For 2011, the Lexus RX 350 comes in only one trim with standard front-wheel drive or available Active Torque Control all-wheel drive with variable torque split and manual-locking center differential. The AWD version of the luxury crossover, with a ground clearance of 7.3 inches, is designed for peace-of-mind on slippery roads or slightly rough terrain, rather than as a hard-core, off-road beast.
The electronically controlled Active Torque Control AWD adjusts the distribution of torque between the front and rear wheels in response to the driving conditions, improving handling and helping drivers to maintain control. All four wheels get power when starting or accelerating on low-traction surfaces. As the surface or speed evens out, the system transfers power to the front wheels, improving fuel efficiency. Lexus also explains that on rough or sandy terrain, an AWD LOCK switch can improve traction at low speeds, reverting to an AUTO mode once the vehicle has reached a speed of 25 mph. Rear wheel torque is also reduced during low-speed cornering to help prevent shuddering.
The AWD RX 350 mirrors the FWD trim version in almost every aspect with an identical 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. The AWD’s 0-60 time is 1 second slower than the FWD version's (7.5 seconds), and the fuel economy slightly lower (18 mpg city and 20 highway). A six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission is the only choice, but it consistently garners praise for smooth and quiet shifts providing adequate power for acceleration when needed.
In general, the Lexus RX 350 seems to be used as a family car and everyday commuting, and the power and acceleration are up to these tasks. Maneuverability has received some criticism, and the level of in-cabin noise receives mixed reviews—with some expressing surprise at the amount of wind and road noise and others complimenting the silent ride. The 2011 crossover continues to offer a front independent MacPherson suspension and a rear double-wishbone system designed to increase rear cargo space. While the suspension provides an easy, smooth ride, those wanting a more sprightly ride may wish to consider the sport package with its firmer suspension.
Lexus redesigned the RX 350 in 2010, so 2011 brings few changes other than some paint color modifications, a 12-volt outlet in the lower console, and a standard brake override system called Smart Stop. However, the success of the 2010 Lexus at delivering a smooth comfortable ride needed few alterations. 2011 reviews consistently note the high quality of materials and excellent fit and finish of interior materials, such as real wood trim, a highly visible white electroluminescent Optitron instrument panel display, and comfortable seating. The front seats are adjustable in ten different ways, including lumbar support. While the seats come with standard cloth, two different levels of leather trim are also available, as are optional heating and ventilation. The rear seats can slide forward and backward, as well as recline, and fold in a 40/20/40 split. Although unable to fold completely flat, the collapsed rear seat does increase cargo room from 40 cubic feet to 80.3 cubic feet. The sloping roofline, however, may impede the loading of some bulkier items. Additionally, unlike some of its competitors, the RX 350 does not offer a third row, so seating remains at five.
Power locks, windows and cruise control are standard, as are Smart Access keyless entry with pushbutton start and the Homelink Universal Remote, which can program multiple remotes to a single control. The automatic dual-zone climate control offers deodorizing and filtration. The standard audio system in the 2011 RX 350 is a 9-speaker premium sound system that comes with an in-dash 6-CD changer, however, a high-end Mark Levinson Premium Surround system with 15 speakers is an option. Bluetooth technology, an auxiliary iPod/MP3/WMA port and a 90-day trial subscription to XM Radio also come standard.
Although numerous standard features appear in the 2011 RX 350, other desirable equipment is available only as an add-on, which, as both experts and owners note, can raise the price substantially. Some options are available individually (e.g., 19-inch wheels, adaptive HID headlights, parking assist sensors, backup camera and the upgraded stereo, for example), but others are available only as part of a package. For example, the Navigation package installs a hard-drive navigation system with real-time traffic and weather and voice-recognition software that uses natural speech, as well as the Remote Touch system (used like a mouse and providing tactile feedback to the user). The Sports Package provides larger wheels with a distinct Superchrome design. It also adds a firmer sport-tuned suspension and the VDIM system to coordinate braking, stability and traction control systems. Another options package is required to include a dual-DVD system with wireless headphones in the rear of the vehicle.
In addition to the AWD, the crossover offers a laundry list of other safety features, both inside and out. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety included the Lexus RX 350 on its 2011 Top Safety Pick list. NHTSA tests awarded the AWD four out of five stars for frontal crash tests and rollovers (with a 16.4% risk of a rollover), and a full five stars for side-impact crash tests.
The AWD RX350 comes with standard 10 airbags, vehicle stability and traction control, antilock brakes with brake assist and the Smart Stop system to reduce power in the event that the brake and accelerator pedals are pressed simultaneously. LED brake lights and integrated front foglights, as well as heated side-view mirrors with integrated turn signals, are also standard. Available safety features include a pre-collision system, which retracts the front seatbelts and prepares the brake assist system in anticipation of a frontal crash. Available adaptive headlights rotate in the direction of a turn to illuminate the road better, and optional intelligent high-beam headlamps will automatically dim the high beams when an oncoming car is detected. Dynamic cruise control is also available, maintaining a safe distance between the Lexus and another vehicle when using cruise control.