Taking the measure of the 2013 Lexus RX sport-utility vehicle is a matter of evaluating increments. Every automaker makes a compact SUV and many rely on strong sales volume from this popular segment. So it’s hard to find a compact SUV that’s genuinely hard to live with.
Being a Lexus, the RX 350 has to try a little harder. It isn’t enough to be better; it has to be a lot better, especially at the price lurking at the bottom of our test car’s window sticker: $52,184. You could buy two reasonably well-equipped Ford Escapes, Chevrolet Equinoxes, Mazda CX-7s or Hyundai Santa Fes – all highly regarded compact SUVs – for that price. Even the Mercedes-Benz GLK and M-Class SUVs, modestly equipped, could command a somewhat lower price.
That said, we’d judge the Lexus RX 350 incrementally superior to the compact SUVs we’ve driven in recent years. What’s an increment worth? It’s not for us to judge, but the increments add up. The RX 350 added up to a car that exuded value, quality and style.
Start with the interior. The heated and air-conditioned front seats were the most comfortable we’ve experienced since the last time we drove a Volvo – the standard for seating comfort, as far as we’re concerned. The stylish yet simple dashboard design was interesting without seeming contrived; in particular, we liked the asymmetrical triangular sweep of the center stack. We do prefer Mercedes-Benz’s and BMW’s multifunction control device to Lexus’s, which we judged too touchy.
Leg room and head room for tall adults is more than sufficient in the back seat, but the seat’s alignment caused some passengers to slouch. The split-folding seats fold down easily but do not lie flush with the rear deck. Maximum cargo capacity is 80.3 cubic feet, competitive for this class.
Our test car was the top-of-the-line F Sport edition, which features 19-inch wheels, 8-speed automatic transmission, sport-tuned suspension, 3-spoke steering wheel, and various interior and exterior flourishes. Some reviewers prefer the base RX 350, which comes at a considerably lower price: as little as $39,660. With 18-inch wheels and a regular suspension, the base RX 350 is likely to deliver a softer, more compliant ride, so it may be the luxury compact SUV of choice for many.
Our test car was lavishly equipped, with a list of features too long to list. The blind-spot monitor, a $500 option, is good to have in this model because the wide B-pillars and high rear windows affect visibility to the rear. Our test car also came with Lexus’s optional Enform multimedia system, which we were able to access without difficulty.
The RX 350, with a smooth, quiet 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6, is rated at 18 mpg city and 26 highway. It uses regular unleaded gasoline.
Rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the RX 350 has a sterling reputation for reliability.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 270 horsepower, 248 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 4,510 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, double-wishbone rear
Wheels: 19×7.5-in. painted alloy
Tires: 235/55R V all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 40 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 80.3 cu. ft.
Towing capacity: 3,500 lb.
Fuel capacity: 19.2 gallons
Fuel economy: 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular unleaded