2007 Lexus RX

The Lexus RX was one of the first sedan-based, luxury utility vehicles, and it remains one the best. This so-called crossover is impressively smooth, comfortable, responsive in all driving situations and flexible when it comes to hauling people or cargo. It’s finished with style and built like the proverbial Swiss watch, and it can be equipped with almost as many high-zoot features as the flagship Lexus LS 460 sedan.

The standard V6 model scoots more quickly than some V8-powered sport-utility vehicles, with reasonable operating costs. The hybrid RX400h is a technical marvel that can run strictly on electric power (yet does not need to be plugged in), and it improves overall fuel economy as much as 30 percent.

The package only gets better for 2007, starting with the renamed RX 350. Its more powerful 270-hp 3.5-liter V6 improves both performance and fuel efficiency compared to the 223-hp 2006 RX 330. The RX 400h, meanwhile, is available for the first time with front-wheel drive, reducing the price for those who aren’t interested in all-wheel drive and increasing fuel economy slightly. To help keep the hybrid model’s price in check, it comes with the same standard equipment as the RX 350. Some features previously included on the base RX 400h are optional on the 2007 model.

With the RX series, Lexus pioneered the crossover-style SUV, based on a unit-body car platform rather than a heavy-duty truck frame. Crossover utility vehicles offer better ride and handling than truck-based SUVs, but they still deliver many of the things buyers want in an SUV: more cargo space than a car, a better view over traffic and a sense of security that accompanies an elevated driving position. To be sure, crossovers like the RX typically don’t offer the big towing capacity or off-road capability of a true truck. Yet an all-wheel-drive RX 350 handles gravel and snow with ease, and it can tow up to 3500 pounds with the optional trailer package.

The RX is as quiet inside as most cars. It’s easy to drive and easier than most SUVs to park, with light steering and responsive brakes. It also offers the latest technology: headlamps that swivel to help the driver see around corners, a rear-mounted camera that displays what’s behind on the dash-mounted navigation screen, a voice-activated hands-free telephone system, cruise control that can adjust for changes in traffic and a giant sunroof. It’s equipped with the latest in passive safety features, including seven airbags.

The RX 400h combines a gasoline-powered V6 with one high-torque electric motor-generator on the front-drive version, and two motors with all-wheel drive. The gas engine can propel the car or recharge the batteries. Most of the time the RX 400h runs on a combination of the V6 and electric motors, but in certain situations it will run strictly on the V6 engine, and in others strictly with the electric motors.

Emissions are extremely low, reducing the impact on the environment to something in the neighborhood of nil. The RX 400h burns about as much gas as a compact car, reducing demand for oil. Yet it drives essentially the same as the RX 350. It accelerates as quickly off the line (which is quite quick), and more quickly at certain speeds. The main difference comes when the RX 400h runs only on the electric motors: when it glides serenely through a parking lot or down a neighborhood street.

In short, the RX 400h delivers the performance of some V8-powered SUVs with the economy of a four-cylinder. There are lots of good reasons to choose it over the standard RX 350, but not economic reasons. The RX 350 is a very efficient vehicle in its own right, and now that Lexus has equipped both variants identically, the $4,000 price premium for the RX 400h pays strictly for the hybrid drivetrain. In the very best case, an RX 400h owner can expect to break even with fuel savings over the typical five-year period of ownership.

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Model Lineup

What’s New for 2007: The Lexus RX 330 becomes the RX 350, thanks to a larger, more powerful engine. Beyond the engine, the standard equipment hasn’t changed. Further, the hybrid-powered RX 400h is offered with front-wheel drive as well as all-wheel drive. The RX 400h now comes standard with the same equipment as the RX 350, except its hybrid gas-electric powertrain. Previously included features such and power tilt steering, moonroof and leather seating are optional.

The 2007 Lexus RX 350 is available with a choice of front-wheel drive ($37,400) or permanent all-wheel drive ($38,800). Both models are powered by new 3.5-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 engine that delivers 270 horsepower through a five-speed automatic transmission.

The RX 400h also offers a choice of front drive ($41,180) and all-wheel drive ($42,580) with Lexus Hybrid Drive technology.

Standard features on all models includes cloth upholstery automatic climate control, a 132-watt AM/FM/cassette stereo with eight-speakers and an in-dash, six-CD changer, cruise control, privacy glass, automatic headlamps, 10-way power adjustment for both front seats, 17-inch aluminum wheels and leather trim for the steering wheel and shift knob.

Options for both the RX 350 and RX 400h: The Premium Package ($1,245) includes leather upholstery, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, a roof rack and power moonroof. The Premium Plus Package ($2,060) adds high-intensity discharge headlamps that turn in the direction of travel and entry lights that illuminate the ground below the doors.

The navigation system ($2,650) has been upgraded for 2007 with Bluetooth and voice command capability and improved graphics, and it includes a rear-view camera that projects an image of what’s behind whenever reverse is engaged. The nav system with Mark Levinson audio ($6,190 for RX 350, $4,130 for RX 400h) adds 240 watts, more speakers with a subwoofer and high-tech digital sound processing. Mark Levinson audio is available as a stand-alone option on the RX 400h ($980).

The giant multi-panel sunroof ($2,840) comes packaged with other features. A heated-seat package ($665) adds rain-sensing wipers and headlight washers. The Tow Prep ($160) package adds a transmission cooler, heavy-duty alternator and larger radiator. Other options include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,740), laser-managed Dynamic Cruise Control ($600), the HID headlamps ($815), and heated front seats ($540). XM Satellite Radio is offered as a dealer-installed option.

The Performance Package ($4,055) is the one option group offered only on the RX 350. It includes all of the items in the Premium Package, plus 18-inch graphite-colored aluminum alloy wheels with wider speed-rated tires, height-adjustable air suspension, sequential-shifting transmission, rain-sensing wipers and a power rear liftgate.

Safety features that come standard include the mandated front airbags, plus a smaller airbag to protect the driver’s knees. Front passengers get side-impact airbags for torso protection, while the curtain-style head protection airbags span both rows and deploy to offer head protection if the vehicle senses the possibility of a rollover. All RXs feature advanced ABS, traction and stability electronics.