Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Lexus RX 350 AWD

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 Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: The 2016 Lexus RX 350 has an extremely large grille. If that black expanse were any bigger, Stephen Hawking would probably have to be called in to investigate for the presence of a black hole. At the same time, the all-new RX also has enough creases and sharp edges to make one think that 
Lexus delegated the design phase to a sword-slashing samurai. For a midsize crossover that has been quite anodyne until now, this makeover is bound to be a bit shocking.

    More importantly, however, there are plenty of substantive changes that make this luxury crossover SUV more carlike and indeed better than ever before. For one thing, Lexus increased the 2016 RX 350's wheelbase and overall length to improve interior space for passengers, while simultaneously raising the ride height and slimming out the roof line. The result is a much sleeker and less SUV-like profile, yet there's still abundant head- and legroom in both seating rows.

     Up front, the dashboard is lower and the center control stack is more angled toward the driver (who also sits a bit lower), while the improved materials and construction are absolutely first-rate. Most RX models you'll find on a dealer lot will include the Navigation package with its colossal new 12.3-inch display, one of the largest you'll find this side of a Tesla. This display comes equipped with a revised, but still distracting-to-use Remote Touch controller that we think requires more driver attention than it should. In general, though, the new RX's infotainment features have been significantly updated to meet the expectations of tech-savvy shoppers.
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     For power, the RX 350 stays the course with its 3.5-liter V6, but now it makes 25 more horsepower (for a total of 295) and comes standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission that helps boost fuel economy slightly. Lexus has also retuned the suspension to provide better handling than prior RX models. The RX 350 F Sport, in particular, finally delivers the goods, boasting sharper steering than the standard version, plus an adaptive suspension that yields an impressively controlled, yet still comfortable ride. Ultimately, the F Sport is aimed more at mildly sporty competitors like the Acura MDX than at dedicated performance models, but it's a gratifying drive nonetheless.
     There are a few reasons to think twice about this new RX. The aforementioned Remote Touch controller is one, along with modest acceleration and limited cargo capacity compared to segment norms. Other choices like the BMW X5, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Volkswagen Touareg and Volvo XC90 are all worthy of a long look, and a few (including the MDX) offer optional third-row seating as well. But with its long list of improvements, the 2016 RX 350 brings a welcome dose of excitement and modernity while still maintaining the comfort and quality for which it's renowned. 

    The 2016 Lexus RX 350 is a five-passenger midsize crossover SUV available in two versions: regular and F Sport. 

     Standard equipment on the RX 350 includes 18-inch wheels, automatic LED headlights, LED foglights and running lights, rear privacy glass, a power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, selectable drive mode settings (alter steering, gas pedal sensitivity and transmission shift program), dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats (with two-way power lumbar adjustment), a power tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 40/20/40-split rear seat (reclines, slides and folds), and "NuLuxe" premium vinyl upholstery. You also get a rearview camera, "Safety Connect" emergency communications (see Safety section), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, the Display Audio tech interface (with a knob controller and an 8-inch display) and a nine-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite and HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack, two USB ports and a media player interface.

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 The F Sport is technically a package and includes sportier exterior styling, 20-inch wheels, adaptive suspension dampers, additional drive mode settings, an engine noise enhancer, transmission paddle shifters, special gauges, heated and ventilated sport seats, leather upholstery and special interior trim.
     Options are grouped into packages or are stand-alone items. The availability of both can often depend on where you live.
     The Premium package adds roof rails, automatic wipers, driver memory functions, leather upholstery, wood trim and a rear armrest storage compartment. The Navigation package adds, beyond the obvious, the Remote Touch electronics interface, a bigger 12.3-inch display, voice controls, the Lexus Enform App Suite and a 12-speaker sound system.
     The Luxury package includes the Premium package items and adds 20-inch wheels (with a choice of color inserts), heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, rear door sunshades, upgraded leather upholstery, four-way front seat lumbar adjustment, heated rear seats and power operation for the folding and reclining rear seatbacks. The Luxury package can be enhanced with a rear seat entertainment system, which includes two 11.6-inch angle-adjustable screens, a DVD player, an HDMI port and a 120-volt household-style power outlet.
     Options that require the Premium, Luxury or F Sport packages include a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, a panoramic-view back-up camera and either a regular or panoramic sunroof. There's also a Lexus Safety System + package that consists of adaptive cruise control and accident avoidance features described in the Safety section below.
     Other options include front and rear parking sensors, a hands-free power liftgate, upgraded LED headlights (with 18 individual LED accent lights), a color head-up display, a heated steering wheel and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system.
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     Every 2016 Lexus RX 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine good for 295 hp and 267 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard. All-wheel drive is optional (standard with F Sport). Lexus expects EPA-estimated fuel economy to be 23 mpg combined (20 city/28 highway) with front-wheel drive, and 22 mpg combined (19/26) with all-wheel drive. 

     The 2016 Lexus RX 350 comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. A rearview camera is also standard along with Lexus Enform Safety Connect, which includes automatic collision notification, an emergency assist button and a stolen vehicle locator.

     Optional safety features include a blind spot warning system bundled with rear-cross traffic alert. The Lexus Safety System + (requires Premium, Luxury or F Sport package) adds adaptive cruise control, a frontal collision warning and mitigation system with automatic braking and pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and lane departure intervention.
     The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the RX the best possible rating of "Good" in its moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests, as well as a "Good" rating in the side-impact, roof strength and seat/head restraint (whiplash protection) tests.
     With its lower seating position and driver-focused dashboard design, the 2016 Lexus RX 350 is palpably more carlike than its predecessors. But rest assured, you still get that elevated view of the surroundings that makes crossovers so popular. The overall design is also visually appealing (especially in the available two-tone color schemes), while the quality of materials and construction has been elevated to the same level as most upper-crust competitors (and above that of the Acura MDX).
     There's plenty of headroom in the cabin despite the more radically raked roof line, even if some may find it a tad claustrophobic compared to some competitors (especially the airy Volvo XC90). The sliding and reclining backseat is wide and comfortable, with abundant legroom for even tall occupants, while further benefiting from optional power adjustment. The front seats seemed supportive during our initial test-drives, though larger drivers may find the F Sport model's sport seats too confining.
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     Cargo capacity leaves something to be desired. With that radically raked roof line, there's not much space above the cargo cover, meaning bulkier items are less likely to fit. Furthermore, the 40/20/40-split rear seatback doesn't quite fold flat. Listed cargo capacity is 18.4 cubic feet behind the second row and 56.3 cubic feet with the seats folded. Lexus has changed the way it measures total capacity, so these numbers aren't directly comparable to the previous RX, but suffice it to say that the new RX has less overall space than its competitors. There's also the fact that the MDX and XC90 have an extra row of seats.
     Another downside is the Remote Touch electronics interface. Its mini-joystick-like controller is superior to the irritating touchpad found in the Lexus NX and RC, but this interface still requires a distracting degree of dexterity and concentration to operate effectively. If there's a silver lining, it's that Lexus bundles Remote Touch with the upgraded and truly sharp and impressive-looking 12.3-inch display.
     Power is merely sufficient in the RX 350, whereas the acceleration of most competitors would be described as at least energetic. The nebulous response and inconsistent effort of the standard RX steering setup also leaves something to be desired, while the standard suspension tuning doesn't instill the same level of confidence and control provided by most rivals. This RX is dynamically better than before, and certainly plenty comfortable and supremely quiet, but that's about as far as the platitudes go.
     The exception, though, is the RX 350 F Sport. It doesn't do anything for the engine apart from piping extra noise into the cabin, but the rest of the dynamic package is greatly improved. The steering is more consistent in its weighting, even when switched into one of two Sport modes. It's the F Sport's adaptive suspension, though, that makes it the best of the RX bunch. Never mind the handling improvements. The main benefit is that the RX's body is more controlled when driving over bumps, yet the ride remains genuinely comfortable. We were surprised to find that it was perfectly pleasant even in the suspension's firmest, Sport S+ setting. Really, the F Sport feels "just right" and drives in a fashion similar to the MDX, if not quite the BMW X5.

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