Up Close: 2010 Lexus RX

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The old RX aged well, and the new one holds promise. The styling promises similar well-to-do appeal, choosing safer lines over some of the racier curves of its competitors. My only complaint is with the grille: It seems too narrow now, wedged into the tight space between the widened headlights.

Interior quality keeps with that of the old RX, which was fairly good. Various touch points, from the armrests to the center controls, have the sort of premium, soft-but-substantial feel you’d expect in a luxury car. There’s a new mouse-like controller that operates the navigation system, something I’ve never used in an automotive setting before. It’s basically a joystick that operates a moving arrow on the nav screen, and you’ll feel the controller respond when the arrow jumps to different on-screen buttons – marking waypoints or zooming in, for example.

Shortcut keys around the controller allow you to zoom in or out, jump to the map or main menus, and change display settings. More involved activities, like entering a destination address, require using the joystick; the display lacks touch-screen capabilities. I tested out the setup by entering an address on nearby Wilshire Boulevard, and the system is … well, different. I can’t see any advantage beyond what a directional keypad could accomplish, and there’s an awful lot of button-less space on any given menu that the arrow could get stuck roaming. I’ll reserve full judgment of the system until gets a chance to live with it for a few days.

On the plus side, Lexus has finally divorced its fan-speed controls from the dedicated climate-control submenu; there’s now a physical rocker switch to change them. Other center controls, from the temperature buttons to the stereo dials, feel a bit crowded, but it’s nice to see Lexus has adopted a smoked-silver finish for most controls instead of the previous RX’s plasticky gray buttons.

The backseat has gobs of legroom, a hump-free floor and decent headroom, but the seat sits a bit low to the ground and the windows are a bit high, so outward visibility is lacking. Like before, the seat moves forward and backward and reclines, and the levers that make it do so are in all the right places. The design is similar to that of the front quarters — sloping two-tone door inlays and leather-wrapped armrests. The seat folds in a 40/20/40 split, with levers in the cargo area releasing the spring-loaded backrests. Functionality is top-notch: If the backseat has been moved forward — which could leave a gap in the load floor — the seat springs back to its rearmost position as you fold it down. The result is a gap-free cargo floor every time and a backseat whose head restraints always clear the front seatbacks when you’re folding it flat. Clever.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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