2015 Lexus RX 350 AWD vs. Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4x4 – which to buy?
In this segment of our continuing comparison series, we look at two opposites serving the same mission. The 2015 Lexus RX 350 and the Jeep Wrangler 4-door are roughly the same size, offer the ability to power all four wheels when needed, and have the same number of digits in their price tags. You might think these two vehicles are never cross-shopped by buyers, but we’re not so sure. Here in the woods between Boston and Providence both are very popular. One family in our neighborhood has one of each. Let’s look at what makes them both so desirable.
2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara 4x4
The Jeep most of us have in mind from childhood looks a bit like this. However, Jeep super-sized the Wrangler and added four doors a while back, and now this body-on-frame off-roader is primarily used to shuttle kids to band and parents to work. Among both the off-road and on-road crowd, the Wrangler is much loved. Its resale value rivals the Tacoma’s. Dealers can barely keep up with demand, and the loaded Wrangler we tested had a price of $41,515. That shocked us. Maybe it shouldn’t.
Wrangler - The Drive
On-road the Wrangler is a hot mess. It is sloppy, lumbering, everything you touch or turn is industrial and clunky, and damn it, we love the thing. Our local roads look like they have been shelled in preparation for D-Day. Huge holes are made even more fun by cross-cuts two inches deep every half mile or so to mark where the new pavement will soon reside. The Wrangler does not care. Its 18” 70-series tires swallowed up the worst in stride. In some areas, rather than go through the huge holes we just steered right off the road a bit and then back on. Sorry about your lawn.
On the highway, the Wrangler is great. We are not kidding, somehow it rolls along straight as an arrow and handles just fine. When the roads are twisty, the Wrangler handles like a milk truck, but we assume owners know that and don’t care.
Since I started letting my boys (now 15 and 13) get in and out of the car themselves, I have been yelling “Don’t slam the door.” Now the Wrangler shows up. The only way to close the door is to slam it like you’re angry at it. Anything less and the super-seal pushes the door back, and you get the idiot light and warning tone. On the plus side, my tester with about 9,000 miles had not a single squeak or rattle. Crazy, considering it had a fiberglass removal top.
The rear tailgate is a challenge. It takes three steps to open it and then the tailgate is in your way. However, if you get a flat, the full-size matching spare is right there at hip height. My tester didn’t even have wheel locks holding it onto the car. If you know how to work a jack you could change this Jeep’s flat tire in about 3 minutes.
Inside, the Wrangler was all coolness. Grab handles, Velcro, knobs and pull levers. Jeepsters know what all that stuff is for. In my limited test time, I could only dream of all the camping, fishing, and woodland adventures I might never do in this totally cool, crazily impractical vehicle. My boys BEGGED me to take it into the woods.
2015 Lexus RX 350
I happened to luck into the Lexus the same week I had the Jeep. My personal car was in for a routine recall (what?) and the technician broke a part of the engine cover, so I had two days in a new dealer loaner to be reacquainted with the vehicle. I used to own this model, so I know it well. Although the Lexus RX 350 theoretically starts at about $41,500, most cost about $48K with all the common premium packages. The Lexus is great at everything in real life. It is comfortable, quick, handles well, is easy to use in every way a parent or oddly-practical affluent single person might want to use a mid-size crossover.
Jumping back and forth between the two vehicles makes you stop driving the Jeep. Until you need to run some iron railings over to a rental property. Or when it is dump day (no trash pickup in the woods here). Or if you know you are going to have to run the gauntlet of the worst roads in North America to pick up a kid in need of a ride. As it turns out, the Jeep’s keys found my hand on the way out the door a lot.
The Lexus RX 350 excels at comfort. Around town, it can handle normal pot-holes, but still acts about as sporty as most of its premium crossover peers. It is not tossable like Mazda CX-5, but it is a fun vehicle to drive. All the things you touch and feel glide and have that perfect touch of molasses to slow their progress. The ventilated seats are way handier than you’d imagine. We could go on, but the Lexus RX 350 is so well known we want to get to some surprises. See our review for more details.
The Jeep got great Mileage. We saw 26 on the highway and about 22 overall. That is much better than the 16 MGP city, 20 highway and 18 combined the window sticker warned we would get. The Lexus is rated at 18 city, 24 highway, and 20 MPG combined. During my ownership of a similar RX 350, I found those numbers to be spot-on. Both use regular unleaded, so this part of the comparo is a draw.
Off-Road Lexus RX 350 vs. Jeep Wrangler 4x4
During my week-long test, another writer from Torque News and I raced these vehicles off-road through the back woods of Maine. No, we didn’t. Our own Patrick Rall did get the roof dirty on a full review of Wrangler though, and it is worth a read. The Jeep offers more off-road capability than the Lexus RX 350, so let’s not pretend they compare in that way. This past winter a family friend who owns a Wrangler with a small plow was one of the only folks around who got to use our roads during the state of emergency. He wasn’t cheating, folks plowing had special permission. That’s cool. On the other hand, a Lexus RX 350 can lock its wheels to start off in a sort of 4x4 mode to escape from being stuck in mud or snow. Its all-wheel drive is fantastic and foolproof on snowy and icy roads. You never do a thing, the Lexus takes care of you. The Jeep has mysterious levers and pull chains with icons. To each his own.
Concerning safety, we suspect the Lexus is a bit safer based on IIHS testing and the like. It can be equipped with advanced forward collision prevention. The Jeep can be fitted with a cow catcher or bash bar and has roll bars four inches thick.
Both the 2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 4-door and Lexus RX 350 AWD can get you to your destination in any weather, on any reasonable road. Heck, the Jeep doesn't even need the road. They are as different as any two vehicles can be, yet they serve the same purpose and the same families, and have come to define their segments. If we learned anything about what makes vehicles successful comparing these two, it is that if you do anything extremely well in the automotive world it builds an audience. Both of these vehicles do “their thing” better than anyone.