G. Chambers Williams

Lexus RX comes in gas, hybrid versions

The Lexus RX 350’s recent redesign represents a bold evolution in the model’s styling, sharing the same design DNA with other recently-launched models in the Lexus lineup.
The Lexus RX 350’s recent redesign represents a bold evolution in the model’s styling, sharing the same design DNA with other recently-launched models in the Lexus lineup.

The most-popular Lexus vehicle almost from its start, the Lexus RX midsize premium crossover comes in two versions: the gasoline-only RX 350 and gasoline-electric hybrid RX 450h.

Both were completely updated for 2016, and returned for 2017 mostly unchanged.

Besides the choice of the gasoline-only or hybrid powertrain, the newest version of the RX has sophisticated safety, driver-assistance and convenience features that make this one of the best Lexus luxury utility vehicles offered to date.

For 2017, the RX 350, starting at $43,220 (plus $995 freight) with front drive, and $44,620 with all-wheel drive, comes with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine cranking out 295 horsepower and 267 foot-pounds of torque, connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

With the RX 450h hybrid – which comes only with all-wheel drive -- there is a combination of gasoline engine and two electric motors that generates 308 horsepower, yet achieves EPA fuel-economy ratings of 30 mpg city/28 highway/30 combined. It starts at $53,045 for the regular version, and $56,645 for the special F-Sport model.

Among exterior changes with last year’s makeover were a new, larger version of the Lexus signature spindle grille. L-shaped LED headlights surrounded by 18 individual LEDs, used as turn signals, are included, along with Intelligent High Beams.

The Lexus Safety System-Plus has such features as Pre-Collision Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Auto Braking, using audio and visual alerts and automatic application of the brakes when a possible collision is detected. The system also included All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

Also, LED L-shaped combination taillights wrap around the rear fender to the chrome finisher across the middle area of the liftgate, and blacked-out C-pillars – the supports behind the rear doors -- give the RX a floating-roof look.

Since shortly after its 1998 introduction, the RX has been not only the brand's best-selling vehicle, but the top-selling luxury crossover as well.

After last year’s re-do, the RX continues as a luxurious five-passenger crossover, still based on the architecture of the similar Toyota Highlander, just as it has been from the start.

The biggest difference from the Toyota, though, is that the Lexus RX doesn't have the option of a third row of seating that the Highlander has, which allows that vehicle to carry up to seven people.

There have been rumors of a third-row seat option coming to the RX lineup perhaps for 2018, but that hasn’t shown up yet. But the redesigned RX is nearly five inches longer, with more interior space, giving it plenty of room to handle a third seat.

RX 450h models come with the Lexus Hybrid Drive system, which has a 3.5-liter V-6 engine coupled with a pair of electric motors (front and rear, with the rear motor providing the only power to the rear wheels). A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard.

The RX 450h all-wheel drive is an electronically controlled system that automatically kicks in the separate 67-horsepower electric motor for the rear wheels when needed to keep going on slippery surfaces. Otherwise, all torque goes to the front wheels.

Regular gasoline RX 350 models come with an eight-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.

With that transmission, the RX 350 front-drive version has EPA ratings of 20 mpg city/28 highway/23 combined; with all-wheel drive, the ratings are 19/26/22.

We had plenty of power with the V-6 engine, even on the mountain roads we encountered on a weekend family jaunt. Top speed is 124 mpg, and the front-drive RX 350 can go from zero-60 mph in 7.7 seconds.

Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, with three 20-inch wheel designs available.

Among other standard RX amenities are keyless entry with pushbutton start; a power tilt/telescopic steering column; 10-way power front seats with power lumbar adjustments; leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel with integrated audio controls; a 12-speaker premium Lexus audio system with eight-inch color screen, satellite radio, auxiliary inputs (including USB); Bluetooth audio and phone connections; and dual-zone automatic climate control.

The available Head-Up Display ($600) projects navigation directions, audio information and vehicle speed on the bottom of the windshield in front of the driver, and the redesigned instrument panel has large, easy-to-read gauges.

My RX 350 tester had several options including Intuitive Parking Assist ($535), and Towing Prep with transmission cooler, heavy-duty alternator/radiator ($265), the Head-Up Display, a moon roof ($1,100), heated wood/leather steering wheel ($450), and Espresso Walnut interior trim ($400).

Also included was a navigation system with Mark Levinson 15-speaker Premium Audio Package with 12.3-inch screen ($3,200), which featured voice recognition and a backup camera system, Bluetooth hands-free phone and phonebook download, and Lexus Enform App Suite, with Destination Search and more.

Leather seats on my tester replaced the standard faux-leather NuLuxe upholstery, and were part of the Premium Package ($960), which also brought memory for the driver’s seat, steering wheel and mirrors; rain-sensing windshield wipers; power-folding outside mirrors, roof rails, and a rear armrest storage compartment.

Safety features included driver’s knee air bags, front and rear seat-mounted side air bags, and full-length roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows.

The front bucket seats were very comfortable. A storage space in the front of the center console area is perfect for smartphones. There are four 12-volt power outlets, including one on the instrument panel, another in the center console box (along with two USB ports), one at the rear of the center console (accessible to rear passengers) and one in the cargo area.

There are two decent cupholders in the center console tray. There are front and rear map lights, and a cargo-area light. The center console also is lighted, including the cupholders, which was a nice feature while driving on a highway trip at night.

The 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat is nearly as comfortable as the front, with plenty of legroom in the two outboard positions. A smallish adult or child could sit in the middle position, but there is a pull-down armrest there that includes two cupholders and a storage box.

There is 18.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, which expands to 56.3 cubic feet with the rear seatback completely folded.

The RX can tow trailers weighing up to 3,500 pounds.

Total sticker price for my 2017 front-wheel-drive RX 350 was $51,125, including freight and options.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com. Or on Twittter @gchambers3.

2017 Lexus RX 350/450h

The package: Premium, midsize, front- or all-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger, V-6 gasoline or V-6 gasoline/electric-powered-hybrid crossover utility vehicle.

Highlights: This luxury crossover also comes in a hybrid version, and offers a variety of high-tech features, along with decent fuel economy, good power, and lots of standard or optional amenities.

Negatives: No third-row seat offered; price climbs significantly with navigation and other extras.

Overall length: 192.5 inches.

Curb weight range: 4,222-4,387 pounds (gasoline); 4,740 pounds (hybrid).

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 (RX 350); 3.5-liter V-6 gasoline, plus two electric drive motors (RX 450h).

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic (RX-350); continuously variable automatic (hybrid).

Power/torque: 295 HP./267 foot-pounds (gasoline models); 308 HP. (hybrid, combined gasoline and electric).

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Cargo volume: 18.4 cubic feet (rear seat in place); 56.3 cubic feet (rear seat folded).

Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds.

EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city/28 highway/23 combined (front-drive, gasoline); 19/26/22 (all-wheel drive, gasoline); 30/28/30 (hybrid).

Fuel capacity/type: 19.2 gallons/unleaded regular; (17.2 gallons, hybrid).

Main competitors: Infiniti QX60, Acura MDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Land Rover LR2, Range Rover Velar, Lincoln MKT, Cadillac XT5.

Base price range (2017): $43,220-$56,645, plus $995 freight.

Price as tested: $51,125, including freight and options (2017 RX 350 front drive).

On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.