next Page)

16 rx350 fr

More importantly, the low-slung, sporty shape of the new RX350 gives it a smaller look, which makes the amount of interior space that much more impressive, but we will get to that in a minute. While some midsized SUVs work the bigger look, this Lexus looks smaller and feels smaller when you find yourself navigating it through tight situations – such as the airport parking facility or the local mall.

That being said, opinions on exterior design are purely subjective and in the case of this subject – I like the look of the new Lexus RX350.

The Interior
The cabin of the new Lexus RX350 is where this midsized SUV will impress pretty much everyone. Like every other luxury SUV on the market, the RX350 is chock full of premium amenities, but unlike many midsized SUVs – this Lexus offers a ton of passenger space and cargo space. The front seats will comfortably seat a pair of 6’3” adults, but more importantly, the outboard rear seats will comfortably accommodate those same two 6’3” adults even with the front seats moved back for taller adults. In short, the Lexus RX350 will seat four tall adults with plenty of head, leg and elbow room for everyone.

16 rx350 fr seats

Also, once you have those four tall adults in the Lexus RX350, there is still plenty of room in the rear cargo area, so if those four adults are headed to the ice rink for a hockey game – all four of their huge bags will fit in the back.

16 rx350 cargo

So the Lexus RX350 will seat four adults with space for some serious cargo, but for the average luxury amenities are more important for the daily drive than gobs of interior space. Fortunately, this roomy Lexus SUV scores high in that category, too. In standard form, the RX350 includes power leather seats, a 9-speaker sound system with an 8” infotainment screen mounted atop the dash, a detailed driver information screen with controls on the steering wheel, dual zone climate control, a backup camera and a long list of features that you get with every new vehicle (power windows, Bluetooth connectivity, hands free phone control).(More on the Next Page)

16 rx350 dfash

In other words, the RX350 comes well appointed, but adding the packages mentioned above improves the luxury layout in a big way. The interior trim is the only interior feature which really improves the interior feel, but that package also opens up the panoramic glass roof, which is a beautiful addition to this room SUV. The simpler Navigation package adds navigation, but more importantly, it adds a 12-speaker sound system, the Lexus Enform App Suite, an in-dash CD/DVD player and the Remote Touch control system. This control system puts a small touchpad on the shift console, right where the driver’s hand naturally rests when using the center armrest. This system is similar to the touchpad on many laptop computers, allowing you to move the cursor on the infotainment screen by dragging your finger around the pad while pushing down “clicks” – similar to a laptop interface.

As mentioned above, you can pay $2,770 for the incredible Mark Levinson sound system rather than the 12-speaker system which comes with the Navigation package, and if you want an even more impressive infotainment screen, you can opt up to the 12.3” screen. The downside to that, of course, is a bit more added cost. The Levinson system with the big screen costs $3,200, and if you want the simpler navigation package with the 12.3” screen, you can get that for $2,120. However, if you want to keep the price down, the 12-speaker system and the 8” screen provide the premium feel which luxury buyers expect.

16 rx350 rear seats

Finally, when you add in the low-cost options of the heated/cooled front seats and the color heads-up display, the Lexus RX350 offers pretty much everything that you could want in a midsized luxury SUV for under $51k.

With the 2016 and 2017 Lexus RX350, there is a long list of available options which allow it to rival any comparable vehicle on sale today, but for those buyers looking to keep the purchase price low – you can get a great, loaded RX350 for just a touch over $50,000.

The Drive
The new Lexus RX350 is powered by a 3.5L V6 with 295 horsepower, which is sent to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission and an active all-wheel drive system. This AWD system constantly monitors wheel speed and when slippage is detected, extra power is sent to the wheels with grip to maximize traffic. When that extra grip isn’t needed, the system sends all of the power to the front wheels, improving fuel economy in situations like a long drive on a dry highway.

As a result, the RX350 is expected to yield 26 miles per gallon on the highway and 22mpg combined per the EPA and during my drive time, I found that these numbers were easily achieved. In fact, someone who lives in an area with a highway speed limit lower than the 70mph limits around Metro Detroit might find that they can exceed those EPA numbers.(More on the Next Page)

16 rx350 rd fr

In addition to surefootedness in winter weather and solid fuel economy numbers for a vehicle of this size, the new Lexus RX350 offers solid performance. The RX350 F Sport definitely has a sportier feel, but the “regular” RX350 packs plenty of power to accelerate quickly from a stop or to build speed with fast-moving traffic. This isn’t a performance SUV, but it has the power that most buyers will need when it comes to the rigors of daily driving.

Finally, and most importantly for this section of the review, the Lexus RX350 rides like a dream. The cabin is whisper quiet even at highway speeds, keeping the wind noise and the road harshness outside, even on Detroit’s rough road surfaces. The steering and suspension setup of the RX350 work together for a smooth ride for the driver and passengers, but when the driver hits a twisty road – the midsized Lexus SUV handles the curves with confidence.

Those drivers who want to really hammer the corners will want to check out the F Sport package, but for a driver who is looking for an SUV that is fun to drive and remarkably smooth on rough roads – the new Lexus RX350 checks all of the boxes.

The Final Word
The Lexus RX lineup has long been the leader in the midsized luxury SUV segment and with the newest version of the RX350, the bestselling vehicle in the segment has gotten even better. This new RX350 offers impressive levels of interior space, a solid list of standard features with an array of relatively affordable upgrade packages, a powerful-yet-efficient V6/AWD drivetrain and an aggressive, premium exterior design – all with an MSRP hovering right around the $51k mark.

16 rx350 rd rr

There are lots of other midsized SUVs inside and outside of the luxury segment, but none of them offer the space, the amenities and the driving dynamics of the Lexus RX350 for a comparable price. This is why the RX has long been the bestselling midsized luxury SUV and with this new model, the RX will almost certainly continue to lead the way for the rest of the midsized luxury vehicles sold in America.


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