How does an automaker come up with a best-selling vehicle? The four-door Lexus RX 350 five-seater is arguably the first midsize luxury crossover SUV and long has been the top-selling Lexus vehicle.
The 2015 RX 350 comes in various forms, including the hybrid gas/electric RX 450h, but we’re concerned only with the RX 350 here.
Lexus figures main rivals to the RX are the formidable Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Infiniti QX70, Lincoln MKX and Mercedes-Benz M-Class.
A “crossover SUV?” Yes, indeed, because most hardware for the RX 350 comes from the Toyota Camry — notably a four-camshaft, 24-valve 3.5-liter V-6 with 270 horsepower. (Lexus is Toyota’s luxury division.)
The smooth V-6 allows quick acceleration off the line and passing on highways. It works with a responsive 6- or 8-speed automatic transmission and delivers an estimated 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24-25 on highways with the 6-speed automatic and 18 and 26 with the 8-speed.
New equipment for the 2015 RX 350 includes a standard 12-speaker Display Audio System with a 7-inch touch screen, backup camera and 18-inch aluminum wheels.
There also are optional revised aluminum wheel designs, an updated remote touch interface knob, available LED headlights and LED fog lights and optional Cabernet leather color for F Sport models.
The standard RX 350 lists at $40,970 — or $42,195 with all-wheel drive — and comes with the 6-speed automatic. The sportier F Sport version costs appreciably more at $48,710.
I tested the standard RX 350, but wished I had the RX 350 F Sport. That’s because it has standard all-wheel drive, 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters, sport suspension and 19-inch “Superchrome-finish” aluminum wheels instead of the base model’s 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
The F Sport also has unique front styling, and the interior gets black leather seats with contrast stitching, heated and ventilated front seats and a power sunroof.
No extra horsepower, though.
The regular RX 350, which should satisfy most, has a full range of comfort and convenience equipment.
That equipment includes dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats and power tilt-and-telescoping wheel, genuine wood trim, electroluminescent gauges that aren’t “washed out” by bright sunlight, push-button starting and a power tailgate.
A reclining/sliding 40/20/40 split rear seat allows greater rear-seat comfort and significantly enhanced cargo space.
There’s also a vehicle theft-deterrent system with an engine immobilizer and an emergency assist button.
Desirable option packages are rather pricey. For instance, a power sunroof and other features for the standard RX 350 costs $2,760 in a Premium package that also includes a leather trim interior and a blind spot monitor system.
If not satisfied, spring for the $1,915 option package that has items including a navigation system with voice command. There’s also an optional rear-seat entertainment system, power front seat cushion extenders and a heated wood-and-leather steering wheel.
There’s plenty of safety gear, including 10 air bags and Smart Stop Technology designed to make it impossible for the RX 350 to accidentally accelerate if the driver is pressing the brake pedal.
Advanced safety gear includes a $1,500 pre-collision system with radar adaptive cruise control. Another safety option is a blind-spot monitor, a pre-collision system that readies the braking system for maximum stopping power and Pre-Collision Braking that can automatically apply the brakes to reduce speed before (heaven forbid) an impact.
The RX 350 has a solid “one-piece” feel and drives much like a car, with quick, accurate steering, smooth ride, agile handling and strong anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and a brake assist feature. Brakes are activated by an easily modulated pedal to help prevent jerky stops.
The commendably quiet interior’s controls are pretty easy to use, although some may wish for larger ones, and the opened lid for the front console cupholders makes them more convenient for the passenger to use than the driver. However, the turn signal lever has a nice fluid action.
Interior storage areas include a seemingly bottomless front console bin and a handy covered pull-out tray to the left of the steering wheel for such items as a cell phone or quick driver access to tollway change. Front seats provide good support during quick maneuvers, although they’re a little cushy. Rear seats also don’t scrimp on support.
Occupants sit high, but a rather high floor makes it more difficult to enter or leave than with a car. Also, rear-door openings are a bit narrow. The cargo floor is somewhat high, but the cargo area is spacious and, as noted, made even more so with the split rear seatbacks folded forward.
Put it all together and it should be easily understood why the Lexus RX is a continually strong seller.
Pros: Luxurious. Roomy. Carlike. Strong acceleration. Smooth ride. Good handling.
Cons: High step-up. Narrow rear door opening. High cargo floor. Pricey option packages.
Bottom Line: This Lexus is among the best midsize luxury crossover SUVs.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.