The best-selling Lexus model gets several new features, including a standard skid-control system, an optional navigation system and a larger gas tank. The RX 300 is a hybrid SUV built on a passenger-car platform, and it comes with either front-wheel drive or permanently engaged four-wheel drive.
Toyota will get a lower-priced version of the RX 300 next spring, the Highlander, which has different styling and fewer standard features.
The RX 300s new skid-control system applies the brakes to wheels individually as needed, and Brake Assist, another new standard feature, detects when the driver is making a panic stop and applies maximum braking force. Gas tank capacity increases from 17.2 to 19.3 gallons this year.
At 180 inches, the RX 300 is about the same length as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, but both rivals stand nearly 4 inches taller, giving them a more traditional SUV profile.
Sloping roof pillars behind the rear doors give the RX 300 a distinctive appearance, but from the inside, this design can make it harder for drivers to see other vehicles.
Standard equipment includes wood interior trim, a seven-speaker sound system, and video-screen controls for audio and climate functions. Leather upholstery is optional, and it is now available in black. Map pockets on all four doors and a roomy two-tier center console provide ample interior storage in the five-passenger RX 300.
Under the Hood
The 220-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission are the same ones used in the Lexus ES 300 sedan. The 4WD system is designed for all-season road travel but not for serious offroad driving.
It is easy to understand why the RX 300 has been so successful for Lexus. It has the smooth ride and agile handling of a luxury sedan but the looks, versatility and 4WD capability of an SUV. The refined V-6 engine delivers smooth, brisk acceleration, and noise levels are much lower than in most SUVs.
But there is room for improvement. The stiff liftgate is difficult to raise and lower with one hand; the bigger side of the split rear seatback is heavy to lift; and a TV-like Cruise Information Display in the center of the dashboard duplicates some conventional audio and climate controls but is no easier to reach or use.
Nevertheless, the RX 300 is an excellent choice in a luxury SUV because it eliminates most of the negatives of traditional truck-based models.