I’m participating in Santa Monica’s One Car Challenge, which requires my girlfriend and I to only drive a single car for our daily commutes/errands, and for whatever reason, we chose the Lexus RX Its 2017 350 – the most boring car in the World. I don’t like to drive it, but also you like to drive it. I find myself waging an internal battle every time I get behind the wheel, but in the end when I shut down the car, I always conclude: This thing is legitimately great. It can be final No-nonsense luxury SUV. Here’s what I mean.
Driving a car that doesn’t represent you in at least some way is a miserable experience. I learned this when I bought a 1995 Honda Accord as a winter beater because 1. it was cheap and 2. it had a five speed.
The truth is, there isn’t a single fiber of my being that feels the slightest connection to a 1995 Honda Accord, and even when that pile of crap was gone, driving the thing was never fun. I later bought a much more damaged 1965 Plymouth Valiant, and although it was worse in every way, I enjoyed piloting that car. It felt like ME.
My girlfriend’s 2017 Lexus RX3 50 feels more like a Honda than a Valiant in that I feel zero connection to it. The car does not represent me at all. It’s a device. And yet, unlike the Honda, part of me enjoys driving the RX 350. Why? Because I respect it objectively good it is. Lexus absolutely nailed this car, and that’s a fact that’s impossible to ignore.
It’s hard not to respect the Lexus RX 350
Motor Trend has a metric it uses to evaluate Car of the Year contenders: Target Function Performance. The publication defines this term as answering, “How well does a vehicle do the job its creators intended it to do?” With the Lexus RX 350, the answer is: “Unbelievable.”
This is the internal battle I face when driving this car. It’s DT, the machine that hates to drive this luxury Toyota, and it’s DT the car journalist that rates cars based on their performance of their intended function. I don’t love Lexus, but I respect it. It has exactly what customers like my girlfriend want in a car, to the point where it’s almost perfect.
The engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 295 horsepower and sends it all through an eight-speed automatic. Thanks in part to the engine’s decent torque and the transmission’s short 5.25:1 first gear ratio (the differential ratio is either 3.329 or 2.277; I have a feeling my girlfriend is first), the RX 350 is legit responsible. While so many modern cars have dead-feeling pedals that are set for maximum fuel economy, the RX’s pedal calibration feels dated in a way. You press the car a little GOESwhich is what everyone wants from a no-nonsense car (which is what a Lexus is) — you want the car to do what you tell it to now.
This actually surprised me, because I was expecting the RX to dull any sensation a bit, so that the car would fade into the background as something you barely experience – just a way to get to work or home or wherever. But no, the engine feels surprisingly quick, even if 0-60 happens in just 7.9 seconds, for a Lexus.
The responsive engine and nicely tuned transmission — coupled with an all-wheel drive system and a good traction control system give the car a sense of competence and confidence: it works exactly as you want it to. It’s responsive, it’s fast enough, everything happens as smoothly as you want: It’s what people like my girlfriend want from a motorcycle.
The most important thing about that engine is that it just works. That 3.5-liter V6 is part of a family of engines known to live up to 250,000 miles. Also powering the previous generation Toyota Tacoma (which unfortunately came with a rather harsh six-speed automatic), it’s a nicely designed engine that’s quiet and really shouldn’t require much maintenance. And when it does, like many other parts of this car, it can be repaired with relatively inexpensive components shared with Toyotas.
The interior of the Lexus is beautiful. I think the three-spoke steering wheel is about as perfect a steering wheel design as there is on this earth, all the important parts of the material you touch are soft and well put together, and the user interface is fantastic. The infotainment and climate control switches have plenty of nice physical buttons, the gauge cluster looks clean, and while the automatic shifter isn’t the latest, it works — everyone knows how to use it; put the stick in P to park, put it in D to drive.
The leather seats are comfortable and feel durable – they are heated, cooled and power adjusted with memory function. They are great seats in a great cabin in a car that floats silently like a magic carpet
There’s plenty of room, forward visibility is good, and although the D-pillars create a blind spot, the vehicle has blind spot monitoring and rarely seems to be a problem.
It could be the ultimate no-nonsense luxury SUV
My girlfriend sometimes gets upset when people call her car boring. It seems like an insult to a car that she thinks is so big. Are people saying she’s wrong?
No. She is absolutely right. It’s a great car, and Lexus should be commended for building something that perfectly matches what it and many other consumers are looking for: the ultimate no-nonsense luxury SUV. So is the Lexus RX350. You buy it, you feel comfortable, you are safe, you are safe, you rarely have to worry about major mechanical issues, the seller will give you an excellent service experience (in fact my dear ENTITLED going to the Lexus dealer, which speaks volumes for what Lexus is doing right), and the car simply demonstrates its competence every time you get behind the wheel. It fades into the background and allows you to live a life where cars are not in the foreground.
We car enthusiasts can’t imagine why anyone would want to live such a life, but it’s possible we’re all sick.
To be sure, there are plenty of other cars out there that check the boxes I just mentioned – comfortable, safe, reliable, easy to maintain, relatively luxurious. But the reality is that the average person probably trusts Toyota’s reputation for reliability more than any other brand, and if that person wants luxury, it only makes sense to buy a luxury Toyota. Factor in the experience of the dealers, and it’s no wonder I spotted so many of these RXs here in Santa Monica during a short five-minute drive:
And I’m not the only one preaching about how this boring car is actually good. Autoweek’s review of this generation Lexus RX is titled “2017 Lexus RX350 Review: Best Seller for a Reason.” And Car and Driver writes:
Appreciated in terms of the goals set for this latest redesign, the fourth-generation RX upholds and adds to the virtues that have made this vehicle a perennial strong seller: an elegant interior, consistent comfort, smooth operation, contemporary safety features , the latest infotainment, and now a bolder exterior.
This beige Lexus SUV I’m stuck driving for the next five weeks is boring as hell. It’s not great in handling, its acceleration won’t rip your face off, the styling isn’t exceptional and there really isn’t much to it. SPIRIT. But at his job, he’s legitimately brilliant. And I have to respect that.