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                                             2011 Lexus RX
                         Recently redesigned, with V6 and hybrid versions.


  Overview

  The Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h are uncommonly easy to operate, even though they are
  brimming with electronic technology. If the RX were a computer, and in more ways than ever, it
  is, it would have a plug-and-play operating system and an inviting, engaging user interface.

  The Lexus RX was completely redesigned and re-engineered for 2010, so it's carried over for
  2011 largely unchanged. This latest-generation model features a wishbone, rather than strut-
  type, independent rear suspension and an improved all-wheel-drive system, and the entire car
  was improved. A mouse-like controller Lexus calls Remote Touch is used instead of a touch
  screen to operate climate, audio and the navigation system.

  We've found the RX to be softer and smoother than the other SUVs in its class. It's also more
  fuel-efficient. The RX 350 beats the fuel economy ratings of the Acura MDX, Mercedes ML 350,
  and BMW X5 xDrive3.5i. The RX 450h hybrid gets better mileage yet, and is among the
  cleanest vehicles yet devised by man.

  The RX 350 and RX 450h are offered with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The all-wheel-
  drive system is lighter and more efficient than in the previous generation. It works electronically
  without the locking center differential in previous models.

  The RX 350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 mated to a 6-speed automatic multi-mode transmission.
  Compared to the previous model, this latest RX 350 is a little heavier due to stouter rear
  suspension components, which provide upgraded crash performance.

  Like all Lexus vehicles, the 2011 Lexus RX adds Smart Stop Technology, which automatically
  reduces engine power when the brake and accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously under
  certain driving conditions. Aside from some new paint colors, there are no other changes for
  2011.

  When it was first launched as a 1999 model, the Lexus RX was at the leading edge of a
  revolution of sport-utilities built like cars rather than like trucks. Today, nearly all but the largest
  SUVs are these so-called crossovers. The RX remains the standard against which many are
  measured, and this latest-generation version is the best RX to date.

  Model Lineup

  The 2011 Lexus RX 350 comes with front-wheel drive ($37,975) or all-wheel drive ($39,375).
  The RX 450h offers the same choice of front-drive ($43,235) or all-wheel drive ($44,825) and is
  similarly equipped. All come with fabric upholstery, automatic dual-zone climate control,
  AM/FM/6CD with nine speakers and a luxury level of standard equipment.

  The optional Luxury Package ($4900) includes semi-aniline leather trim interior; one-touch-
  open/close Moonroof; Power Retractable Electrochromic Outside Mirrors; Wood and Lather
  Steering Wheel and Shift Knob; Wide Angle Side-View Monitor, 19-inch Alloy wheels with Mud
and Snow Tires; iPod/USB port; Power Rear Door; Illuminated Scuff Plate; and Headlamp
Cleaner. The Comfort Package ($1950) includes bi-xenon high intensity discharge (HID)
projector headlamps; adaptive front lighting system; automatic high beams; rain-sensing
automatic wipers; 12-speaker audio; and heated and cooled front seats.

Dual-Screen Rear Seat Entertainment with Navigation ($5005) includes DVD rear-seat
entertainment system with wireless headphones, audio/video inputs, 120V AC power outlet and
navigation system with voice command, backup monitor, XM Nav Traffic and Nav Weather with
90-day trial subscription and Remote Touch controller.

Options include a Heads-Up Display ($1200), Heated/Ventilated Front Seats ($640), 19-inch
Aluminum Alloy Wheels with Mud and Snow Tires ($660), and Bi-Xenon High Intensity
Discharge Headlamps with AFS and Automatic High Beams ($800-875). Mark Levinson Audio
($1610) and Intuitive Parking Assist ($500) are also available as stand-alone options. The
Navigation System option ($2465) includes Hard Disc Drive Navigation with voice command,
Backup Monitor, XM Nav Traffic and Nav Weather with 90-day trial subscription, and the
Remote Touch controller. The Sports Package ($1300) includes 19-inch Sport finish alloy
wheels with mud and snow tires, sport-tuned suspension, and Vehicle Dynamic Management
(VDIM).

Safety equipment includes front airbags; front-seat mounted side airbags; roll-sensing front and
rear side-curtain air bags; driver and front passenger knee airbags and side airbags; active
headrests for front seats; force-limiting seatbelt pre-tensioners for driver and front passenger
seats; three-point seatbelts with pre-tensioners for all rear seating positions (3); direct-type tire
pressure monitoring system; four-sensor, four-channel anti-lock brake system (ABS) with Brake
Assist; enhanced VSC (Vehicle Stability Control). Optional safety features include Pre-collision
System and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control ($1500); Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management
(VDIM) comes with the Sports Package.

Walkaround

In contrast to earlier models, the current RX 350 has a wider stance, with more pronounced
front fenders and crisper lines overall. As in the previous generation, the grille is placed lower
than the headlights, so the Lexus family resemblance carries on; but the headlights are more
sharply defined and the roofline is flatter. In essence, the rounded egg-shaped body has been
redefined at the corners to retain fluid RX cues in an updated format.

In the process, the new RX got slipperier, with a coefficient of drag of 0.33, down from 0.35.

Less-visible differences (relative to 2009 and older models) include a keyless entry system that
has a better-integrated sensor on the front doors. It looks sleeker, and the door handles
themselves are redesigned for a more comfortable grip. Fog lamps are integrated into the front
bumper, and the outside mirrors are heated.

The RX 450h is distinguished by a different, more finely slotted grille and crisper front bumper
treatment. Optional energy-saving LED headlights are exclusive to the hybrid. Both the RX 350
and RX 450h have LED brake lights and LED turn signals integrated into the side mirrors. Auto-
dimming outside mirrors, optional on the RX 350, are standard on the hybrid. The 450h also has
blue emblems and logos, and is available with exclusive Black Opal Mica paint.

The RX comes with 18-inch, five-spoke aluminum wheels with 235/60R18 tires; 19-inch wheels
are available as part of the Sport Package or as a stand-alone option. They feature a seven-
spoke pattern on the RX 350 and a five-split-spoke pattern on the 450h.
Interior Features

It's strangely exciting to sit in the cockpit of the Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h. There is a
sensation of having so much to do, just like configuring a new computer. There are seating
adjustments to lock in, preferences for the Remote Touch controller, operating modes to select
and dashboard combinations to try out. We have a feeling an RX owner would be surprised to
discover new features after months of ownership.

The RX comes to life with the push of a button. The instruments are bright and engaging, and
shaded from outside light. The latest seats have slightly higher side bolsters for support during
cornering, but they're still easy to get into. They feel firm at first, but medium-soft once you settle
in, and are easily adjusted to a variety of positions. Mood lighting in the footwells and cabin
supports a sense of quality and well-being.

The cockpit conveys a sense of sophistication, conveyed in part by a gifted design scheme that
includes no straight lines or sharp corners. Every element of the interior is curved, arched or
rounded in some way, so lines blend with subtle grace and harmony. California Walnut or Birds-
eye Maple wood trim accents complement black or ivory fabric; or black, light gray, or
parchment leather.

The cockpit is divided into two separate zones. The first is for information functions, located
higher up where they are easy to see. The second is for control functions, located lower and
within easy reach of both front seat occupants. This division is made possible by Remote
Touch.

The Remote Touch system is essentially a computer mouse. It's located exactly where your
hand would fall if your elbow were resting on the center console. This mouse will be immediately
familiar to anyone who has used a computer. It replaces the need to reach out and touch the
screen to use the Navigation system, or adjust audio or climate settings. We found it was simple
to use while driving. It allowed us to avoid focusing on the navi screen to tune the climate
control or turn down the volume. Plus, no more fingerprints on the screen.

The center console is bridge-like with open storage under the center. The shifter is immediately
above the Remote Touch mouse.

There are a number of redundant hard buttons on the steering wheel, and at various points on
the dash, 52 in all, but the Remote Touch mouse really does reduce the need to use them. Like
a computer mouse, Remote Touch can be adjusted for sensitivity to your preference.

The navigation system is a sixth-generation version, with casual speech voice recognition
capability for hands-free operation of audio, climate, and Bluetooth. The system runs from a
hard disc, not a DVD, so it's faster and allegedly smarter than the previous system. Among the
improvements are easier phonebook transfer, voice command access to the phonebook, and
smart auto-fill when selecting destinations.

XM satellite capability is built in, and the first three months are free when you buy the RX. Three
services are available: real-time traffic, advance weather forecasts and XM Satellite Radio.

The standard audio system has 9 speakers, a 6-disc CD changer and can play MP3 and WMA
files from your iPod. A 12-speaker system comes with the navigation system, and a 15-speaker
Mark Levinson Surround Sound system is available for those who require an audio system
consistent with the very best home systems.
Compared to earlier models, the front seats now have longer cushions, with higher backrests,
and are fitted with active headrests as standard equipment. The headrests are designed to
adjust upward in the event of a rear-end collision, reducing whiplash. Because of the active
headrests, rear-seat entertainment screens are independently mounted in pods behind the
headrests. The two seven-inch LCD screens can operate separately so one passenger can play
a game while another passenger watches a DVD. The seats are covered in fabric in standard
trim, with leather and semi-aniline leather offered as available options.

One of our test units had seats covered in the consistently flawless semi-aniline leather, and we
were hard pressed to find a misplaced stitch or shadow of stain anywhere. In fact, the leather is
so supple and uniformly perfect we first thought it must be synthetic material. Regardless of the
covering, both front seats are 10-way adjustable, with memory, and heated/air conditioned seats
are available.

The rear seat can accommodate five and has a 40/20/40 fold-down split. The latest design
makes it easier to release one or both seats from the back, without having to walk around to the
side, when loading cargo.

The rear seats also have a fold-down center console with a covered wood grain cupholder and
separate covered storage compartment. The rear seats are shorter, with less reclinability than
the front seats, but with good legroom for average-size adults like ourselves, much better than a
seat on a 757 these days. There are four grab handles, one for each door. There are two rear
air conditioning vents to cool the rear compartment.

Cargo room behind the rear seats is 40 cubic feet, enough for four average golf bags.

When it comes to the interior, the hybrid 450h is essentially the same as the 350, except that
the 450h has an Eco driving indicator that displays fuel economy using a bar graph. A hybrid
system indicator replaces the tachometer to provide driving feedback.

Driving Impressions

We've driven RX 350 models with front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive as well as an RX 450h
hybrid.

The RX 350 responds well to throttle out on the road. Part of that is the big 3.5-liter V6, part of it
is the 6-speed transmission. The 6-speed automatic has a lower first-gear ratio than the typical
5-speed, so it gets the RX quickly up to velocity for merging or highway entry. Lexus told us to
expect 0-60 acceleration times in the neighborhood of 7.4 seconds, and a quarter mile time of
15.7, and that's about the way it felt. We didn't go there, but top speed is electronically limited to
112 mph.

The transmission quickly selects gears based on throttle input, so you can ask for a gentle
downshift just by giving it a little more gas. If you floor the accelerator, it kicks down two gears
and moves out. It's also possible to select your own gears in multi-mode shifting, but the
automatic's logic seemed so intuitive that we would probably drive in Auto 95 percent of the
time, using the manual mode for downhill control on the highway or a long uphill when heavily
loaded. There is no V8 option for the RX, but if there were, we'd wager that performance would
not be much improved, and mileage would suffer.

We did not feel much torque steer in the front-wheel-drive models, and particularly, the hybrid.
Full-throttle starts in the previous hybrid elicited a waggle as various components of the
powertrain kicked in that we found disconcerting. First, you'd feel the engine, then two electric
motors, one after the other. These steering affectations are far better tamed in the latest RX
450h. Our assumption is that the transmission's computer is managing torque more
progressively, and the flywheel is more heavily damped.

The RX 350 is not built for road racing, but more for passenger comfort. The double-wishbone
independent rear suspension has a lot to do with that. Still, it has a nice, clean turn-in and good
lateral grip for an SUV. The current RX is just a little longer than the old model, and but its rear
wheels stand 2.6 inches wider, so there is a noticeable gain in agility.

We expect Lexus vehicles to be exceptionally quiet, and the RX is no exception. That said, the
19-inch wheels on the Sport Package do allow for more road input, and a little more noise and
vibration seep through. The suspension is tuned slightly differently with the Sport Package, but
the end result is still not as aggressive as Porsche's Cayenne or the BMW X5. To us, that's fine.
We think SUVs are better at grocery-getting than corner-carving anyway. Bigger wheels, thinner
tires and tighter damping tend to compromise Lexus ride quality and noise control, without
delivering all that much gain in handling. So our preference is for the 18-inch wheels.

Regardless of the tire choice, we found it easy to maintain a conversation using a low tone of
voice at normal speeds. Lexus pioneered the science of quietness in a car, with the result that
almost all cars are significantly quieter than they were five years ago. New tricks, such as
optimized wheelwell damping coatings and fender liners, have been incorporated into the RX.
The underbody of the car has also received attention against wind noise. And the sixth gear in
the transmission allows for ultra-quiet cruising, with less engine noise, on the highway.

All those things also hold true for the RX 450h, but because it is a hybrid, it regularly operates
with the engine off altogether. During those times, noise reduction is even greater, bordering on
eerie.

The brakes feel strong and progressive, with just a little squish at the top of the pedal before
stronger grip kicks in. The hybrid brakes, which are regenerative, are now much more smoothly
modulated than early hybrid brakes. The transition between light braking, when the generator
reclaims power, and the serious stopping power that comes on when more pedal is applied, can
still be felt, but you have to look for it.

Steering effort is light, but seems better proportioned than past electric steer-by-wire systems
we've tested. It's more accurate than before, especially at the center. Power-assist logic is
based on vehicle speed. The slower you go, the less effort required, so it can be just as
appropriate in the parking lot as in the fast lane on the way to Las Vegas. Lexus uses the
electric steering system on a number of its vehicles, because it reduces drag on the motor and
thus, improves fuel economy. It's also more compact, so there are packaging advantages, and
once you have a computer controlling steering, you can add VDIM.

VDIM is not a system easily tested in normal driving, because it requires driving out of control,
and then recovering. At which point, nothing will have happened, except maybe a brief flash of
an icon on the dash. But it's a system that looks at steering, braking, throttle and motion sensors
in the cabin to predict what will actually happen, compared to what the driver is asking for. If
there is any difference between the two, the system intervenes and selectively brakes individual
wheels to correct the path of the car. It happens so fast you might not notice.

We've tested VDIM on race tracks and lonely dirt roads. It works without slowing down the car
much, unlike VSC, which is the standard traction/stability control system. It's an expensive
option, but one we wish was on every car.

The RX is an easy SUV to see out of, and fairly easy to keep track of the area around the
vehicle when backing up or parking. Driver visibility is enhanced by small windows in the A-
pillar, and by small TV cameras that track the rear and passenger-side of the RX. One camera
is located in the right side mirror, the other in the rear bumper. We found we could toggle
between the two views, front and side, to see how close we were to the curb or pedestrians.

We found the RX to be a relaxed and comfortable ride, so we spent time trying out some of its
electronics systems.

We actuated the heads up display and found it makes it easy to stick to speed limits in
unfamiliar ground. Bright white, high-contrast figures were easy to read, even heading into
sunlight. It's the best we've seen so far. It's possible to project the display anywhere on the
windshield; we liked it best low and to the left.

Voice recognition, something we've never really trusted, still takes a little getting used to, but the
system in the RX is much closer to something we might use every day. We began by asking it to
switch to channel 143 on XM, which it had no problem doing. It also seemed to quickly be able
to supply the nearest gas stations, although not the cheapest prices, and turn down the air
conditioning. However, when we asked it to play Grateful Dead, it did not find the channel on its
own, so evidently there are limits to Hal's intelligence.

The RX 450h is offered in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, but the all-wheel-drive system is
different; it incorporates a separate rear electric motor to power the rear wheels. Because it is a
hybrid, the transmission is a continuously variable automatic and the brakes are different due to
the need to regenerate electricity. And there are a few packaging and styling differences to
consider when making a decision between the two. Because of the addition of electric motors,
the RX 450h has 20 more horsepower than the RX 350, which compensate for a weight penalty
of about 300 pounds.

Using the EPA combined city/highway ratings, both FWD and AWD versions of the hybrid get 9
mpg better fuel economy than their non-hybrid counterparts, so even with the hybrid's smaller
fuel tank, they can travel 132 miles farther on a tank. As of this writing, gas was selling for
around $3.49 a gallon in south-central Pennsylvania; but even so, given the $6000 premium
Lexus charges for the hybrid, you'd have to drive over 117,000 miles to break even. At the
currently popular projection of $4.00 per gallon, you'd still have to drive over 100,000 miles
before you recouped the difference.

In short, dollar savings would be modest, even if prices rise. For that reason, most current
hybrid buyers chose the vehicle because they want to drive the most fuel-efficient, cleanest
SUV possible, one that reduces dependency on imported oil. The RX 450h we drove averaged
23.4 mpg over 120 miles of mostly around-town driving.

The hybrid brake system uses the same ventilated four-wheel discs as the RX 350, but has an
electronically controlled regenerative brake feature that charges the batteries when the brakes
are applied gently. The hybrid system includes ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD),
Brake Assist and more important, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management system (VDIM) as
standard equipment. We've tested VDIM on controlled proving-grounds settings, and consider it
a remarkable safety system. It's also available on the RX 350 as an option.

The hybrid can drive in three modes: Normal, Eco for best mileage, and EV Mode which allows
the vehicle to operate on battery only. Lexus tech sources estimate the EV-only mode operating
distance at about a mile. The EV feature is aimed at allowing the RX to be used as an electric
car in closed urban areas where internal combustion engines are banned altogether, such as in
parts of some European cities.
Summary

This third-generation Lexus RX has been updated in dozens of ways to make it more efficient,
more comfortable, and broadly more advanced than the previous generation. It's quieter, safer,
and more driver-friendly. And in our opinion, better looking as well. It's a good choice for people
who don't tow much or need to move more than five at time. The RX 450h offers a clear step
forward in hybrid technology.

Autodata Solutions, Inc. is an authorized distributor of NewCarTestDrive Reviews.

				
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