Test Drive: 2010 Lexus RX 350

It had been some time since I had driven the Lexus RX 350, so I borrowed one to make the round trip from San Francisco International airport to the annual Western Auto Journalist?s Media Days in Monterey.

First introduced in 1998, the 2010 Lexus RX 350 represents the latest generation of one of the pioneers of the luxury sport utility market.? Consumers have voted the RX number one in the category by purchasing enough of them to make it the best seller in this category.

There are many reasons to like the RX 350 ranging from classy styling and elegant interior to a level of performance and handling more closely associated with a sport sedan than a typical SUV.

The RX 350 is the consummate highway cruiser rewarding the driver and passengers with a plush environment, comfortable ride, a gaggle of technological goodies and high level of safety equipment.? This does not mean the driver has to sacrifice performance and handling.? On my return trip, traffic congestion caused me to reroute on windy back roads through the Santa Cruz Mountains.? It also meant I had to rush so I would not miss my flight home.

The littlest Lexus SUV handles very well, staying flat on the corners and holding tightly to the road.? Like all the Lexus vehicles, the RX is quiet with excellent isolation from road noise, however that isolation results a somewhat vague road and steering feel.? The brakes are strong and even used repeatedly keep the 4,300-pound car well controlled.

Like many new generation vehicles, the latest RX has grown and inch or two in most dimensions and added five horses to the 3.5-liter V-6 engine and another gear to the automatic transmission.? Now with 275-horsepower and a six-speed transmission, the RX sprints to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and has a top speed limited to 112 mph, if someone has a place to run that fast.

The drivetrain combination was very satisfying and I liked the gated shift linkage that allowed me to control the transmission manually.? The transmission has a new Artificial Intelligence shifting (AI-SHIFT) control that sets shift patterns based on the vehicle speed and throttle position and it works very well allowing the driver to concentrate more on steering and less on shifting.

The RX 350 is available in front- and all-wheel drive, but it is certainly not an off-roader. This is a vehicle best suited for adverse road conditions, gravel roads and bridges rather than fording streams and climbing over logs.? The AWD version does have a 3,500-pound towing capacity, which should handle most family?s recreation toys.

New for 2010 is a Hill-start Assist Control that prevents the vehicle from rolling backward when starting on an incline as the driver moves a foot from the brake to accelerator.

The front-wheel drive RX 350 has a $38,500 base price, including the destination charge, and the AWD version is only $1,400 more.? Lexus pricing allows for a high degree of customization and adding all the available options could run the price very close to the $60,000 level.

The list of options and option packages includes most of the latest technology features like adaptable Bi-Xenon headlights, pre-collision system and Dynamic Radar Cruise control, dual screen rear entertainment and a Mark Levinson audiophile sound system.? Loaded with all this great technology, the Lexus RX 350 makes a safe and fun-to-drive all weather vehicle.

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