2010 Lexus RX First Drive Page 2

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Materials still feel a bit lacking in the RX, but it’s a complaint common to all Lexus vehicles. The leather is nice, but it feels overly processed and chemical-laden, rather than the luxurious and pampered feel one finds in German or Italian leather. Similarly, door panels, dashboard elements and headliners feel somewhat cheaper, emitting hollow sounds when thumped. Mercedes and BMW, though still not perfect in their implementations, have risen above this level of construction in recent models.

Fuel Economy

'L-Finesse' design language in the center stack

'L-Finesse' design language in the center stack

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Perhaps the most surprising deficiency of the new RX is its fuel economy. The new vehicle uses a 3.5L V6 engine for both the 350 and 450h models, with the hybrid adding a 50hp (37kW) electric drive system to spin the rear wheels. Despite the power-boosting hybrid pack, the 350 is only 20hp behind the 450h, due to the hybrid 3.5L’s use of a modified Atkinson cycle.

Neither variant uses direct injection, however - another surprise, given the availability of the technology in similar engines throughout the Lexus lineup. Lexus officials at the event said that the efficiency and power gain simply didn’t justify the cost in this particular application. That’s an odd outcome, especially given the rather weak performance of both cars on a two-hour jaunt through the Texas hill country.

The RX 350, piloted by a trio of journalists, managed just 20-22mpg in none-too-spirited driving at constant 60-70mph speeds. The RX450h only fared marginally better, at 22-23mpg in identical conditions. The hybrid’s strength admittedly lies in city, rather than highway, driving, but even in our limited time in town, the crossover’s efficiency rating never climbed above 26mpg.

Neither vehicle is geared, in presentation or demeanor, toward vicious performance, and both live up to that reserved image. Stately comfort - check; easy driving - check; fairly quick acceleration - check; corner-hugging grip - wait, what?

A fair amount of body roll - standard fare for the segment, but outright disconcerting if your daily driver is a sports car - is to be encountered on moderately quick turns, or under sudden maneuvers. It’s not an unsafe amount of body roll, however, and once accustomed to it, it’s even a bit reassuring - you know you’re cornering by the angle of the horizon as much as by lateral g-forces.

The 275hp to 295hp (205-220kW) engines provide enough pep to make passing easy, and the smooth-shifting transmissions are good enough to prevent you from even noticing their operation, but don’t expect the RX to be your black-horse stoplight king. From a stop, the RX prefers smoothness over speed, and under braking it is stable, but never sudden.

Overall first impression
Not exactly parsimonious with fuel, but highly advanced in certain technological aspects, the RX is a vehicle that rightfully sits at the top of its segment. So far few true contenders to its position have emerged, though the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK are arguably gathering their strength. Having experienced both the RX and the new 2010 Cadillac SRX - though not on the road with the latter, lamentably - within a 10-day period, I’d put the new Caddy crossover at the front of the list of Lexus’ true competitors. Until any challenger proves its merits to be greater than those of the RX, however, it remains the undisputed king.


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