When the Lexus RX 300 was launched in 1998, Lexus was the first to the market with a car-based luxury SUV. Now, five years later, Lexus faces a very crowded field of car-based luxury SUVs. Despite the competition, the RX 300 is still the best seller in its segment, and among Lexus' most-popular vehicles. So how to improve upon success? Offer more. So the 2004 Lexus RX 330 does just that, making a good thing even better. Now built in North America at Toyota's Ontario, Canada, plant, the RX is still offered in front or all-wheel-drive models. With the new RX, Lexus goes beyond the usual upgrades in size, horsepower and handling by offering the sort of conveniences that a Lexus buyer would expect. The RX 330 features an adaptive front lighting system, which turns the headlamps left or right with the direction of the vehicle. If you think this is a new idea, you're wrong. Preston Tucker posed it for his vehicle in 1947. The Lexus also features adaptive cruise control, which uses lasers to measure the distance of the vehicle in front of the driver and adjust the speed accordingly. Other niceties include rain-sensing windshield wipers, which adjust their speed based on how heavily it is raining. A new air suspension allows the driver to adjust the height of the vehicle to four different settings. The normal setting will automatically lower the car by 0.3 of an inch when traveling faster than 62 mph. The low setting reduces the height by 0.6 of an inch for better handling; high raises the vehicle 1.2 inches for offroad trips and access lowers the vehicle by 1.2 inches for exiting the RX or for loading heavy objects. Guilding the lilly are such convenient options as a power-operated rear tailgate, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, an optional Mark Levinson 11-speaker stereo system and an optional rear-seat DVD player. The terminally lost driver will appreciate the optional GPS Navigation system, which keeps track of your location and can give directions to wherever you are going. If you order the GPS, a rear back-up camera is included. When the car is put into reverse, the GPS switches off and the camera switches on, giving you a view of what you're about to back into. The image is crystal clear, but the fish-eye lens warps the view. Despite all that, this is truly the RX's most novel feature and the one option sure to elicit a wow from all but the most eternally jaded passenger. Of course, Lexus has upgraded the safety of the vehicle as well. All models now come with Vehicle Stability Control. VSC detects when the wheels slide during cornering and attempts to keep the vehicle going in its intended direction. A tire pressure monitor is standard as well, to keep track of tire pressure. Anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist ensure that you stop short and straight. If you don't, there are front multi -stage airbags, along with a knee airbag for the driver, and a host of side airbags. The interior furnishings feel opulent for the price, with rich leather and warm, wood tones. Brushed-aluminum accents on the center of the dash finish the look with a modern touch. And it goes without saying that it is impeccably assembled. All of this is quite remarkable, and it's all wrapped in attractive fresh sheetmetal. The look is very sporty, with a sloped backlight, glistening lights and radiant paint. You'll look very smart and stylish driving up to the country club door. But if you're looking for a driving experience as remarkable as the technology, you've come to the wrong place. Built on the new Camry platform, the RX 330 boasts a more powerful version of the Camry's 3.3-liter V-6. The V-6 produces 230 horsepower along with 242 foot-pounds of torque and a Lexus-claimed 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds. It is mated to a new five-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and unobtrusively. The RX 330 is as quick as its claims, and it gives the driver a very secure driving feel. Body lean is typical of the class, and the ride feels firmer than a Lexus driver might like. This translates into a utility vehicle that accomplishes its work very ably, but without a hint of sportiness or passion. The seats are a bit hard and short, but do a good job of holding the driver in place. The steering-wheel-mounted controls for the stereo are appreciated, but they are not illuminated at night. If you're looking for utility in your sport utility vehicle, there is good, but not outstanding, hauling space. The sloped rear of the RX sacrifices space for style. If you're hauling something home from a big box store, you might have to fold the rear seats. For most Lexus buyers, the RX 330's minor glitches won't matter, for the ultimate driving experience is not what they're seeking. Instead, the RX offers just what they're looking for: good power, upscale style, plenty of convenience and the quality assurance that goes with the Lexus name. On that score, the Lexus is perfect.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||July 23, 2003|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||September 20, 2003|
|Steven Cole Smith||Orlando Sentinel||August 28, 2003|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||June 22, 2003|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||May 7, 2003|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||May 4, 2003|
|John O'Dell||Los Angeles Times||April 2, 2003|
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