Customers for the Lexus RX series have a reason to feel a little confused: Early in 2006, the company began selling the 2007 RX350, while many dealers still had a healthy supply of 2006 RX330s. Add to that the availability of the RX400h, which is the gas-electric hybrid version of the vehicle.
What’s the difference between the RX330 and the RX350? Mainly the engine, as signified by the name: The 2006 RX330 has a 3.3-liter V-6, while the 2007 RX350 has a 3.5-liter V-6. The engine size isn’t that different, but the performance is: The 3.3-liter has 223 horsepower, and the 3.5-liter has 270. Just as impressive, the more powerful engine actually has better fuel mileage: The all-wheel-drive RX330 is EPA-rated at 18 mpg city, 24 mpg on the highway, and the all-wheel-drive RX350 is rated at 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway. Otherwise, in terms of looks and overall utility, the 2007 RX350 isn’t that different from the 2006 RX330, which — truth be told — really isn’t that different from the original RX300 introduced in 1998. That first RX300, loosely based on a Toyota Camry platform, was one of the first premium-label SUVs that defined the burgeoning “crossover” segment — a car that has sort of crossed over into truck territory. The Lexus RX is, and always has been, far more car than truck: Though offered in all-wheel drive, it lacks the tires, low-range gearing and beefed-up underbelly hardware that makes an SUV off-road capable.
If you want to go off-road, or if you want substantial trailer-towing capacity, Lexus and Toyota have other truck-based SUVs that can handle that task. The all-wheel-drive option on the RX350 is a genuine safety factor for slick pavement, but don’t expect it to perform on anything more rugged than a rutted dirt road.
That said, the one minor complaint I have always had about the Lexus RX is a slightly cramped interior, and the 2007 RX350 is still a bit lacking in the elbow-room department. The ’07 model is mostly an evolution on the 2006 model, but one difference is added sound deadening, including a new windshield that reduces the intrusion of outside noise, plus increased sound insulation in the doors and dashboard.
The rest of the RX350’s interior is of typical Lexus quality. This is a five-passenger SUV, and although there is ample room in the rear for two adults, three will be cramped.
Though the RX350 is pretty much loaded in base form, there are lots of options, including Lexus’ fifth-generation navigation system with voice recognition, and an 11-speaker Mark Levinson sound system that replaces the already-impressive eight-speaker system. You can also get the dynamic laser cruise control system, which measures and maintains a set distance from vehicles traveling ahead.
On the road, the RX350 strikes a very appealing balance between a smooth ride and nimble handling, given its weight and center of gravity. There’s a long list of standard safety equipment, including stability control, side and side-curtain air bags, and a driver’s knee air bag, and there’s an option I like a lot: the adaptive front-lighting system, which automatically levels the headlight beams and can turn the beams — independently, left or right — depending on how the vehicle is turning.
The midsize, midlevel luxury SUV market has grown dramatically since the introduction of the original RX300, but having had an early start, the 2007 RX350 remains at the head of the pack. As always, it isn’t cheap, but it remains at the head of this class.
Base price: $38,810.
Price as tested: $45,728.
EPA rating: 19 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway.
Details: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive luxury SUV with a 3.5-liter, 270-horsepower V-6, with a 5-speed automatic transmission