2010 Lexus RX
2010 Lexus RX. Click image to enlarge

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Lexus Canada

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2010 Lexus RX

Napa Valley, California – In 1998, many SUVs had fat tires, little wheels, a boxy body with a harsh ride, and could be ordered with a winch (okay, maybe not a winch, but you get the idea), which is why the introduction of the Lexus RX 300 made such an impact. Here was an elegant, luxurious, compact/mid-sized SUV-type vehicle available with a smartly tailored leather interior and a curvy body, in pleasing and contrasting pastel shades. It was smooth and Lexus-quiet, drove like a car, and had eye-catching style. It was urban; it was chic even. It was definitely different.

A decade later, the RX is the best-selling Lexus in Canada. And since 2003, the RX has been built in Canada, at the only Lexus plant outside of Japan.

Now we refer to vehicles like the RX as “crossovers,” sharing attributes of cars and SUVs and often built on a car chassis, and there are now many makes and models from which to choose. The 2010 Lexus RX continues its original theme, and while it doesn’t break new ground the way it did in 1998, this new version stakes a claim as the benchmark for luxury crossovers in the $40,000-$60,000 price range.

It has evolved, however. While the original RX was, shall we say, a little delicate in appearance, the third-generation 2010 model is more dynamically executed. Its styling is certainly not aggressive or overpowering, but the surfaces have been massaged into a more purposeful-looking package. Lean and athletic would define the design direction, and it’s aerodynamic, too, with a coefficient of drag of 0.32. You can’t get much slipperier in a vehicle of this type.

2010 Lexus RX
2010 Lexus RX
2010 Lexus RX. Click image to enlarge

Continuing from the previous generation, there are still two versions of the RX: the 350 and the hybrid 450h (formerly 400h). The RX 350 is powered with a revised 3.5-litre V6 engine that makes 275 horsepower and 257 pounds-feet of torque. It’s mated to an all-new six-speed automatic transmission (replacing the five-speed) which drives an all-wheel drive system with Active Torque Control and Hill-Start Assist Control. The Active Torque Control system provides a front-to-rear torque bias ranging from 100:0 through to 50:50, depending on road conditions. Fuel consumption for the RX 350 is a best-in-class 11.6 L/100 km in the city and 8.2 on the highway (the RX 450h’s fuel consumption is not yet available).

The 2010 RX 450h uses the latest Lexus Hybrid Drive with the 3.5-litre V6 and two electric motors, front and rear, making up to 295 horsepower, for a 27 per cent increase over the outgoing RX 400h, and an eight per cent improvement in fuel economy. The vehicle also features a switchable electric vehicle (EV) mode that enables the driver to operate on battery only. The 2010 model can also travel faster in EV mode than the outgoing model, and it is able to use its auto-stop feature at stoplights more quickly, saving fuel and reducing emissions. The transmission is a CVT, revised for better response and smoother performance.

The new RX is close in dimensions to the outgoing model: the wheelbase is slightly longer, while overall length is reduced by a few millimetres. The most significant dimensional change is to the track, which gains 69.9 millimetres for improved handling and stability. A new multilink rear suspension replaces the previous strut-based design, which sharpens handling and contributes to a roomier cargo area.

2010 Lexus RX
2010 Lexus RX
2010 Lexus RX
2010 Lexus RX. Click image to enlarge

The interior is comprehensively redesigned. Rather than a conventional instrument cluster with centre stack, the RX models present the driver with an ergonomically managed control cockpit, or “Human Machine Interface”. Gauges use Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) that operate on less power than standard LEDs, but produce a crisp, sharp display and an almost three-dimensional effect against a deep black background. Supplementing the standard instruments is an available Head Up Display (HUD) that shows vehicle speed, audio status and turn-by-turn directions.

The Human Machine Interface concept actually divides the cockpit into two zones, a display zone and an operation zone. The display zone includes the instruments, HUD and video display that are visible at just below eye level, and which can be read with minimal distraction from driving. The operation zone includes a multi-display control that manages climate and audio operations, or a new “Remote Touch” control mounted on the centre console. It replaces the touch-screen interface with a haptic control device, similar to controls used with various gaming systems, that enables the user to “feel” graphically-displayed symbols as the cursor passes over them.

The system is simple, elegant and effective, designed to reduce eye movement when driving by locating the display close to eye level, while placing the controller only centimetres from the steering wheel. The approach also eliminates fingerprints on the display.

The 2010 Lexus RX 350 is available in standard, Premium, Touring, Sport and Ultra-Premium trim levels. Along with the standard climate control, power amenities, premium audio, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel and power front seats, standard equipment new for 2010 includes 18-inch alloy wheels, XM satellite radio, push-button start, Bluetooth capability, integrated turn signal lamps, puddle lamps, Hill Ascent Control, 4WD, fabric seat surfaces, and remote release for the rear seatbacks.

2010 Lexus RX
2010 Lexus RX
2010 Lexus RX. Click image to enlarge

Additional available options include heated and ventilated front seats, USB media connectivity, rear seat entertainment system with seat-integrated displays, next-generation navigation system with hands-free control, intuitive parking assist, Pre-Collision System with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, bi-xenon headlamps, LED headlamps for the 450h, 7.1-channel Mark Levinson surround-sound system, Head Up Display, wide-view side monitor system, and auto-dimming rear-view mirror with integrated back-up camera.

The RX 350 and 450h are luxurious indeed, especially in the higher trim levels, but even the standard model, with its rich paint and impressive wheels, stands out from the crowd. Sleek and sporty from the outside, positive first impressions are magnified when you open the door. Here is a clearly superior environment, tastefully designed and executed, and very much what one expects a Lexus to be.

On the road, the RX 350 and 450h are poised and unruffled by road surface imperfections. Both are powerful enough, but they have gained some weight over the years (the RX 350 is up 115 kg, and the RX 450h is up 255 kg over the outgoing model) and you can feel this when braking. It’s not excessive, but you sense that this is a heavy vehicle. The ride is smooth, visibility is good, and the seats are very comfortable.

I also drove a U.S.-only, front-wheel drive RX 350, and that was a pleasant surprise. It seemed a little more nimble and responsive, and would presumably cost less than the AWD version. Canadian buyers might like this, but we won’t complain about having standard AWD.

With over one million Lexus RX crossovers sold, the third generation doesn’t stray too far from the original and obviously successful concept. The 2010 model adds a sportier character, more dynamic styling, and a range of sophisticated options that buyers in this segment will appreciate.

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