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2011 Lexus RX 350 ReviewThe Good
With abundant comfort, luxury and quality, there seems little not to love about the 2011 Lexus RX 350.The Bad
The 2011 RX 350 emphasizes sedate comfort over an engaging ride, and the addition of optional yet desirable features comes at a cost, making the MSRP a definite lowball estimate of what this crossover will end up running you.
The CarGurus View
The 2011 Lexus RX 350 offers an easy and comfortable ride with luxury and the superior fit and finish that most seem to expect in a Lexus. While true driving enthusiasts may find fault with its less-than-thrilling ride, the RX 350 hauls people and cargo with style and luxury that few crossovers can beat. Just be prepared to open the wallet a bit wider for some of the extras—like navigation and rear-seat entertainment—that consumers may want for those long, comfortable drives.
At a Glance
After a redesign in 2010, the Lexus RX 350 crossover SUV has changed little for 2011. Reviews consistently note the comfort, luxury and quality of the SUV, finding little to criticize other than pricey options, some road noise, and a ride that delivers little driving excitement.
Given the 2010 revamp, the changes for 2011 are subtle. New exterior paint colors have been added (Satin Cashmere Metallic and Stargazer Black) and others discontinued (Truffle Mica and Black Sapphire Pearl). One of three 12-volt outlets has been moved to the lower console area. However, the most significant change has been the addition of standard brake override technology with Smart Stop—a feature that automatically reduces engine power if the brake and accelerator pedals are depressed simultaneously.
Available in only one trim level, the RX 350 provides standard front-wheel drive (FWD) or an available all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. The AWD’s electronic Active Torque Control system transfers torque to the front and/or rear wheels for optimal traction, control and fuel efficiency. Even with the AWD, however, reviews note that the RX 350 is better equipped for weather-related driving challenges than actual rugged off-roading.
Although the 2011 RX 350 comes with a laundry list of standard features, many other desirable bells and whistles are available only as add-on options. Some can be purchased individually (e.g. 19-inch wheels, bi-xenon HID headlights with adaptive front lighting, parking assist sensors, backup camera integrated into the rear-view mirror, heated and ventilated front seats, a Mark Levinson 15-speaker Premium Surround Sound Audio System, a pre-collision system and dynamic radar cruise control, a heads-up display, and towing equipment, to name a few). Other features are available only through option packages. The Premium package includes memory for driver’s seat, steering wheel and mirror settings, an auto-dimming outside mirror, an iPod/USB port, and a tilt-and-slide moonroof.
The Sports Package includes a sport-tuned suspension, 19-inch, seven-spoke wheels with a distinctive Superchrome finish, and the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system, which helps the driver maintain control by coordinating braking, steering, vehicle stability control and traction control systems.
The Comfort Package upgrades the stereo and adds adaptive front bi-xenon HID headlamps with intelligent high beams, heat and ventilation for the front seats and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
The Navigation Package can be added with either the standard 9-speaker stereo or upgraded 12-speaker audio system. The hard drive navigation system includes the Remote Touch controller, voice command and a color LCD display with an integrated backup camera. A 90-day trial subscription to XM NavTraffic, XM NavWeather and XM Sports and Stocks is also included, along with a 90-day trial subscription to the Lexus Enform system, offering additional navigation services as well as Safety Connect, which provides roadside and emergency assistance.
The Dual-Screen Rear Seat Entertainment with Navigation Package includes the features of the Navigation package, but supplements them with a 120V AC outlet in the rear, audio/video inputs, two wireless headphones and a two-DVD rear seat entertainment system.
The Luxury Package includes the features of the Premium package and requires the Navigation package as well. Upgrading the wheels to 19-inchers, it also includes a front seat cushion extender for added comfort in the high-end, semi-aniline leather-trimmed seats. Other package features include a headlamp washer, power retractable outside mirrors and a wide-view side camera system.
The 2011 Lexus RX 350 continues to offer last year’s engine: a 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 with dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i). With 275 hp at 6,200 rpm and 257 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm, Lexus claims a 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds for the FWD and 7.5 seconds for the AWD version. Its fuel economy—among the best in the class—rates at 18 mpg city/25 highway with FWD and similar figures (18 city/24 highway) for the AWD. The six-speed automatic electronically controlled transmission with intelligence comes with sequential shift and snow modes, and the addition of an optional towing package allows the crossover to haul up to 3,500 pounds.
Ride & Handling
The 2011 RX 350 has eliminated the hydraulic steering pump of old and now provides standard electric power steering, although maneuverability is not one of the strong suits of the RX 350 (which was even compared to a minivan). Consumers looking for a sportier ride may wish to consider the sport package for a stiffer and more-engaging drive. Lexus provides front independent suspension with MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar. The arrangement of the rear double-wishbone independent suspension allows for increased rear cargo room. The crossover rides on standard 18-inch five-spoke aluminum wheels, although 19-inch wheels are available.
Most agree that the Lexus RX 350 provides power, acceleration, handling and braking that are more than adequate for the average driver. For driving thrills or true off-roading excitement, however, this ain’t the car for you, with reviews commenting that the identical 2010 engine feels “detached” and “passionless.” In-cabin noise received mixed reactions during test rides, with some feeling wrapped in a cocoon of quiet luxury, while others noted surprise at the levels of road and wind noise.
Cabin & Comfort
The Lexus RX 350 excels in cabin materials, fit-and-finish and comfort. Both owners and expert reviewers note the crossover cabin’s high quality and the luxurious feel of the cabin. The interior is accented with wood trim: standard brown walnut or espresso bird’s eye maple, depending on the interior color combination selected. The 10-way power adjustable front driver’s and passenger’s seats include lumbar adjustment and optional heating and cooling. Three seat material choices are available: standard cloth or two different levels of leather. To facilitate entry and exit, the driver’s seat automatically slides back and the steering wheel tilts up and slides forward when the vehicle is turned off, reverting to preset positions when the engine is turned on again. The rear seat has a 40/20/40 split and can fold down (although not completely flat) via a lever in the cargo area. The rear seats are generally described as comfortable, with the ability to recline as well as slide forward or back. A rear center armrest offers cupholders and a storage compartment. One drawback to the Lexus RX 350, however, is the lack of a third row of seating, which maxes its capacity at five.
Cargo room is ample, despite the fact that the seats do not fold completely flat, with 40 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 80.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. However, the rear sloping roofline does impede the ability to store some larger or bulkier items in the cargo area.
The RX 350 is not without numerous standard technology features, despite complaints that many features require the purchase of additional options. Standard features include power locks, windows and cruise control. According to Lexus, all RX models are equipped with SmartAccess keyless entry and pushbutton start. The instrument panel has been praised as easy to read, even with the white electroluminescent Optitron guages, with reviews pointing out its visibility, even in direct sunlight. The automatic dual-zone climate control incorporates dust and pollen particle filtration that also deodorizes the interior cabin air. The Homelink universal remote allows multiple remotes to be programmed to a single unit.
The standard audio system in the RX 350 is a 9-speaker Premium Sound System with an automatic sound levelizer and in-dash 6-CD changer. The system comes with a 90-day trial subscription to XM radio, as well as Bluetooth technology with voice recognition and an auxiliary iPod/MP3/WMA port. The sound system can be upgraded to a Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio System with 15 speakers. The tilt and telescopic steering wheel includes mounted audio and display controls.
Other high-tech features are available at a cost, including an available heads-up display that projects navigation directions, audio information and speed on the windshield in front of the driver. LCD screens can be added to the rear of each front headrest and can function together or independently with wireless headphones (so no one has to agree on the movie!). The Navigation system, which provides real-time traffic and weather updates, features advanced voice-recognition software (which Lexus claims uses “normal everyday speech”) to place phone calls with Bluetooth, as well as to control the climate, audio and navigation systems. Other upgrades can include available wide-view side and back-up cameras to reduce blind spots (projected either in the optional navigation screen or rear-view mirror).
The available navigation system can also be used with the Remote Touch controller (which can also be used to operate the climate, audio, and phone controls, among others). Similar to a computer’s mouse, the Remote Touch allows the user to pull a cursor towards an icon, and make a selection by clicking a button on either side of the control. Lexus claims that the Remote Touch is distinguished from its competitors’ versions by its ability to provide tactile feedback to the driver, allowing the user to feel the cursor click into place over the chosen icon.
The NHTSA tested both the FWD and AWD RX 350, and the vehicle received high marks with four (out of five) stars for rollover with a 16.4% risk of rollover for the AWD and 17.9% risk for the FWD. Both the FWD and AWD received identical ratings for frontal crash tests (four out of five stars) and five out of five stars for side crash tests (although the Combined Side Barrier and Pole Ratings were slightly lower for the rear seat). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Lexus RX a Good rating (its highest) for 2010-2011 models and made it a 2011 Top Safety Pick.
The 2011 Lexus RX 350 comes with a standard, class-leading 10-airbag system, as well as numerous other safety features. A one-year trial subscription to Safety Connect comes standard with the RX 350. Safety Connect calls for help in the event of an accident, can help locate a stolen vehicle, and can summon roadside assistance when needed. Antilock brakes come with brake assist, which senses an emergency braking situation and boosts the brake power until the driver lets up on the brake pedal. Standard Smart Stop technology also shortens braking distance by cutting engine power when the brake pedal and accelerator are applied at the same time. The RX 350 also provides standard vehicle stability control and traction control functions, as well as optional Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) which coordinates braking, steering, vehicle stability control and traction control systems to accommodate a loss of traction and help the driver to maintain control. An available pre-collision system monitors the speed and distance between the Lexus and the car ahead and, when detecting an impending frontal collision, retracts the front seatbelts and preps the brake assist system.
Outside, the RX 350 provides standard LED brake lights, front foglights in the front bumper and turn-signal lamps integrated into the heated side mirrors. An available adaptive front lighting system turns the headlights as the steering wheel is turned to help illuminate the road when cornering. Other available outside safety features include intelligent high-beam headlamps that automatically dim the high beams if a vehicle is detected ahead. Available dynamic radar cruise control uses radar technology to maintain a safe, pre-set distance between the RX 350 and a vehicle ahead. Finally, an optional parking assist feature inserts sensors in the front and rear bumpers to alert the driver when the SUV is too close to other objects—an advantage given the slightly impeded sightline out the rear corners.
What Owners Think
In general, owners tend to use their 2011 Lexus RX 350s for getting around town and as a family car and love the experience. Highlights include both standard and available technology (such as Bluetooth, stereo, display screen and the mouse-like Remote Touch), although some owners note a learning curve for the Remote Touch system. Downsides were minimal, such as the awkward position of the outlet in the center console. Although most owners find the interior luxurious and the seats extremely comfortable, the ride itself receives mixed reviews. Some find the RX 350 to be a quiet and smooth ride, while others report an extremely different experience, commenting on the road and engine noise combined with the sensation of feeling every bump in the road. Finally, despite admiring the crossover, and seemingly not regretting the purchase, some owners feel the price was misleading. Although the MSRP for the Base comes in below $40,000, several owners noted the difficulty of actually paying that price for the luxury vehicle once you add on features.
by Jessica McCombe
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