The introduction of the Lexus RX series was perfectly timed to meet affluent consumers’ emerging desire for SUVs that were easy to drive in suburbia and furnished to luxury sedan standards. The first of the luxury crossover SUVs, the RX 300 quickly became the brand’s best-selling vehicle. It won over shoppers with its easygoing personality, upscale cabin, virtually silent powertrain and outstanding build quality. Now badged as the RX 350, this midsize crossover is nearing the end of its second generation but remains a strong competitor in its class. Rivals surpass the 2008 Lexus RX 350 in the handling department, but for buyers seeking comfort and serenity in large helpings, it easily satisfies.
Like other luxury crossover SUVs, the Lexus RX 350 is built on a car chassis, in this case the 2002-’06 Toyota Camry platform. These origins provide an immediate clue to the RX 350’s personality: It’s a serene and forgiving highway cruiser, but has never been much of an athlete, even by sport-utility standards. That said, the current-generation RX feels a touch sportier than the original, thanks to the availability of an adaptive air suspension and 18-inch wheels. Adding to the effect is the potent 3.5-liter V6 Lexus slotted into its crossover SUV last year. Rated for 270 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque, this V6 allows an all-wheel-drive RX 350 to accelerate to 60 mph in the mid 7-second range — impressive for a V6-equipped midsize SUV.
In addition to comfort and quickness, the current RX has always been known for its arsenal of technology, and despite a recent flurry of redesigns in the premium SUV segment, it’s still up to speed in this regard. It was the first crossover SUV to offer adaptive headlights, and its optional Mark Levinson sound system rivals the best stereos in this class, provided you’re not put off by the $6,200 price tag on this package option. A navigation system with a rearview camera is also available, of course, and unlike in many competitors, the interface is user-friendly and easy to understand.
Overall, the 2008 Lexus RX 350 serves as an excellent example of what we think a luxury crossover utility vehicle should be. Certainly, competitors like the Acura MDX, BMW X5 and Infiniti FX35 will serve you better if sporty handling dynamics are a priority, while those needing third-row accommodations should check out the Cadillac SRX, Mercedes-Benz R350 or Volvo XC90. However, for consumers interested in a plush, convenience-laden five-passenger crossover, the RX 350 remains a worthy candidate in this very competitive market segment.