Lexus RX 350 long-term review

Welcome to the family, Lexus RX

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Update #1

July 8, 2020
Km Driven: 300km
Avg fuel use: 9.8L/100km

I’ve now completed the most harrowing drive of my entire life. That’s saying something, because I’ve driven Porsches on autobahns, Lamborghinis on racetracks and even big 4WDs on fumes miles from the nearest petrol station.

For this drive I was taking my newborn son home from the hospital. My precious firstborn, and it felt like every idiot on the road was out to get us. Threats were everywhere from the Toyota Corolla driver on the phone to the truckie whose long trailer swayed into my lane one time. Even the other cars driving safely were not safe in my eyes.

They were menacing just by their presence. Honestly, I’d have been happier if the road had been blockaded to allow my family to make their first trip in complete isolation. Is that too much for a humble taxpayer to ask?

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Okay, so it’s clear now that I was overreacting, as I’m guessing most new parents do. The incredible urge a parent feels to protect their  children from harm was new to me, and I wasn’t prepared for the power of that emotion. It makes you want to safeguard them from every bad thing in the world – and the resurgent coronavirus is just the first of those evils.

Maybe I’ll calm down eventually, but it’s interesting to note that I’ve become a calmer driver since that first drive home last week, even when I’m on my own. My inner equilibrium between rushing to be on time and just getting there safe has definitely swung towards the latter.

Anyway, back to our irrational first drive with Junior. I’m glad I was in a Lexus RX 350 at the time, firstly because of the brand’s reputation for reliability and quality. I knew I had the absolute best chance of avoiding any kind of mechanical malfunction which might increase Junior’s exposure to the ugly and unclean world. Not that breakdowns happen often in any car, but for this drive I wanted all the reassurance I could get.

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The RX 350’s high driving position also gave me good visibility of the road ahead. This way I could see traffic hazards as prepare for them as quickly as possible. It also meant I could make my braking as smooth and slow because nobody wants to wake a sleeping baby.

To a certain extent I didn’t have to worry about the traffic immediately in front because I dialled the newly updated radar cruise control in to help with that (for more on this and the many other updates to the Lexus RX range in 2020, check out WhichCar’s launch report). It kept me moving at the speed limit and adjusted our velocity to keep a distance to the car in front. That probably added many minutes to our travel time because dozens of other cars saw this gap as an invitation. But I was not in a hurry.

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Visibility to the sides and the back are very good in the high-riding RX, and you’re assisted by a blindspot warning system.

The RX350’s petrol V6 engine is not short on power, meaning I could use its acceleration to keep a good-sized safe zone on all four sides. It’s definitely a step up compared to the Lexus RX 300’s smaller 2.0-litre turbocharged engine I’ve driven previously. But with that extra performance comes a slight increase in both fuel economy and engine vibrations through to the cabin.

You’ll no doubt be surprised to hear we made it home without incident – despite my frayed nerves. And I need not have worried about waking Junior… It turns out he loves cars just like his old man. Over the next week we took him for a couple of drives to meet his grandparents and there’s something about a car’s motion that puts him to sleep every time. Can’t be the Lexus’s whisper quiet cabin, because I pretty much always drive with music or podcasts coming through the high-end Mark Levinson sound system, and he didn’t seem to mind.

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The Lexus’s 506-litre boot did well swallowing our new pram and bassinet, along with the bags of nappies, creams, outfits and other baby-stuff that is apparently necessary even for a short trip. The back seat, however, may be spacious enough for adults, but a backwards facing capsule only fits if the front passenger seat is willing to give up 4-6 inches of legroom.

How good is ISOFIX! Two clicks and a tether and the capsule base is secure. Then the capsule itself slots in easily, although Mum is having difficulty lifting it to the height required to slot it in. She’s not exactly a beanpole at 5ft 3in, so it’d be unfair to blame that on the Lexus.

That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll take a closer look at the differences between the $93,970 RX 350 F Sport I’m driving now and the $86,800 RX 300 F Sport I reported on previously.

Update #2

July 22, 2020
Km Driven: 1450km
Avg fuel use: 10.1L/100km

Life in the middle of a COVID pandemic has its advantages. Very few working dads get this kind of ‘quality time’ with their new child in its first few weeks of life.

In our family, mum is the primary caregiver because milk bar, so my role is very much supporting her. This means changing nappies, doing laundry, fetching wraps, holding infant, and so on.

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That last part is fun because the little man is very engaging when he’s awake - demanding, too – but his sleep/wake schedule doesn’t fit neatly around my work-from-home commitments.

For example, I’m typing this one-handed while holding him, and as a result I’m well short of my usual 80 words-per-minute. Arlo has also made quite a few Zoom meeting appearances, too, and usually makes his presence felt with a well-timed wail.

Like most infants his sleep/wake pattern is still developing, and that’s one area the Lexus RX 350 has come in handy. As I said above, the motion puts him to sleep, which has come in handy on numerous occasions. It also has the added bonus of making me a lot more comfortable driving around with my most precious possession in the car. 

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If anything, the Lexus RX 350 is too smooth and too quiet. I’d like a few more bumps and vibrations to come through to the cabin, and more of that engine rumble to help send the little man to slumberland.

I tried putting the adaptive variable suspension into sport and sport+ modes, and that does stiffen up the ride a bit, but it’s still very Lexus. I do like how these stiffer settings reduces dive under brakes which, in turn, reduces inertial flow-through on occupants. Arlo doesn’t give a stuff; he’s asleep.   

Getting the capsule in and out of the Lexus is easy even though it’s a lift up into the car. Not sure if our capsule is bulkier than some others, because it does require the front passenger seat to be slid forward a fair way. There’s still enough room for an adult in front without cramping, but it’s not as capacious as before. 

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Next week I’m upgrading again to the Lexus RX 450h, which is quite similar to the RX 350 I’m in now, but it has an electric motor and battery pack to increase performance and reduce fuel consumption.

The 3.5-litre petrol engine in the 450h is largely the same as the one in the RX 350, but detuned slightly, presumably to work better with the electric motor. It also gets a continuously variable transmission in place of the RX 350’s eight-speed auto, which means no gentle gearshift lurches to help lull Baby Butler to Lala-land. 

Getting your head around the way car companies name their models is guaranteed to give anyone over the age of 40 a headache. That’s because we all grew up in an era when the badge actually had something to do with the engine size.

Lexus RX Crafted special edition revealed

The Lexus RX 300 I’ve reviewed here comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine and 6-speed automatic gearbox that drives the front wheels only. It’s a sweet combination that is smooth, quiet, and packs a punch when you need it. I never found the front-drive RX 300 scrabbling for traction, although it’s fair to say the RX 350’s all-wheel drive helped out when we did some dirt road driving on the way to a bushwalk.

The RX 350’s 3.5-litre V6 has 26 percent more power than the RX 300, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which delivers much stronger acceleration despite the extra bodyweight that comes with bigger mechanicals.

I’m happy to take Lexus at its word that the RX 350 is 1.2 seconds quicker from 0-100km/h (8.0sec v 9.2). In the real world that manifests as easier acceleration when merging onto a freeway, less stress overtaking and a generally easier time driving around town.

No surprise that fuel consumption suffers as a result, but not as much as I was expecting. The RX 350 is averaging 10.1L/100km compared to the RX 300’s 9.6L/100km. That difference is a lot less than the ‘official’ laboratory figures of 9.6 and 8.1 would suggest.

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I think it’s partly because the bigger V6 doesn’t have to work as hard to give the driver meaningful acceleration, and because it has eight gears to choose from rather than six. There’s also the flow-on effect of the AWD system’s Dynamic Torque Control, which is a fancy way of saving fuel by driving the front wheels most of the time and only sending drive to all four wheels when it’s really needed.

Whichever way you go, the difference across the average 400km week is a cup of coffee.

Inside the RX 350 F Sport, the differences between this and the RX 300 F Sport are minimal. That’s because all the RX range has respectable levels of equipment, and both models I drove had the ‘F Sport’ package installed.

For the record, standard RX fare includes keyless entry and start, power steering wheel adjustment, privacy glass for all but the front row of seats, satellite navigation, digital radio, 12-speaker audio.

The headlamps, wipers and high beam are all intelligent, meaning they operate automatically when needed. Both cars had heated seats and memory settings for the driver’s seat – both of which are must haves. It should go without saying that all luxury SUVs have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity; all RX models do.

The F Sport package brings a few other interior advantages such as sunshades for the rear doors – of which baby Arlo approves – a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system which is crisp, clear and true, and a panoramic view monitor. This last system combines the images from the front, side and rear cameras to give you a 360deg view around your car. 

As for the RX 350’s suite of active safety systems, the new Lane Tracing Assist system is handy. It expands on the old model’s lane departure warning system to also keep you in the middle of the lane.

I’ve noticed the auto-braking while reversing feature is a touch overzealous at times. A couple of times I’ve been edging backwards out of a car spot, and a car drives past behind me. I’ve seen it, I know it’s coming, I’m still creeping slowly backwards because it’s safe.

But the system disagrees. It hits the brakes hard, presumably thinking I’m going to crash. Some may laud this conservatism, I don’t because it scares the crap out of me every time, and makes me think I hit something else I didn’t see.

Overall the RX 350 has been a very enjoyable vehicle to drive. The extra power over the RX 300 is welcome and doesn’t cost as much at the fuel pump as I expected. Is the $10,000 price difference worth it for the extra power, 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive and bigger 20-inch wheels when compared to the base RX 300?

That’s debatable, but it’s also worth noting the RX 350 gets leather accented seats in both rows, and the front seats are heated, ventilated and with position memory functions.

For the purely pragmatic buyer it’s borderline, although I have enjoyed the luxury of heated seats during a Melbourne winter, and the seat memory is a handy feature when you share the car with another.

But still, we’re talking 14 percent more expensive. I’d probably stick with the RX 300, but the extra power (which gives the RX 350 a 1500kg tow rating compared to the RX 300’s 1000kg), and those few niceties might make it money well spent for you.


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Glenn Butler

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