The Lexus RX 350 is the O.G. Luxury Crossover SUV

HOME POPULAR The Lexus RX 350 is the O.G. Luxury Crossover SUV

Adam Allen Writer -

Words by: Adam Allen

Back in 1999- probably while grooving to Lou Bega’s insufferable “Mambo #5” and quoting all the jokes from “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”- you likely saw a new thing on the roads. Well, you would have if you identified as a card-carrying member of the car enthusiast community, because something strangely unique seemed to be popping up all over affluent neighborhoods across Canada, and that would have been the Lexus RX300. The ‘Recreational Cross Country’ compact SUV with a silky 3.0 V6 driving all four wheels was a vehicular concept that no one had ever seen before. Oh sure, there were Range Rovers and Jeep Wagoneer’s who introduced the concept of a luxury SUV many years prior, except that Lexus delivered said luxury in a meticulously crafted and stylish wrapper with a jaw dropping interior AND with a notable blend of performance and efficiency- all served up on a platform that didn’t break down if you looked at it funny. Fast forward 20 years and while the powertrains are different and the novelty has worn off, the RX 350 is still as excellent as ever.  

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Excellence has been a constant in the RX 350’s life on the road, but it has never been a driver-focused conveyance. Even decked out in spiciest F Sport trim which unlocks some hardware with decidedly sporty leanings, this is not an SUV that will tempt drivers to seek out their favorite twisty bits of tarmac, even if there are robust six piston brake calipers with large rotors up front with an electronic limited slip differential out back. But don’t think for a second that the RX is an automotive dead fish flopping clumsily along because it isn’t. Just, you know, don't push it too hard on the sporty back roads you may frequent. This is not going to surprise anyone because the RX 350 caters to those who prioritize calm comfort and luxury and not those looking to raise their pulse carving apexes.

The Highs

Kudos goes to the Lexus employee who spec’d our tester and chose a very attractive hue of Grecian Water. They resisted the temptation to give the world yet another RX in a monotonous grey scale shade since they are well represented in almost every RX we encountered in the wild. It was especially impactful during a particularly gloomy stretch of February weather, adding a pop of color we were grateful for against a backdrop of grey skies and even grayer winter salt-stained asphalt we encountered during our week spent driving it. It looks OK in grey/white/black colors, but we think going against the grain pays off in the aesthetic department, if the admiring looks from fellow motorists are to be factored into play.

Another obvious upgrade can be found inside with the infotainment system. This one will surely resonate with anyone who has spent time in an older model with its frustrating touchpad user interface. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea? Instead of gathering pitchforks and torches to hunt those responsible down, we shifted our focus to the new technology that is being rolled out across all Lexus products with a new touchscreen architecture and blessedly intuitive menu structures. That everything responds with a newfound snappiness doesn’t hurt either.  Since there is no shortage of vitriol towards the old unit and effusive praise towards the new one, we’ll stop there- but trust us, the current setup is light years better than before.

Another fundamental shift in RX lore can be found in the engine bay. A V6 in various states of tune was available from 1999 until the last generation was put to pasture. We have always enjoyed the Lexus six pot for its smooth and demure power coupled with a rewarding soundtrack if you strained your ears enough, but like every other manufacturer, Lexus has an eye trained on the average fuel economy of its offerings. That means burly V6 engines are out, and smallish turbocharged four cylinders are in. Lexus cribs its engine from the Toyota Grand Highlander (an SUV we flogged recently and fell helplessly in love with) but with a slightly higher state of tune. It provides more than enough shove to move the RX 350 around athletically and gets decent mileage out of every litre of premium go-go juice.

You won’t be thinking much about what’s under the hood because you’ll be basking in quiet serenity thanks to the RX 350’s exemplary road manners. The ride quality is positively decadent and down a familiar stretch of washboard tarmac it breezily floated over all the bumps and cracks like they weren’t even there. It’s so hushed and composed that we inadvertently muted the sound system after a taking a phone call over Bluetooth and for an instant we were struck by how silent it is within the interiors confines; a stark reminder that there are few SUVs that can hold a candle to the RX’s staggering levels of refinement. But after an enjoyable spell of library-like silence we cranked up the 21 speaker Mark Levinson stereo once again because it is awesome.

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The Lows

Happily, there’s not much to get bent out of shape over living with the RX 350. That said, there are some issues that won’t keep you awake at night but may serve to slightly annoy. That’s about how we’d describe our relationship with the pushbutton door opener buttons rather than a tradition handle you pull. You get used to it, but we asked aloud more than once: “Why?” We have the same attitude towards the front grille too. It’s much better than the usual Predator inspired aesthetic we are accustomed to from Lexus, but it is still not what we’d call attractive.

We usually don’t get hung up on some of the trim choices used within the interior, but we noticed something that stood out. The RX 350’s cabin is lavishly trimmed and accurately assembled, so you can imagine our surprise when we noticed a very cheap bit of plastic on the door panels. We might not have even noticed except that your fingers brush against its grainy surface when you use the aforementioned buttons to open when door when exiting. It’s more Corolla than RX and seems strange that it made the cut on an interior that is otherwise thoughtfully crafted. Some people didn’t care for the Alcantara trim also found on the door panels, but we thought it was cool.

The Verdict

Anyone remember the Lexus commercial from the 1990’s that featured and LS 400 on a dyno at 240 km/h with a delicate pyramid of crystal champagne glasses perfectly balanced on the hood? Check it out on YouTube if you don’t. Our RX 350 tester imparted a similar vibe over the course of the week we spent driving it; it is so smooth and balanced such that high speeds would do nothing to threaten toppling a champagne glass installation, and it has been that way since it first turned a wheel in 1999. It will no doubt serve as the sales volume leader for the Lexus brand as it has for years and they will sell each and every one they build, even those that are decked out in predictable grey/white/black color schemes. The fact that the RX is carefully assembled by the skilled employees of Toyota’s Cambridge assemble plant a short jaunt away along Highway 401 makes it that much more compelling- Buy Local, folks!

It’s safe to say that even with the passage of nearly a quarter of a century, the RX’s supremacy as segment leader is not in jeopardy. It may be the O.G. luxury crossover that started it all, but its reign shall continue for years to come.

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2024 Lexus RX 350 - Specifications

  • Price as tested: $77,688
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger SUV
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
  • Engine:  2.4-litre turbocharged inline four, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower: 275 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 317 @ 1,700 rpm
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Curb weight: 1,945 kg (4,288 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel consumption: 11.5L/100km (20 mpg)