One of life’s sinking feelings comes from waking up just before sunup, looking outside and seeing that you left an interior light on in the car all night long. In the old days, that scenario guaranteed a dead battery.
I had that feeling recently, at 5:30 a.m. on a cold Sunday. I saw the dome light shining inside today’s test car, a 2008 Lexus RX 350. It was both a beacon to tell the neighbors I was a nitwit and a signal that I wasn’t going back to sleep, not while wondering whether the battery still had enough juice left to start the engine.
The night before, I managed to synch my cellphone with the Lexus Bluetooth system and also programmed a few numbers into the car’s memory. But I forgot to turn the dome light off. So in the predawn, I padded outside in sweats.
Opening the Lexus door at night is a revelation. Beside the dome lights, there is classy lighting everywhere, including puddle lamps under the outside mirrors that turn on when the doors are unlocked.
Inside, there are the footlights in the leg wells, a lighted Lexus nameplate in the doorsill, lighted cupholders, lighted front console, and lighted glove box. It’s an immediate example of how to equate lighting with luxury.
Despite all the bulbs, including the dim one in the driver’s seat, our Lexus fired up right away. And what better time to go for a joy-ride than at 6 a.m. on a winter Sunday, even if it’s under the pretext of recharging the battery?
Time and sales have proven that Lexus got the formula right when it introduced the RX 300, as it was first called, in 1998. That gave the company an early leadership in the midsize luxury segment and it added to that refinement as the vehicle became the RX 330 in 2003, and eventually the RX 350 when it went to the present 3.5-liter engine in 2006.
Both the front and rear lights of the RX 350 are molded into the body as a part of the styling with LED tail lights adding another subtle signal of luxury. Up front, the adaptive headlights turn with the vehicle and also adjust height automatically to maximize forward visibility without distracting oncoming drivers. These headlights can make a dramatic difference in the nighttime driving experience, especially when you’re switching from an older car with sandblasted (from road debris) headlight covers.
The keywords that come to mind in describing the RX 350 are luxury, safety, comfort, refinement, and reliability.
Performance is more than adequate, but the Lexus doesn’t have to corner as if it’s on rails, boast about its tuned exhaust, or have great appeal to the tuner market. Nor has it squeezed a third-row seat in back, though that may be an option when the third generation vehicle comes along in a year or two.
Meanwhile, the RX 350 remains a benchmark for the segment with a smooth V6 that’s plenty powerful for the car-based architecture, delivers roughly 20 miles per gallon, and gets you there in as much comfort as you should ever desire. Buyers seeking a greener version can opt for the 400h hybrid version.
Our test vehicle had more than 19,000 miles on it, but other than some winter dirt on the front carpets there were no rattles or signs of wear.
It had a base price of $38,800. Our two favorite options were the $665 package that added multistage heated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, headlight washers, and a $160 towing prep package that added a transmission cooler, heavy-duty alternator, and radiator.
More pricey were the Generation 5 Nav system with Bluetooth, voice-activation, and rear back-up camera ($2,650) and the luxury value package ($2,060) which added leather interior trim, power tilt/telescoping wheel with memory, high-discharge and adaptive headlights, illuminated entry, and one-touch moonroof.
But sometimes what you appreciate most is the fact it will start at the turn of the key – even if you leave the reading light on all night.
Base price/as tested $38,800 / $47,395 Fuel economy 20.3 miles per gallon in Globe testing
THE EARLY LINE
In this case, the early line is actually a late line. The RX 350 is nearing the end of its second generation, but remains relevant and competitive in the midsize luxury SUV segment.
Drivetrain 3.5-liter V6, 5-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive
Seating 5 passengers
Torque 251 lb.-ft.
Overall length 186.2 inches
Wheelbase 106.9 inches
Height 66.1 inches
Width 72.6 inches
Curb weight 4,090 pounds
Nice touch The user-friendly Bluetooth and navigation system.
The mirror adjustments, rear gate, and fuel door release all are located low on the left side of the instrument panel, out of sight for a taller driver.
Watch for The RX 350’s cousin, the Toyota Highlander, has been reintroduced, so look for a third-generation RX in a year or two.
Consider shopping it against Acura MDX, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti Fx35, Land Rover LR3, Nissan Murano, Volvo XC90.