2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Introduction
Believe it or not, the 2014 Lexus RX is an aspirational vehicle for lots of people, and for no other reason than it is a “Lexus suv.” You can easily imagine one of your friends replying with those exact words if you asked them what kind of car they would drive if they could drive anything, can’t you? Since the RX is the only crossover suv in the Lexus lineup, and is the least expensive Lexus SUV, it is easy to deduce that if they were in a position to buy their dream car, the Lexus RX 350 would be it.
There is merit to this response. While the Lexus RX isn’t the most exciting vehicle to drive, and certainly isn’t one of the better looking examples of the luxury crossover breed, it successfully combines practicality, safety, quality, and dependability with a plush, quiet interior and a measure of genuine style inside and out. Whether or not you find the overall packaging appealing is entirely up to you.
Evidently, many people do, making the Lexus RX the best-selling vehicle in its class, and by a massive margin.
Last year, Lexus restyled the RX to incorporate the brand’s new spindle-style grille, which works better on some Lexus models than others. The RX also gained a new F Sport Package intended to make the SUV a little more exciting to drive, as well as a number of additional mid-life improvements. This year, Lexus adds Siri Eyes Free technology and upgrades the optional Pre-Collision System with a forward collision warning system and a pre-brake feature designed to help reduce vehicle speed in advance of an unavoidable collision. Next year, the 2015 Lexus RX gets an improved Remote Touch controller, a new audio system, a standard reversing camera, a new 19-inch wheel option, and available LED headlights.
The vehicle shown here is not the upgraded 2015 Lexus RX 350. I tested a 2014 model, which is basically the same thing, and which is on sale as Lexus clears lots in advance of an early launch of the 2015 model.
If you decide that the upgrades planned for 2015 aren’t of interest, you can choose from three different flavors of the 2014 Lexus RX. There’s the racy-looking version with the F Sport Package. There’s the fuel-efficient hybrid version called the RX 450h. And there’s the standard RX 350 that everybody buys, and that I just spent a week driving.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
No matter which version of the 2014 Lexus RX you choose, each is decently stocked with standard features, and buyers can increase content levels by purchasing option packages. Prices range from about $40,000 for a basic 2014 Lexus RX 350 with front-wheel drive to about $60,000 for a 2014 Lexus RX 450h with all the extras.
My test vehicle is a loaded-up RX 350 in Nebula Gray Pearl, equipped with a Saddle Tan leather interior, and upgraded with all-wheel drive, a Premium Package, a Navigation Package, heated and ventilated front seats, a rear-seat entertainment system, a Mark Levinson premium surround sound audio system, and Intuitive Parking Assist. The grand total came to $51,885, including a destination charge of $910.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Design
- F Sport model offered in Ultra White paint color
Based on this Lexus model’s popularity, I know that many of you will disagree with me when I say that the 2014 RX 350 is equipped with a face only its mother could love. Since the very first RX arrived in the U.S. nearly 15 years ago I’ve felt this way, and the new spindle-style grille that Lexus added to the RX last year doesn’t help.
Choose the optional Sport Appearance Package or the F Sport version of the RX, and the front styling is different, more dramatic, with greater contrast, lending the SUV greater appeal while also endowing the RX 350 with some sorely needed attitude. Still, even the F Sport model isn’t what one might consider to be good looking.
From the front wheels back, though, any RX is appealing enough, demonstrating design flair in the details and featuring a rakish roofline that helps to give it a sportier and less utilitarian appearance. The standard 18-inch aluminum wheels, seen in the photo above, are a little bit too small though, giving buyers another reason to select the Sport Appearance Package or the F Sport model, each of which includes a set of larger 19-inch wheels.
Inside, the Lexus RX displays the customary quality, clarity, and tasteful execution of patterns and textures that has always characterized models from Toyota’s luxury division, combined with Lexus “L-finesse” styling details such as the S-shaped curve of the dashboard. I particularly liked my test vehicle’s juxtaposition of Saddle Tan leather, black carpets and surfaces, and metallic and wood trim, which taken together created a pleasing blend of traditionalism and modernity.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- No changes for 2014
If you’re going to get into a Lexus RX, you want to grab one of the front seats. They offer a wide range of adjustment, including a perfectly shaped power lumbar feature, and can be optioned with supple premium leather, heating and ventilation, and a power thigh support extension for the driver. Better yet, any place you want to rest an elbow, the RX is softly padded for comfort, and the attractive steering wheel is a genuine pleasure to grip.
If you’re not driving or riding shotgun, you might be disappointed by the Lexus RX’s back seat, especially if you’re a taller adult. The bottom cushion is mounted low and close to the floor, failing to provide the kind of thigh support adults typically require. As a person who is six feet tall and wears jeans with a 33-inch inseam, I sat splay-legged in the RX 350’s back seat, making it a miserable place to spend any amount of time.
Now, if you’re wondering why Lexus designed the rear seat in this fashion, there are two possible explanations. One reason could be that the company simply wanted to make it easier for people to get into and out of the RX. The other could be to ensure that when the 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks are folded down, they lay flat. There is a third potential reason, and that would be that nobody bothered to sit in them during the SUV’s development phase. But I highly doubt that to be the case.
A seating feature that the Lexus lacks is something that many of its competitors offer: a third-row seat. Personally, this omission doesn’t bother me. Unless you’ve got a minivan or a big SUV like a Ford Expedition, I always think its better to just take two cars if you’ve got more than five people to carry. That’s because most third-row seats in SUVs are terribly uncomfortable for adults, and they sit way too close to the rear glass and the back of the vehicle for me to feel comfortable about putting kids into them. If someone plowed into me at an intersection with my daughters sitting just a foot or two from the tailgate, I’d have trouble forgiving myself for their injuries.
Power the Lexus RX 350’s tailgate up, and you’ll find no shortage of cargo space behind the rear seat. Lexus says that despite the RX’s rakish roofline, this SUV provides 40 cubic-feet of trunk room, and that’s with the rear seat in use. Flop those 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks down and the RX holds more than 80 cu.-ft. of your stuff.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Standard Siri Eyes Free technology
- F Sport and Luxury Package models add 115-volt power outlet for rear seat area
Artfully rendered, the 2014 Lexus RX 350’s cabin offers traditional controls for adjusting the stereo, the climate control system, and more. While this approach tends to create a cluttered look, especially in full-featured luxury models, Lexus manages to avoid that impression through creative use of design and materials, as well as adequate spacing between the large and clearly marked buttons and knobs.
Many of the RX model’s infotainment features are accessed through the in-dash screen by operating the standard Remote Touch controller. Designed to work like a computer mouse, the intuitive controller moves a cursor on the display screen. When the driver places the cursor on a desired virtual button and pushes down, he or she selects that menu item. As I’ve noted in past test-drives of the Lexus RX, the Remote Touch controller feels a little sticky and recalcitrant at times, like someone may have spilled a soda on it. Lexus says it has refined the controller’s operation for the 2015 model year.
Once you’re acclimated to the Lexus RX’s control layout and to using the Remote Touch controller and the display screen to access certain features, you’ll have no problem figuring out how this interior works…unless you’ve ordered the rear-seat entertainment system. My test vehicle had one. My kids wanted to watch a movie during a 90-minute trek across metro Los Angeles. My wife put a DVD into the dashboard slot, selected the DVD player using the media menu, chose “Play,” and then, nothing. Apparently, the individual screens needed to be activated using the remote control tucked into the rear center armrest storage console.
I suppose I ought to be more appreciative of the approach Lexus has taken, what with the dual display screens, the dual-source capability of the system, the power outlet and A/V jacks for hooking up a Playstation or Xbox, the wireless headphones, y’know, all the stuff that lets the kids to what they want to do and lets the adults get a moment of peace and quiet. But sometimes, when you stick a DVD disc into the DVD player, and then you hit “Play,” you just want the damn movie to play already.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Pre-Collision System adds a forward collision warning system and pre-brake technology
When you buy a $40,000 luxury vehicle, you expect certain things to be included as standard equipment. A reversing camera isn’t included for the base 2014 Lexus RX, but will be starting with the 2015 model. One thing that is standard for this year’s RX is Safety Connect services including Automatic Collision Notification and an SOS Emergency Assistance button. Lexus offers Safety Connect with one free year of service. Thereafter, a monthly or annual subscription rate applies.
In addition, the 2014 Lexus RX can be optioned with a Blind Spot Monitor and a Dynamic Radar Cruise Control system with a Pre-Collision System. Using a front-mounted radar unit, the Pre-Collision System identifies when a potential impact may occur and readies the braking system to deliver full braking power the moment the driver hits the pedal, while at the same time warning the driver of a threat and cinching the seatbelts tightly against occupants. If the driver fails to respond to the forward collision warning system, the RX will automatically brake in order to reduce speed as much as possible prior to impact in order to prevent injury to the greatest extent possible.
2014 Lexus RX Crash-Test Ratings:
In the event that an accident cannot be avoided, know that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Lexus RX two different ratings depending on whether or not the SUV is equipped with AWD. With the standard front-drive model, the overall rating is 4 stars. With the AWD model, the overall rating is 5 stars. Individual assessment ratings are identical between the two versions of the RX, and the NHTSA offers no explanation as to why the AWD model earns the higher 5-star rating.
In crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Lexus RX gets the best rating of “Good” combined with a “Basic” front crash prevention rating. Note, however, that the IIHS has not assessed the RX in the small overlap frontal-impact test, making it ineligible for a “Top Safety Pick” rating this year.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- No changes for 2014
Tucked beneath a bunch of plastic shrouds designed to hide the unmentionables under the Lexus RX 350’s hood, an appropriately hushed and refined 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine serves up decent power and decent fuel economy. A 6-speed automatic transmission transfers power to the front wheels or, if you opt for the cleverly named All-Weather Drive system, up to half of the engine’s output can be delivered to the rear wheels.
If you choose the RX 350 F Sport, a more sophisticated 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is standard, and it delivers snappier acceleration combined with better fuel economy. Why Lexus doesn’t simply make this transmission standard for all RX 350 models likely has something to do with the letters R, O, and I. So much for relentlessly pursuing perfection.
The EPA says my RX 350 should have returned 21 mpg in combined driving. I got 20.9 mpg, but before you think that’s right in line with official estimates, let me share something with you. Most of my driving was conducted on the highway. That means the RX fell short, like most vehicles do in comparison to EPA ratings.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve decided to upgrade yourself to a Lexus, and you’re trying to decide between the ES 350 sedan and the RX 350 crossover SUV. Unless you really need AWD, or you really need a whole bunch of cargo space, I would recommend the ES 350 for its better ride and handling, its stronger acceleration, and its superior fuel economy.
I know, I know. The RX is cooler because it’s a crossover SUV. But here’s the thing. The engine is charged with motivating more weight, which means the RX is merely quick rather than fast. It also sucks up more gas than the ES 350, and the ride quality is stiffer and choppier than the ES 350’s. Yes, outward visibility is better because you’re sitting up higher, but because of the RX 350’s taller height and shorter wheelbase, the SUV occasionally suffers from side-to-side rocking motions that cause a phenomenon known as “head toss.”
Still want the RX 350 instead of the ES 350? You’re going to want to stick to cities, suburbs, and highways, the environments where most RX owners are going to spend most of their time anyway. Here, the RX proves itself to be quiet, comfortable, and powerful enough to satisfy drivers who pose few dynamic demands on their preferred mode of transportation.
Starting with the V-6 engine, it’s got plenty of horsepower for merging onto freeways and turning left across traffic on suburban boulevards and at city intersections. The transmission shifts smoothly, and the suspension is expertly tuned for urban duty, delivering a plush ride without feeling disconnected from the pavement. The brake pedal also feels good under the driver’s foot, easy to modulate and capable of bringing the RX 350 to a smooth, drama-free stop every time.
Additionally, the steering demonstrates responsiveness when driving around town, effort levels are always just right, and the RX is easy to park. Out on the highway, the steering provides on-center confidence and sure-footed tracking down the narrowest of lanes. Push the SUV a little bit around a freeway ramp or city corner, and the RX even demonstrates a hint of athleticism.
But I’d never call it fun to drive.
Put the RX 350 on a twisty back road, and it quickly loses its composure. The steering isn’t particularly communicative in this environment, making the SUV feel less secure and predictable. I will say, however, that despite repeated abuse during multiple downhill descents, the brakes proved indefatigable.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
The whole time I was driving this 2014 Lexus RX 350, I was thinking that it is engineered to be exactly what Goldilocks might want to drive. It’s not too big, and it’s not too small. It’s not too powerful, yet it’s not underpowered at all. The transmission, the steering, and the brakes are all perfectly agreeable, designed neither to elate nor disappoint a driver, operating unobtrusively and with impressive refinement. And the ride quality, for an SUV, is excellent.
Notice that I qualified that last statement with “for an SUV.” If you’re passing up the surprisingly impressive Lexus ES 350 sedan because you want a crossover SUV, you’re going to experience a harsher and choppier ride in the RX, combined with more body roll and “head toss” than you would ever experience in the ES. Those are the prices to be paid for a higher driving position and a bigger, more flexible trunk.
Well, that, and more frequent stops at the gas station.
2014 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Legendary reliability
- Comfortable front seats
- Refined, high-quality interior
- Roomy cargo space
- Impressive crash-test ratings
- Just-right driving dynamics
- Rear seat comfort
- No fun when the road gets curvy
- Equipped with a face only its mother could love
- Where’s the 8-speed automatic?
Lexus supplied the vehicle for this review
2014 Lexus RX 350 photos by Christian Wardlaw