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Lexus RX 350 Sports Luxury 2019 review


5 Apr 2019 • 13 min read

I remember a Lexus RX commercial that used to run on television when I lived in Washington. The RX is perched on the glass bed of this industrial-sized photocopier and as the light line passes under it indicating copies being made out comes a Mercedes, Audi and BMW, I think.

The message is clear, emphasised by the tagline, "While others are content to imitate, we continue to innovate. The Lexus RX, why settle for a copy?".

There may be some paraphrasing there but driving the RX 350 this week made me think of that advertisement and the enormous popularity this SUV enjoys in the US and Europe.

Here in Australia, competitors like the Audi Q7, the BMW X5 or the Volvo XC90 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE still seem to have the upper hand. Yet the five-seater RX 350, or seven-seater RX 350L, remain really good luxury SUV options for families – comfortable, versatile and an accommodating drive.

We caught up with the range-topping RX 350 Sports Luxury.

What does it look like?

Big and bold, the Lexus RX 350 is all sharp lines and angles, thankfully though, more like a sculpted artwork than just thrown together in haphazard fashion like the three-year-old's finger-painting masterpiece.

We like that it stands out from its competitors with a noticeable 'spindle grille', a stately behind and a proud stance on its 20-inch alloys. It takes a certain kind of swagger to do things a touch differently, but it is easy to see why the RX 350 is the luxury brand's most popular SUV.

It has a stately behind and a proud stance on its 20-inch alloys. (image credit: Vani Naidoo) It has a stately behind and a proud stance on its 20-inch alloys. (image credit: Vani Naidoo)

The interior of the RX 350 is less dramatic, but the console still sports the odd sweeping line which adds interest. Fit and finish is excellent, and it is quite obvious that quality dials and buttons have been used which not only adds durability but means the console is nice to look at, too.

The leather seats are super comfortable, padded in all the right spots and wide enough across the top to accommodate my husband's shoulders. Not only are the front seats electronically adjustable, making it easy to find that perfect driving position, they are heated and cooled, which was a luxury in the late summer heat.

Fit and finish is excellent, and it is quite obvious that quality dials and buttons have been used. (image credit: Vani Naidoo) Fit and finish is excellent, and it is quite obvious that quality dials and buttons have been used. (image credit: Vani Naidoo)

How does it drive?

The RX 350 is one of those effortless drives – uncomplicated, unfussy and undemanding – which given the pace of modern-day family life is a welcome relief.

The 3.5-litre V6 engine was powerful enough to tackle the hills around our house even when forced to gather speed quickly. The eight-speed Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is sometimes a bit lazy but tends to catch up before irritation turns to annoyance.

While it may look edgy and a Sport selection is one of the drive modes on offer, the RX 350 is not a sports SUV, so don't be surprised if it tends to wobble slightly if you are over-enthusiastic around corners or it takes a minute to respond if you are eager from standstill.

The 3.5-litre V6 engine was powerful enough to tackle the hills around our house even when forced to gather speed quickly. (image credit: Vani Naidoo) The 3.5-litre V6 engine was powerful enough to tackle the hills around our house even when forced to gather speed quickly. (image credit: Vani Naidoo)

Treat it well, however, and you will be rewarded with a controlled, comfortable drive. The steering is direct, it is easy to manoeuvre around tight city spaces and around shopping centres and shows surprisingly nimble footwork over bumps and on secondary roads.

We found the brakes a little slower to catch than in some competitors but that is easy enough to get used to. Visibility is good, helped in part by a raised driving position and largish side mirrors although the backseat headrests do hinder the view out the rear window.

For a large car, the RX 350 is surprisingly quiet. Even on larger tyres there was very little road noise, so you won't miss the 87th rendition of Dean Lewis' 7 Minutes from the backseat. Lucky you.

How spacious is it?

Our test car was built for five. If you need a third row, you have the option of the RX 350L which adds two more seats.

Lodgings in the RX 350 are pretty dope according to the 11-year-old. That's cool or awesome to you and me. There is room to stretch out, front and back, with supportive seating improving the overall experience.

The rear seats move forward and aft depending on your needs and can recline a touch, too, which adds to the comfort for those in the back.

The rear seats move forward and aft depending on your needs and can recline a touch, too, which adds to the comfort for those in the back. (image credit: Vani Naidoo) The rear seats move forward and aft depending on your needs and can recline a touch, too, which adds to the comfort for those in the back. (image credit: Vani Naidoo)

Strictly speaking, there is room for three adults in the second pew although the middle passenger will sit slightly higher than his friends.

My two girls lolled around back there with space aplenty for all that stuff they can't seem to leave the house without including seven hairbrushes, your water bottle and about five pairs of shoes, none of which happen to be on their feet when they actually exit the car.

There are also ISOFIX points on the outboard seats which are easy to clip onto

At first glance the boot (539-litres) seems a touch shallow but easily handled the shopping, school bags and musical instruments with the dog also muscling in on the action.

  • At first glance the boot (539-litres) seems a touch shallow. (image credit: Vani Naidoo) At first glance the boot (539-litres) seems a touch shallow. (image credit: Vani Naidoo)
  • ... but it easily handled the shopping - ... but it easily handled the shopping -
  •  - school bags and musical instruments with the dog also muscling in on the action. (image credit: Vani Naidoo) - school bags and musical instruments with the dog also muscling in on the action. (image credit: Vani Naidoo)
  • 2019 Lexus RX 350 Sports Luxury | boot | Vani Naidoo 2019 Lexus RX 350 Sports Luxury | boot | Vani Naidoo

Actually, two of their friends packed their stuff in there too joining us on the regular Friday afternoon after-school beach swim. Oh, the net pockets on the side of the boot and the underfloor storage are great for wet towels and swimmers, too.

The 40/20/40 backseat drops down easily from a one-touch button in the boot should you need to transport larger objects.

How easy is it to use every day?

Comfortable, flexible and versatile, the Lexus RX 350 is one of those cars that fits easily into your life. Wider door openings facilitate easy entry and exit and you can step into it rather than have to climb up to it.

There are two cupholders up front, although their position on the left of the gearshift means they can feel a bit far from the driver. You can vary the depth of cupholder though which is useful if you prefer a small coffee to a medium.

The deepish door pockets will fit a reasonably-sized water bottle or an iPad while handy compartments dotted around the cabin will accept your keys and wallet if needed.

It takes a certain kind of swagger to do things a touch differently, but it is easy to see why the RX 350 is the luxury brand’s most popular SUV. (image credit: Vani Naidoo) It takes a certain kind of swagger to do things a touch differently, but it is easy to see why the RX 350 is the luxury brand’s most popular SUV. (image credit: Vani Naidoo)

Those in the back have two cupholders, too, as well as a storage compartment to share, back of the seats pockets and their own climate control buttons. Our test car also had easy pull up/down rear window shades which are invaluable when the sun is beating down.

Our range-topping RX 350 Sports Luxury comes equipped with a host of well, luxuries, including soft leather trim, head up display, power tailgate which is great for the kids at school drop-off, dual-zone climate control and a huge 12.3-inch screen for the multimedia system.

How safe is it?

Buyers of family cars, more than most, look for superior safety elements in their purchase and the Lexus RX 350 certainly doesn't disappoint.

Standard fare includes 10 airbags, blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assist, reversing camera, rear-cross traffic alert, radar active cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, forward collision warning and mitigation.

The autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system works at speed of 10-80km/h for pedestrians and 10-180km/h for vehicles which gives some added assurance. We found the surround-view camera just as reassuring especially when reversing out the driveway with kids and pets around.

What's the tech like?

These days we expect our connectivity and availability to continue as we drive and manufacturers have responded with an array of innovative, on-trend systems.

This RX 350 has a fabulous 12.3-inch colour display screen that fronts the multimedia system and satellite navigation and is used for the reverse camera, too.

It is controlled by a joystick-like control at the bottom of the centre console which to be honest can be a little cumbersome and frustrating as you speed past the options you need and have to double back. Fortunately, there are voice controls to pick up the slack.

Once you get a hang of the joystick, the system is easy enough to navigate, the colour and graphic are of good quality even though the fonts themselves can feel a bit dated.

We found the surround-view camera reassuring especially when reversing out the driveway with kids and pets around. (image credit: Vani Naidoo) We found the surround-view camera reassuring especially when reversing out the driveway with kids and pets around. (image credit: Vani Naidoo)

Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming are easy while the 15-speaker Mark Levinson music system is a thing of true beauty. Does one really need 15 speakers in an SUV, you may ask? Yes, yes, you do.

There are a couple of USB ports and a 12-volt plug and a CD player, too. Yes, seriously.

The RX 350 is now compatible with the 'Lexus Enform Connect' smartphone app which gives you access to a number of radio, food and travel services like Yelp, Pandora and Slacker as well as real-time traffic reports petrol stations and sports information.

The elephant in the room, or should that be car, remains the lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is a real shame.

How much does it cost to own?

The RX 350 Sports Luxury is top model in this range and will set you back $99,500, plus on-road costs.

Fuel consumption during our week in the driver's seat sat at the 10.5L/100km mark, pretty close to the claimed 9.6L/100km, but that can escalate should your week be made up of a number of shorter trips.

When you are handing over close to $100,000 for a chunk of metal, even a luxurious one, you want to feel confident that someone has your back should something go awry.

Lexus is known for great attention to detail and one of the best after-sales customer experiences around. The RX 350 has a four year/100,000km warranty with services at 10,000km or six months.


The Wrap

We really enjoyed our time in the Lexus RX 350. Of course the niceties that come with riding in the top spec did not go unnoticed. Still, we liked that the RX looks bold and brash but inside is comfortable and luxurious. It has heart, too, thanks to that V6 power and while it may not be totally suitable to vigorous driving, it will have a red hot go.

It is true that the Lexus RX is not an imitator. It doesn't need to be.

Likes

Distinctive looks
Luxurious interior
Comfortable ride

Dislikes

Joystick controller sensitive
No Smartphone mirroring
A bit wobbly around corners

Scores

Vani:

3.5

The Kids:

4

$99,500

Based on new car retail price

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