2016 Lexus RX 350, RX 450h - Carolina Finer - First Drive Review

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It's been just 4 years since a refresh of Lexus' "ChiChi" RX Cross-Over Ute.

Last week "Drive...He Said" sampled the new 4th generation  2016 Lexus RX 350 and 450h. The operations base: the sumptuous Umstead Hotel & Spa , nestled in the heavily wooded ravines of Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.

You wouldn't expect the luxury Japanese car maker to mess too much with a proven sales success. Yet, in 17 years since Lexus defined the front-drive mid-size car-based luxury utility vehicle, competitors have chomped the RX crossover's market share in half.

Can the new RX attract more enthusiasts, slightly younger than 55 yr. old median, and Lo-And-Behold: Male customers?

2016 Lexus RX 350, RX 450h - ChiChi Luxury Crossover Version 4.0:

WHAT: Midsize , front-wheel drive/ all-wheel drive (optional), 5-passenger luxury Crossover utility vehicle; AL20 is a re-worked Toyota K platform under-pinning Camry , Avalon, Sienna, Lexus ES ;

Drivertains: (I) transverse 3456 cc 24V, twincam, direct + port injection, VVT-i-W Otto/ Atkinson cycle gasoline V6 = 295 HP/ 267 LB-FT + 8-speed Automatic torque converter Transaxle; (II) powerplant I (Atkinson cycle only) + parallel hybrid Synergy DC fixed magnet electric motor + Continuously Variable Transmission

Chassis: front strut lower control arm / rear double-wishbone suspension. Four-wheel disc brakes, vented front with ABS, ESC, EBD; 18"-inch alloy wheels standard, 20" optional with dealer available colored inserts.

Infotainment: Voice-command Bluetooth;  (Standard) 8" LCD infotainment display w/ rotary dial control; (Optional) GPS Navigation/ with 12.3" joystick remote control LCD infotainment screen

Audio: Standard: 9-speaker, streaming Bluetooth, 2 USB ports; Optional (I) 12 speaker surround sound (II) 15 speaker 835 watt Mark Levinson 5.1 DTS

Standard Features: Cruise control, Keyless & comfort entry; Push-button start, Tilt & telescoping steering wheel; Berber floor mats, 8"-inch LCD Infotainment screen; Driver's + front pax illuminated vanity mirrors; 4.2"-inch Multi-function display; 8-way power front seats; 40/20/40 folding split rear seat backs; Power locks, windows w/ full auto up & down; Power heated side mirrors; First aid kit; Bi-LED headlamps; Variable depth front center cup holder; Driver's right palm rest

Major Options: Power retracting second row seat backs; large Heads-Up-Display; 12-speaker premium or 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio systems; Heated & cooled front seats w/ heated steering wheel; Driver's seat, mirror and steering wheel position memory; Moonroof or panoramic moonroof; Adaptive tri-LED headlamps; Mocha leather; wood trim finishes; Rear seat entertainment with dual 11.6" hi-def LCD screens, HDMI inputs + 120VAC outlet; Gesture tailgate release.

WHEN: On sale: November 1, 2015

WHERE: Lexus dealers, North American market.

HOW MUCH: Price RX350: FWD: $41,900/ AWD: $43,300; RX450h FWD: $52,235/ AWD: $53,635     Option Packages: Premium, Luxury & F-Sport Packages

HOW SAFE: 10 airbags, High tensile steel, Radar-based Pre-Collision braking up to 18 mph, Brake Lock Override, Rear camera; Blind Spot alert; (available): Lane Departure warning, Lane Keep assist, Cross-Traffic alert, all-speed Dynamic Cruise Control, Sway warning fatigue detection; 360° birds-eye Surround View.

HOW EFFICIENT: RX 350: 21 mpg combined; RX 450h: 29 mpg combined;

HOW DIMENSIONALLY DIFFERENT: Now nearly as long as a BMW X5 ; More than an inch > front & rear seat legroom; + 40 pounds thanks to aluminum hood & tailgate.

WHERE MADE: Toyota Cambridge, Ontario, Canada plant

GOES LIKE: Mass barely up, but ponderousness is down. Gas powered RX 350 has ample oomph; efficient Atkinson mode = valve clatter; Transparent 8-speed transmission can drop 2 gears on command; RX 450h hybrid makes smoother transition from electric motor to engine firing; CVT doesn't lunge; Steering is quicker; Road feel still barely-there. Lower spring rates = > excellent compliance for 20"-inch wheels.

F-Sport models with Sport+ mode electronically stiffen dampers with less lean than of old; Stability control cuts out likely understeer early on; Brake pedal response linear, but there's still goodly dive.

FEELS LIKE: Optional Mocha leather merits its own Barista; Contrasted stitching displays attention to detail; Aluminum trim is now real aluminum. Gray sapple wood with aluminum is Rolls Royce rich; Cabin hushed at triple digit speeds; Audio control dials has tumbler click action. Mark Levinson sound-system is "Clarified."

Hard to settle into slightly off-center driver's seat; 12.3" LCD screen is massive; Mouse/ joystick display cursor retained over new touch pad so as not to scare off Senior Set; Automatic setting for 360° Birds-Eye view, displaying intersection during each crawl to a stop = Distracting;

HOW APPlicable: Lexus Enform: Pandora, Stitcher, I-Heart, Open Table, Yelp, Facebook status, Bing Search; Siri Eyes Free

LOOKS: Just when no one thought the EMOTIONAL spindle grille could get more pronounced. Door sculpting is busy. Flat center of tailgate = LX570 SUV; Nissan Murano beat the RX to the 'floating" C-pillar punch.

VALUE: A well contented 2016 Lexus RX 350 will run $50K.  Still $$$$ < than GermansWarranty: 4 yrs/ 50k mi. bumper-to-bumper, 6 yrs./ 70k mi. powertrain

COMPETITORS: (Direct): Lincoln MKX, Audi Q5, Infiniti QX70, (Indirect): BMW X5 , Mercedes GLE, Volvo XC60, GMC Terrain Denali , Cadillac SRX

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