Fully redesigned and renamed as an early 2004 model, the second generation of Lexus' entry-level sport utility vehicle switched from a 3.0-liter V-6 to a more powerful 3.3-liter V-6. The RX 300 had been Lexus' top seller, dominating the car-based premium-SUV segment.
For 2005, Lexus added roll-sensing side curtain-type airbags. Available high-intensity-discharge headlights gained an Adaptive Front Lighting System that automatically swivels the lights several degrees for better cornering visibility. An eight-way power passenger seat became standard, and the optional navigation system gained Bluetooth wireless capability.
The RX 330 receives some minor interior enhancements for 2006. Engine power ratings have dropped slightly due to new Society of Automotive Engineers testing procedures, though performance remains unchanged.
A hybrid-powered version of the RX — dubbed RX 400h — went on sale in April 2005 as a 2006 model and is listed separately in the cars.com Research section.
Despite increased dimensions and a sleeker, cladding-free look, the SUV's front appearance didn't change dramatically when the RX 300 became the RX 330. The headlights stretch farther back into the hood, and fog lamps are more integrated into the bumper. The pronounced wheel wells enhance the rugged stance.
A hexagonal rear window and an integrated spoiler are installed. Three-pod LED taillamps sit behind clear lenses. Standard wheels are 17 inches in diameter, and 18-inch tires are optional.
A multipanel moonroof is optional. An available air suspension features automatic leveling and four ride-height settings.
Up to five occupants can fit inside the RX 330, and cargo volume with the rear seats folded totals 84.7 cubic feet. The folding backseat is split in a 40/20/40 configuration. A power rear liftgate is standard. Except for models with the Performance Package, a wood and leather-trimmed steering wheel is installed.
Options include laser-based adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, a backseat DVD entertainment system and a navigation system that includes a rearview camera. For 2006, the passenger seat incorporates power-adjustable lumbar support, and XM or Sirius Satellite Radio joins the options list.
Under the Hood
The 3.3-liter V-6 generates 223 horsepower and 238 pounds-feet of torque, down slightly from the previous 230 hp and 242 pounds-feet due to new SAE testing procedures. Actual power is the same. The engine teams with a five-speed-automatic transmission.
Seat-mounted side-impact airbags for front occupants, a driver's knee airbag and roll-sensing side curtain-type airbags are standard. All models have Vehicle Stability Control and a tire-pressure-monitoring system.
While the original RX 300 stood apart from the premium SUV pack, its enlarged successor has more ordinary driving qualities. Smooth highways yield a beautiful ride, though occupants may be jarred a bit on rough pavement. The suspension reacts quickly but sometimes stiff-arms its way through holes rather than absorbing them. Even though its body doesn't lean badly through curves, the RX 330 doesn't always feel entirely surefooted. Automatic-transmission reactions can be abrupt and accompanied by engine blare when the gas pedal is floored.
The RX 330 stays neatly in its lane on freeways. Its steering feels satisfying and has a slightly lighter touch than average. Bright electronic gauges are easy to read, though they're set into deep enclosures. A few dashboard controls are somewhat difficult to find. The seats are inviting, and front occupants get plenty of space. Rear headroom and legroom are abundant. The available rearview video camera yields a clear and helpful picture.