The 2009 Lexus RX350 is the first all new RX model New Zealand has seen since 2003 and like the old folk say “Good things take time.” Since Toyota’s luxury division began it’s developed a reputation for reliability and usability reflected regularly in Lexus topping customer satisfaction surveys. With this mantra to protect Lexus took five years to develop the new RX350, testing the vehicle in six countries including on our own slippery winter roads.
Back in Japan the pursuit for aerodynamic enhancement saw the RX spend time in the same wind tunnel used to perfect Japan’s Shinkansen or Bullet Train. The Bullet Train offers occupants a safe, comfortable, dependable and rapid way to travel; can the new Lexus RX350 do the same?
Visually the RX350 defies the traditionally boxy stature associated with SUVs, instead maintaining a raked back profile and athletic stance. The overall aesthetic is a clear continuation from the outgoing model with the exception of a restyled nose with more dramatically angular headlamps and a larger, lower-set grille. A high chrome belt-line ascends the vehicles flanks tapering off when it reaches the thick rear pillars. At the back mammoth jeweled tail lights and a sloping rear windscreen with a hidden wiper cap off the bulky muscular proportions. Chrome touches and 7-spoke 19-inch rims add class to what is distinctive if not entirely elegant exterior styling. The Bullet Train inspired look is definitely an acquired taste but is an aerodynamic success with the RX350 returning class-leading co-efficient drag figure of 0.33Cd.
Step inside and it’s all about luxury with a well-designed cabin that has a light and airy ambiance suitable for a top-end SUV. Splashes of woodgrain mix with black and silver high-grade plastics on the uncluttered and very functional dashboard. A high-mounted eight-inch control screen sits in a recessed position at the top of the centre stack and displays radio and aircon settings, reversing camera and Sat Nav when required. It’s not a touch screen and is controlled via Lexus’ new Remote Touch control system that could be likened to BMW’s iDrive but is much easier to use. The control fits into the palm of your hand and is worked with fingertips and thumb, like a computer mouse. You navigate a cursor on the screen and click where required; it functions flawlessly and is an impressive high-tech piece of kit. The on-screen interface is generally user-friendly with the exception of the Sat Nav system which could have been more intuitive.
With a foot-operated parking brake and a high-mounted gear changer there is a wide gap between driver and passenger that contributes to the laid-back nature of the cabin. The leather seats are soft and feel like they would remain comfortable on even the longest journeys. As you’d expect in a vehicle this size legroom and headroom is generous for all occupants. There are storage bins and cubbies all around and the rear seat can slide, recline and split 40/20/40 for versatility when loading large items. Cargo capacity is generous at 446-litres and this can be expanded to 900-litres with the rear seats folded down. The RX350’s lengthy equipment list includes all the usual suspects and a few extras like, iPod connectivity, economy driving indicator light, Smart Entry, memory power front seats, Intelligent Adaptive Headlights, Bluetooth phone capability and a 12-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system. Interior functionality and ergonomics are top-class on the RX350 with the only noticeable equipment omissions being a roof-mounted DVD player for back seat passengers and a third back row of part-time seating.
Japan’s bullet train travels at speeds around 300kph, the RX350 can’t match that top end pace, but its performance is still impressive. Powered by Toyota’s 3.5-litre dual VVT-I V6 engine (also used in the Aurion) the RX350 puts out 204kW of power and 346 Nm of torque. The motor is modern, strong and will shift the RX from standing to 100kph in just under 8-seconds, not stellar, but adequate for a 2-ton SUV. Throttle response is instant to the point where the vehicle can behave abruptly if given too much power too quickly but once up to pace the engine is free-revving and will accelerate smoothly all the way to the red. It offers plenty of go while maintaining a respectable 10.8l/100km fuel economy.
The engine finds good back up with a new six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with artificial intelligence. A manual shift option is available if you want to DIY. The artificial intelligence uses factors like accelerator usage and vehicle speed to adapt gearshift patterns to suit individual driving styles. It will also provide engine braking for hill descents and reduce ‘gear hunting’ when going up hills. The transmission works hard and is effective in shifting power to the road when required while remaining smooth during cruising.
Power is put to the road through a proactive all-wheel drive system that controls the front-to-rear torque split depending on where it is needed most. This system helps give the RX350 grip in a variety of road conditions. It doesn’t handle like it’s on rails but it never feels too floaty either. The suspension is definitely tuned for a luxury ride rather than sporty handling. The electric power steering is well weighted and offers good feedback. Overall ride quality is physically good with little in the way of bumps or dips being relayed to the occupants, but the cabin isn’t as quiet as it could be. Tyre noise can be heard and the large side mirrors do create some wind noise. However, the engine is almost silent and the exhaust noise faint.
If things derail the RX350 is loaded with safety features including 10 airbags with dual front-seat knee airbags, Traction Control, a full Electronic Stability Program and a Pre-crash Safety System that hastily makes preparations in the event of emergency braking.
The 2009 Lexus RX350 is a straightforward continuation of the good work done by its predecessors. The decision to stick to this proven formula is conservative but effective and priced at $110,990 it’s at the mid/lower end of the Luxury SUV segment. The exterior styling will polarize opinion but once inside the level of comfort and gadgetry is impressive. On road the RX350 mimics the Bullet Train for effortless acceleration and relaxed cruising and the upgraded aerodynamics result in frugal fuel usage. The RX350 is a solid entrant in the crossover SUV market that will impress previous Lexus owners and may inspire new buyers.
Click through to the next page for a list of specifications
Price: $110,990 as tested $113,990 (Panoramic Roof)
What we like:
- Strong motor offering capable performance
- High-tech auto box
- Luxury ride
What we don’t like:
- Exterior styling won’t suit all tastes
- Wind noise in cabin
- No third row seating option
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
RX350 Limited – Specifications
Engine type Petrol
Engine capacity (cc) 3456
Engine description V6/DOHC/4v
Maximum Power 204kW & 6200rpm
Maximum Torque 346Nm @ 4700rpm
Valvetrain DOHC – Dual variable valve timing Intake and exhaust valves
Fuel system EFI – Fuel type 95 RON ULP
Fuel economy ADR 81/01 Test standard – Combined (L/100km) 10.8
4WD System Active torque control AWD
Driven Wheels Front / Rear
Transmission description Six speed automatic, electronically controlled with sequential shift and lock-up torque converter
Steering type Rack and pinion
Steering operation Power assisted
Turning Circle at Kerb 11.4
Front Brakes Ventilated discs
Rear Brakes Discs
Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS)
– Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD)
– Brake Assist (BA)
Traction Control (TRC)
Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM)
Front Suspension – Independent, MacPherson struts, L-arms, coil springs, gas dampers and ball jointed stabiliser bar.
Rear Suspension – Trailing arm type, double wishbone independent suspension and stabiliser bar.
TYRES & RIMS
Front Tyre size 235/55 R19
Rear Tyre size 235/55 R19
Front Rim size 7.5Jx19
Rear Rim size 75Jx19
Rim type Alloy
Spare Wheel / Tyre Temporary type
Vehicle in years 4
Paint in years 4
Perforation in years 6
Vehicle servicing 4 year Lexus service plan (includes 1 set of replacement tyres if needed).