2016 Lexus RX350 – quick drive

2016 Lexus RX350

2016 Lexus RX350

Our quick drive with the new 2016 Lexus RX350 luxury SUV left us with a mixed bag of emotions.

I like the Lexus brand.  A lot.  Mother corporation, Toyota, is legendary for reliability and superb build quality.  As a ‘car guy’, it’s easy for me to regularly recommend a Toyota (or Lexus) to just about anybody.

Back to mixed emotions, this RX350 is like any Lexus (or Toyota, for that matter.)  Everything you see and touch has a look of impeccable quality.  Fit and finish is excellent; the doors close with a solid, re-assuring ‘thump.’

All’s good, right?

Styling

Now in the styling department, things are not all roses and sunshine.  The front view is dominated by Lexus’ now trademark ‘spindle’ grille, and to say its controversial is an understatement.  I don’t mind the look, but I heard numerous people say, ‘that front end is ugly!  I’d never buy that car.’

Ok, style is a personal preference; I get that.  For me, the styling ‘glitch’ of the RX lies in C-pillar, the rearmost structure that joins the roof to the body.

'Landau' roof styling is the visual equivalent to nails scraping on a chalkboard - faux convertible styling cue from '70s and '80s American cars

‘Landau’ roof styling is the visual equivalent to nails scraping on a chalkboard – faux convertible styling cue from ’70s and ’80s American cars

An s-shaped piece of chrome trim on the C-pillar is reminiscent of the landau (faux convertible) vinyl-clad roofs popular in late 1970s and 1980s American cars.  To me, it’s the visual equivalent of nails screeching on a chalkboard.

C-pillar's large size and tiny window creates large blind spot

C-pillar’s large size and tiny window creates large blind spot

From the inside, the large C-pillar is fitted with a tiny window, creating a huge blind spot.  While the RX350 has a blind spot monitor, it still makes driving the Lexus concerning while navigating through traffic.

Highlights

The best attribute this RX350 has is its plush ride and very quiet cabin, just what you’d expect from a luxury brand.

On the highway, the interior is remarkably quiet and comfortable, and if long distance touring is high on your list of priorities, this could be a vehicle for you.

The seats are comfortable and one nice feature we enjoyed is the automatic heated front seats; there’s an ‘automatic’ setting on the front seat heater switches, and when you start the vehicle, the heated seats automatically turn on ‘high’ if the ambient temperature is below a certain point.

On the road

Driving the RX350 quickly shows that Lexus designers intended this mid-size SUV to be a luxury cruiser.  The suspension is plush and compliant.  The RX’s steering is over-boosted and gives little feedback.  In short, the RX350 generally feels ‘numb’, and the chassis and steering provide very little communication to the driver.

(Surprisingly, we took delivery of a 2016 Ford Edge Sport shortly after handing back the Lexus, and the Edge Sport is a much nicer SUV to drive, with driving dynamics feeling more like a very good European-tuned vehicle.)

Fuel economy

The official Natural Resources Canada fuel economy rating for the 2016 Lexus RX350 12.2/8.9 L/100 km (City/Hwy).  Our observed fuel economy was much poorer than the official numbers suggest, a disappointing 13.9 L/100 km (regular unleaded) in mostly urban freeway driving.

With an advanced 8-speed automatic transmission, we expected better fuel economy, especially since most of our test mileage was run up in freeway/highway driving, not stop-and-go city driving.

Engine/transmission

3.5-litre, 6-cylinder, 295 horsepower; 8-speed automatic; full-time all-wheel-drive.

Lexus RX350 instrumentation is easy to read

Lexus RX350 instrumentation is easy to read

Front seats are heated and have automatic feature; if set to automatic, they're 'on' when the engine is started and ambient temperature is below a certain level

Front seats are heated and have automatic feature; if set to automatic, they’re ‘on’ when the engine is started and ambient temperature is below a certain level

Price

Our 2016 Lexus RX350 came in Nightfall Mica dark metallic blue paint with a Noble Brown leather interior.  (Ingrid did not like the red stitching on brown upholstery, something my colour blind eyes couldn’t see.)

Base price is $53,950.

As-tested price is (+ Luxury Package, $7,600; + $100 AC tax; + Frt/PDI, $2,045)$63,595.

The Luxury Package includes such niceties as wood grain and leather steering wheel, 20-in. alloy wheels, premium leather upholstery, voice-activated navigation, LED headlamps/cornering lamps/rear lamps, 12.3-in. display, to name a few.

2016 Lexus RX350. Handsome? Or not?

2016 Lexus RX350. Handsome? Or not?

Plenty of leg room and long-distance comfortable second row seats are also heated

Plenty of leg room and long-distance comfortable second row seats are also heated

Likes

  • Lexus build quality and industry-leading reliability
  • Plush, quiet ride; luxurious cabin
  • Powertrain – smooth V6 with a slick-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission
  • Automatic ‘on’ heated front seats
  • Heated steering wheel

Dislikes

  • Disappointing fuel economy
  • Numb on-road dynamics

Overall

For – those drivers who don’t like driving.

Not for – drivers looking for an engaging, pleasurable ‘driving’ experience.

The 2016 Lexus RX350 is squarely aimed at the luxury mid-size SUV market.  It is unquestionably luxurious, with a quiet cabin and cushy ride.  And the Lexus brand is renown for its reliability and outstanding customer service at dealerships.

The RX350’s main weakness is it’s a vehicle designed for people who don’t particularly like cars.  For these buyers, cars are appliances, and should operate unobtrusively in the background, delivering little driving pleasure that so-called ‘enthusiasts’ demand – responsive handling, good ‘feel’ through the steering wheel, and a suspension that communicates how the chassis and tires are responding to the road.

 

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