As a guy who reviews cars for a living, I count on getting asked two standard questions when people find out what I do: 1) What's your favorite car? 2) What do you personally drive? Regarding the first, that question is akin to asking which is your favorite child. The second is far easier: I have a first-gen Lexus RX 300, the vehicle credited for inventing the luxury crossover SUV segment.
I bought it a couple of years ago, and at that time it was already 10 years old but had "only" about 80,000 miles on the odometer. I don't drive it often, but every time I do I'm reminded why I love it. It's very comfortable, just the right size for my small family and starts every time I turn the key, even when those starts are weeks apart.
Naturally, when a 2014 Lexus RX 350 arrived in the KBB.com test garage I was eager to see how Lexus' midsize sport utility vehicle has evolved. Now in its third generation, the Lexus RX 350 has a larger and more powerful V6, offers more advanced safety and tech features, and conveniences such as a standard power liftgate and rearview camera.
Though generations apart, a Lexus RX 300 and RX 350 share some traits while differing on others. Comparing the two, here's my quick list of plusses and minuses.
On the Plus Side
* Buttery ride: The 2014 RX 350 offers one of the plushest and quietest rides in its class, traits the RX line has had since debuting.
* Great audio system: If you are even remotely a fan of good-sounding music, opt for the Mark Levinson system and treat your ears to audio bliss.
* Cargo flexibility: My old Lexus RX still impresses with the ingenuous ways its storage bins create space and how the rear seats slide, recline and fold. The new one continues the tradition.
* Reliability and high resale value: Lexus has a solid history for both.
* Wood steering wheel: I'll cop to an automotive fetish -- I love the feel. The original RX offered one, as does the current model.
* A little too soft: My RX 300 is not a sharp handler, and neither is the new one (though F Sport models have a stiffer suspension).
* Awkward-to-access heated steering wheel button: I love the feature, but am baffled at the placement of its activation button near my right knee.
* Where are the armrests? Another car-fetish confession: I love a vehicle with a proper, seat-mounted armrest. It makes long-haul cruising a joy, and made the original RX all the more appealing. Unfortunately they're missing in the new model.
* Not-so-rugged ways: The original RX had tougher looks and a respectable 7.7 inches of ground clearance that enabled and even encouraged some off-roading. Today's RX has shed its original utilitarian looks and sits lower to the ground with a 7.3-inch gap.
That last point makes me a little sad, but in reality it's smart for Lexus. The majority of luxury SUV buyers have no desire to play in the mud, and the few that do have plenty of other options. The latest Lexus RX 350 is meant to provide comfort, good cargo capacity and cachet. It nails all those, and ices the cake with Lexus' record of reliability and high resale value.
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