The simple reason the RX 350 crossover is by far the most-purchased model in the Lexus range: it’s sophisticated, versatile and by most metrics still the industry’s best all-around premium crossover.
Take note of that “all-around” qualifier (there’s always a qualifier in a car market that offers something like 350 individual models these days). After all, there are other premium crossovers that handle better or have a more powerful engine or more gears in the transmission. But viewed as an entire package, sort of how you’d scout a multi-talented baseball player, the RX 350 proves why it’s been the industry benchmark since it was first launched in 1998.
For 2010, Lexus has upgraded the RX 350 with a few extra enticements, such as another 5 horsepower for its buttery 2.5-liter V-6; a more efficient 6-speed automatic transmission; and a more effective $38,200 all-wheel-drive system — although front-wheel-drive remains standard.
But really, those who gravitate to Lexus don’t do it for horsepower or because of an intense interest in the oily parts. They go Lexus because they expect supreme refinement, scads of convenience and tech features and utter comfort.
Buyers get all of that with the 2010 RX 350, plus the handy utility that helped make the RX the template pretty much all midsize crossovers — premium or not — have copied. This means the kind of right-sizing that doesn’t mess around trying to wedge in one of those “kids only” third-row seats, and offers the security of all-weather all-wheel-drive capability, as well as enough towing capacity (3,500 pounds) to pull most reasonable lifestyle toys.
Nobody’s going to find fault with the 3.5-liter V-6’s turbine-steady 275 horsepower, but Lexus engineers really shouldn’t demand premium unleaded to get it. A new 6-speed automatic transmission improves on the dated 5-speeder Lexus slyly foisted on last year’s buyers.
We suspect most RX 350s are sold the instant a buyer’s butt first meets seat. Although we question leather seating still being optional (part of the $2,400 premium package) for a car of this caliber, you can’t escape the immediate impression the RX’s interior makes: there’s real depth and density to the materials and the attention build quality is front and center. Some premium vehicles sort of pretend on these points — door armrests tacked with flimsy pseudo-lux material, for example — but the RX 350 walks the walk.
We particularly like the control cocoon the RX 350’s interior layout creates.