2014 Lexus RX 350 AWD Review

What the Toyota Camry should be.

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March 24, 2014

2014 Lexus RX 350 AWD Review

Lexus calls its 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 'silken smooth' in its press materials, and for once, that's not hyperbolic PR blather.

Introduction
Lexus' RX crossover has long been chided as a soft, suburban SUV that pandered to soccer moms. It's also taken heat for being nothing more than a coddling, raised version of an exceptionally cottony mid-size sedan - the family sedan for someone who must sit up high, and who must have nice leather while looking cool in the carpool. Well, prepare yourself for a shock - this current RX answers all its critiques so well that even a jaded auto journalist who's always dismissed the SUV as a soft-roader has found himself charmed.

Other than a new 'eyes free' integration of Apple's Siri voice-recognition system, there's not much new for 2014 on the RX (unless you opt for the F Sport trim, which gets a new eight-speed transmission). Lexus' suburban staple is soldiering on with little change. Yet it felt different to us on the road - different in a good way, as you'll see below.

2014 Lexus RX 350 On the Road Lexus calls its 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 'silken smooth' in its press materials, and for once, that's not hyperbolic PR blather. It really does feel smooth in its operation, and it has enough grunt for passing and merging, although a splash more power wouldn't hurt.

Where the RX surprised us is in the ride, handling, and steering departments. RXs of old offered too much body roll, were too softly sprung, and the steering feel could be best described as nautical. Lexus has improved that over the years, but even in recent times it felt soft and distant, meant only for comfort and never anything more, even as Lexus worked to tighten it.

That's changed. Now, the driver is aware that the steering is eventually connected to the tires, and the steering, which is light and easy at around-town speeds, tightens up when the road gets twisty. Body roll is muted, and when it comes time to dodge a pothole or errant pedestrian (crosswalks, people, use 'em), the RX feels more nimble than you'd expect.

Lexus has stiffened the ride some over the years, but it remains buttery smooth. Kudos to the brand for giving the RX more spice while not sacrificing the commuting comfort that helps make it such a strong seller.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Exterior We really wanted to write the clichéd phrase that the RX reminds us of a Brooks Brothers suit, but electro-shock therapy and a dose of meds dissuaded us. Let's just go with this: it remains a conservative look, as per usual for non-sports-car Lexus models. It's handsome while plain, good-looking without being memorable, risk-averse and suburbia appropriate. Just like a Brooks Brothers su ... ouch!
2014 Lexus RX 350 Interior Lexus tends to get interiors right, and that trend continues here. Almost every material looks or feels appropriate for the upscale price, except the dark faux wood insert that look a tad cheesy. The computer-mouse-like infotainment controller is intuitive to use, although eyes still come off the road just a tad too much, and the infotainment system itself is also user-friendly.

Everything is within reach and the gauges and info displays are easy to read - nothing feels out of place here. Well, almost nothing; the control for the heated steering wheel is buried at the bottom of the dash, near the driver's right knee, as if it were an afterthought.

There's room aplenty up front, and the seats never tax your back, but if you need three rows of seating, you're SOL unless you want to shop for a larger 'ute - the RX is five-passenger only.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Final Thoughts There's a reason the RX has ruled suburbia, and it's not just because it was one of the first luxo crossovers to hit the market. Leadfooted buyers might gravitate towards the BMW X5, and those who want sharper handling might look at an Acura MDX. Those who must have Euro brand cachet might check out the Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

For everyone else who needs a crossover (but can live with only five seats) and is willing to pay for premium branding and features, the RX serves as the competent jack of all trades. And the ride/handling tweaks erase much of the boredom and ennui of previous generations.

Toyota's become good at adding flavor to its more conservative Lexus models (ES, LS, and now RX) without compromising the character that made them popular in the first place. They've even done it with the most Lexus-like Toyota, the Avalon. Now, if they can only do that with the Camry ...
2014 Lexus RX 350 Specs & Price Engine: 3.5-liter, naturally-aspirated V-6

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Power Output: 270 hp / 248 lb-ft

Fuel Economy: 18 city / 24 highway

Base Price: $41,160

As Tested: $53,104 (incl. $910 destination)

Optional Features: Leather-trimmed interior, power-seat memory, power moonroof, auto-dimming outside mirrors, blind-spot monitoring, backup camera, 12-speaker premium audio, transmission cooler, heavy-duty alternator, heavy-duty radiator, heated and/or ventilated front seats, navigation, wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel, high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights with auto-leveling, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors

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