Modern, sporty and rugged, the unique styling of the RX 300 fits in well in upscale urban settings. Individual round headlamp reflectors are housed under aerodynamic clear covers, while projector-beam foglamps add to the sports appeal. Taillamp lenses designed along a similar theme complement the headlamps. RX 300 is as aerodynamic as it looks with a low 0.36 coefficient of drag, which helps reduce wind noise.
In size, the RX 300 is slightly longer and wider than a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Like a car, it employs a unitbody chassis instead of the inherently heavier body-on-frame design used on most trucks and sport-utilities. Though a few bits come from the Lexus ES 300 sedans, the RX 300 is built on a unique and totally new platform.
A 3.0-liter, all-aluminum V6 delivers 220 horsepower and 222 foot-pounds of torque. It's a sophisticated unit with four cams, 24 valves, continuously variable valve timing, a three-stage variable intake system and a two-way bypass exhaust system. Tuned to deliver good low-rpm torque, it provides brisk launches from standing starts and healthy propulsion up steep hills.
Front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models are available.
The four-wheel-drive system operates full time and requires no action from the driver. It splits engine torque equally between the front and rear wheels on the highway, but when things get slippery a viscous limited-slip center differential directs torque to the wheels with the most traction. An optional limited-slip rear differential aids traction further and enhances control. Lexus developed a completely new four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with an integrated transfer case to work with the system. No low-range gear set is available.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes (ABS) are standard. Front and side airbags are standard along with shoulder belts with pretensioners and force limiters.
Prices for a front-wheel-drive model start at $32,500, while the four-wheel-drive model begins at $33,900. (All prices include $495 destination charge.)
While most sport-utilities require a step up and sports cars require ducking down, the RX300 allows you to slide straight in. Once in, drivers are treated to comfortable seats and a beautiful interior. Ours came in an elegant light beige leather.
We thought the U-shaped piece of wood trim capped by a pair of vents on the center looked a bit odd, but our colleagues disagree, saying it nicely complements the RX300's interior and exterior design.
Regardless, everything works magnificently. All the switchgear operates flawlessly and all controls are positioned exactly as one would expect. One thing that isn't positioned exactly as you'd expect is the shift lever, which is mounted in the center instrument panel. This design frees some floor space between the front seats for small packages, purses or a brace of Big Macs. It also makes it easier to slide to the other side.
Rear seats slide forward and aft to create legroom or increase cargo space. They also recline individually.
Underway, the RX 300 is supremely smooth and whisper quiet, though the little sunroof spoiler generates quite a bit of wind noise when the sunroof is open.