- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

The Lexus RX first appeared in the marketplace in 1998 as the RX 300 and was an instant success. It was the first in what is known now as the luxury crossover segment - some say its success actually created that segment.

The second-generation RX 330 arrived in 2003, and the RX 400h hybrid followed in 2005. Then came the third-generation RX 350 in 2006, and now for 2010 we have the all-new RX 350 and RX 450h hybrid. Over its roughly 10-year lifespan, more than 1 million Lexus RX models have been sold worldwide, making it the most successful luxury utility vehicle in a segment that also includes the Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz ML350, BMW X5 and Lincoln MKX.

For the sake of interior comfort, every exterior dimension of the new RX has increased. Instantly recognizable as an RX, the styling is fresh and sleek. The integrated rear spoiler not only lowers the vehicle’s coefficient of drag, but also conceals the rear wiper and houses the AM/FM radio antenna and high-mount stop lamp. A new rear suspension design provides a lower floor, increasing luggage space by 5 percent.

The 2010 Lexus RX 350 teams a revised 3.5-liter V-6 engine with an all-new six-speed automatic transmission. New intake and exhaust manifolds, dual variable valve timing, variable intake runners and electronic throttle control combine to increase horsepower to 275 from 270. Torque output is matched to the six-speed transmission for optimized performance.

The new six-speed transmission replaces the five-speed. It uses high-flow solenoids for quicker shifting response. The torque converter uses a new low-speed lockup damper to enable lockup from second to sixth gears to improve fuel economy.

The new standard electric power steering system contributes to improved agility and steering feel while eliminating the parasitic losses of a hydraulic steering pump for an increase in fuel economy of about 3 percent. A new hill-start assist control temporarily maintains brake pressure to prevent moving backward when the driver moves his or her foot from brake to accelerator pedals.

The 2010 RX 450h introduces an updated version of Lexus Hybrid Drive, featuring a 3.5-liter V-6 Atkinson-cycle engine, lighter electric motors, a smaller and lighter power-control unit and other fuel-saving innovations.

The RX 450h has V-8-like performance with better fuel economy than the average four-cylinder mid-sized sedan. With an EPA-estimated 28-mpg city and 27-mph highway, the 2010 model has 8 percent to 12 percent better fuel economy than its predecessor. All of this while producing 295 total system horsepower, 27 more than the current generation RX 400h.

A new two-step flywheel damper absorbs small torque fluctuations and also the minor vibration produced when the gasoline engine starts and stops. A SNOW mode slows accelerator-pedal response to help reduce the possibility of wheel spin.

Multi-Mode, a feature adapted to the vehicle’s electronically controlled continuously variable transmission, allows the driver to control engine braking for enhanced maneuverability on rough or winding roads. The AI-SHIFT feature, adopted on a hybrid for the first time, selects and holds the optimal range when driving downhill or on inclines, providing a smoother driving experience.

The power-steering pump, water pump and air-conditioning compressor are driven electrically rather than by the engine, reducing parasitic losses.

To enhance fuel economy, a new exhaust heat-recovery system circulates engine coolant through a unit installed in the exhaust pipe behind the catalytic converter. This new feature reduces engine warm-up time, allowing it to stop earlier, more often, and for longer periods, improving both fuel economy and emissions.

New technology features abound in the 2010 Lexus RX. Available is a heads-up display that projects speed, navigation and audio information onto the windshield with high-contrast white figures, which are easier to read than the typical green readouts. A feature called Remote Touch replaces the touch screen with a rotary joy-stick-like device that allows the driver to “feel” graphic buttons as the cursor is moved over them.

The list of available high-tech devices includes a sixth-generation navigation system, integrated audio, climate and Bluetooth display, rear-seat entertainment, remote start, automatic high-beam control, smart key access, rearview backup camera and more.

As before, the RX comes loaded with comfort and convenience features. The 2010 RX 350 is available now with prices starting at $36,800 and topping out, fully loaded, at about $43,000. The RX 450h will be available soon.

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