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2009 Lexus RX 350 ReviewThe Good
The 2009 Lexus RX 350 crossover SUV combines class-leading design, performance, interior luxury appointments, and safety features, as well as good fuel efficiency, making it one of the best choices for drivers with families seeking a highly capable vehicle with plenty of room and cargo space.The Bad
Some owners note minor problems with the RX 350's build quality, while others feel its handling doesn't quite live up to standards set by its European counterparts.
The CarGurus View
Nearing the end of its current design, and due for a next-generation replacement in 2010, the 2009 RX 350 might start to seem dated in a couple of years, although for now its overall exterior and interior appearance still seem fresh. Like most vehicles from Lexus, the RX 350 delivers an exceptionally smooth ride and a well-equipped interior, and Lexus has gone to great lengths to ensure a quiet, safe ride and a fun driving experience. Drivers who can't wait for the new RX 350 in 2010 will still be well-served by the current iteration.
At a Glance
With the next-generation RX scheduled for 2010 and already making the rounds of auto shows, you could consider the 2009 edition of the RX 350 midsize luxury SUV as a sort of place-holder, until something better comes along. Even if that's true, the '09 RX 350 has a lot to offer drivers. Its ground-breaking exterior design still holds up five years after it debuted in 2004 as the RX 330 (with a minor design refresh in 2008), and it remains one of the most fuel-efficient crossover SUVs available today. Add good handling and performance, as well as a wide range of upscale luxury features, and the RX 350 firmly maintains its place at or near the top of its class.
That said, new features are few and far between for the 2009 version. But to add a little life to the lineup, Lexus unveils a new Pebble Beach Edition of the RX 350 for 2009, which comes equipped with a unique chrome-finished grille, limited-edition 18-inch alloy wheels, a color-keyed spoiler, and Pebble Beach badging. In addition, Lexus offers the Pebble Beach Edition in a new Truffle Mica exterior color. It also comes with a choice of packages, including a Callaway Golf Experience package, which includes Callaway Golf clubs and personalized golf balls.
The 2009 RX 350 comes in Base and All-Wheel-Drive trims. Although the exterior styling for both trims remains unchanged for 2009, the RX 350 doesn't look dated. Its sleek, aerodynamic design still looks fresh and muscular, thanks to the waterfall-like grille, slanted headlights, integrated fog lamps, flared wheel wells, and LED taillights, all of which hint at the high-end features inside. The four-door RX 350 seats five comfortably, and comes well-equipped with a wide range of standard luxury and safety features, making it a well-rounded family hauler.
A 270-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine, mounted traversely, drives all RX 350 trims. The engine delivers 251 lb-ft of torque and features dual variable valve timing with intelligence, which helps boost torque at lower speeds and power at higher speeds for better acceleration. In addition, dual variable valve timing helps improve fuel efficiency and lowers emissions. The RX 350 has achieved certification as an ultra-low-emission vehicle.
Its V6, which links to a five-speed automatic transmission, also features electronic throttle control with intelligence, which controls idle speed and cruise control, and works in conjunction with the RX 350's traction control and stability control systems. The powerplant drives the RX 350 from 0 to 60 in 7.3 seconds (7.4 seconds for the all-wheel-drive trim), and posts respectable fuel economy numbers of 18/23 city/highway mpg. Lexus recommends premium unleaded fuel for the RX 350, though many drivers say their vehicles seem to run fine on regular unleaded. However, many say they achieve better gas mileage with premium fuel.
The RX 350's full-time all-wheel-drive system features a viscous limited-slip center differential and an advanced drivetrain, according to Lexus. It delivers power to front and rear wheels on a 50/50 split, and sends torque to the wheels with the best traction when it detects wheel slippage. In addition, the SUV's stability control system works with the all-wheel-drive system to ensure optimal handling in all types of driving conditions.
The RX 350 has a standard towing capacity of 2,000 pounds. However, when equipped with the optional Towing Prep Package, which includes a heavy-duty radiator and transmission cooler, the SUV can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Ride & Handling
Lexus has long perfected the art of the smooth-riding automobile, which extends to the '09 RX 350. The SUV rides on a fully independent MacPherson strut suspension with front and rear anti-vibration subframes. In addition, the RX 350 features progressive, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, resulting in an easy-to-drive vehicle with good maneuverability in tight spaces and a smooth, quiet ride on all types of road surfaces.
An optional four-wheel air suspension system features four leveling heights for specific handling needs. At speeds over 62 mph, the system automatically lowers the RX 350 0.3 inches, which provides better aerodynamics and increased control. For sport driving and even better handling, drivers can select the Low mode, which lowers the SUV 0.6 inches. For loading and unloading, drivers can select the Access mode, which lowers the vehicle 1.2 inches. And for rough terrain, drivers can switch to the High mode, which raises the SUV for a ground clearance of 8.3 inches.
The RX 350 includes a number of other features designed to provide a comfortable ride. Sound-absorption materials and acoustic glass ensure a quiet ride, while a roomy interior, well-padded seats, and easily adjustable sliding rear seats make even long trips easy to endure. While taller drivers might find some difficulty fitting perfectly behind the steering wheel, most drivers will find the seating position comfortable, with controls and dials easy to access. In addition, numerous interior storage bins and cubbies can accommodate all the gear necessary for a busy family.
Both the Base and AWD RX 350 trims come equipped with 17-inch, six-spoke alloy wheels. Drivers can add 18-inch alloy wheels as an option. A standard tire pressure monitoring system alerts drivers to low tire pressure.
Cabin & Comfort
Most drivers and reviewers rate the RX 350's interior at or near the top of its class, thanks to a plethora of high-quality materials and upscale features. Wood trim on the dash and center console provides a rich look, while the wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob add to its luxurious look and feel.
Although both trims feature fabric seats as standard equipment, drivers can add leather as an option. The front seats include 10-way power adjustment and swivel armrests. Two-level heated front seats are optional.
Other standard features for both trims include dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, a Homelink universal garage door opener, and a power rear door. An eight-speaker Lexus premium sound system with an in-dash 6-CD changer also comes standard.
Options include a voice-activated DVD navigation system with Bluetooth wireless mobile phone connectivity, a backup camera with a full-color display, a power tilt-and-slide moonroof, a Dynamic Laser Cruise Control system, and an 11-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system.
With the rear seats in place, the RX 350 provides 38.3 cubic feet of cargo space. That expands to 84.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.
The Pebble Beach Edition comes equipped with such standard features as an Ivory leather-trimmed interior, a power moonroof, an illuminated entry system, and the Lexus Memory System, which memorizes settings for the driver's seat, steering wheel, and outside mirrors. The Pebble Beach Edition also features brown walnut interior accents and Pebble Beach Edition floor mats.
The 2009 RX 350 received a top rating of five stars for front and side-impact crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Standard safety features include four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, which applies additional brake force in an emergency situation, and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, which manages the amount of brake force distributed to all four brakes. In addition, the RX 350's Vehicle Stability Control system helps keep the SUV on track during heavy cornering.
Other standard safety features include a reinforced cabin with front and rear crumple zones, as well as dual-stage front airbags, front-seat-mounted side airbags, a driver's knee airbag, and front and rear roll-sensing side curtain airbags. In addition, water-repellent windows provide drivers with better visibility when it's raining or snowing.
Lexus offers a number of optional safety features for the RX 350, including rain-sensing wipers and Adaptive Front Lights, which pivot during turns to provide better illumination of the road ahead.
What Owners Think
Although many owners agree the Lexus RX 350 doesn't quite live up the standards set by competitive SUVs from European automakers when it comes to handling and ride, overall they give the RX 350 higher marks, due to its design, reliability, and problem-free driving experience. Owners single out the RX 350's roominess, quietness, smooth ride, and interior comfort in particular for high marks. However, some owners note minor problems with the SUV's build quality, such as rattles from the dashboard area, and others note a certain amount of body roll in curves. For the most part, owners think the RX 350 delivers good gas mileage, given its fairly heavy weight.
CarGurus owners generally agree, giving the RX 350 good marks for its ride quality, handling, its well-designed interior, and overall reliability. They also find the SUV easy to drive, and like such features as the climate control and optional navigation system with Bluetooth.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.
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