Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Lexus RX 350

Lexus RX 350 Black Edition pairs lots of luxury with a not particularly exhilarating drive

By Jim Bray
February 18, 2021

When looking for a Lexus vehicle – SUV, car, whatever – do you look for luxury and quality construction foremost, before other aspects such as driving dynamics?

If so, you'll probably love the current RX 350 SUV/Crossover. It's been a top seller for years now, one of if not Canada's top selling Lexus model.

(Click on the image to open a slideshow.)

And it's a very nice vehicle, indeed, comfortable and cozy and full of creature comforts. But it ain't no Cayenne or X5, etc. Not that it claims to be.

So, if you care about having a bit of fun with your right foot, this may not be your vehicle. On the other hand, one can't argue its success, nor its excellence.

And for 2021, Lexus has added a supposedly limited-edition Black Edition, which ups the luxury ante via an $8,850 package. That's what Lexus Canada's sample had and, yes, it does give you some nice toys and tools. Here's a list of the package includes:

  • Heated Steering Wheel,
  • Leather Wrapped Shift Knob,
  • Paddle Shifters,
  • Premium Triple Beam LED Headlamps,
  • Auto Leveling Headlamp System,
  • Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross Traffic Brake,
  • Power Tilt & Telescopic Steering Wheel,
  • Apple CarPlay compatibility,
  • Lexus Navigation with Remote – includes Embedded Navigation,
  • Destination Assist (3 yr. trial), Enform Remote (3 yr. trial), Enform Safety Connect (3 yr.
  • trial), Enform Service Connect (10 yr. trial),
  • Android Auto compatibility,
  • Premium LED Rear Combination Lamps,
  • SiriusXM with 3month All Access trial,
  • Three Spoke F SPORT Steering Wheel,
  • Dual Zone Automatic Climate Control,
  • Automatic Air Recirculation Control System,
  • 12.3-inch Touch Display,
  • F SPORT Scuff Plates,
  • Black Exterior Accents,
  • Unique Black/White F Sport Interior with Blue Stitching

Lots of stuff, and some of it is actually quite useful. The heated steering wheel, for example, is great at this time of year (and one might wonder why it isn't standard on a vehicle in this niche). LED headlamps and tail lights are also nice, and even nicer is the rear cross traffic alert stuff (which I would also make standard – hell, if you're putting stuff like lane keeping assist on as standard, why not include something you'll use every time you shift into reverse?)

Ditto for a power/tilt steering wheel, and dual zone automatic climate control. Extras? In a Lexus? C'mon.

Seems odd you'd have to pay more for some basic luxury in a luxury vehicle – and of course one can't only cite Lexus for this (you want extras? Price a Porsche's options list sometime!) – but when you have companies like Mazda (with its exquisite CX-9) offering nearly as much luxury for an all-in price of $53,926 for its Signature edition (as compared with the sample Lexus RX's $65,000 – which can reach $77,096.5 if you buy the long wheelbase model, loaded, while the hybrid model can set you back even more).

And that doesn't even take into account the difference in driving dynamics between "Zoom-Zoom" and "Snooze-Snooze" (guess which is which!).

I guess it depends on your wants and needs and your budget.

Part of my RX angst stems from the fact that I got to spend a week in the Lexus RX 350 followed immediately by the Mazda CX-9. And I know which one I'd choose.

Okay, I'd actually choose neither, since I prefer vehicles that are at least a tad smaller than the models under discussion here, so I'd be more likely to be handing over my after-tax income for a Mazda CX-5 or, maybe (but probably not) the Lexus NX. Though I'd probably buy a car, especially a wagon…

But enough "apples to oranges" comparison for one column. Stay tuned for my soon-to-be-published CX-9 review in this space. Here, the topic of discussion is the Lexus, and it really is a fine, if somewhat boring to drive, vehicle.

Lexus' press release for the 2021 RX line says the Black Edition offers "unique styling and more spirited performance " but I have no idea what they mean by more spirited performance. Oh, the RX' basics are basic goodness: it's all-wheel drive, and powered by a lovely V6 that offers plenty of horsepower (295, and in 2018 its torque rating was 263 lb.‑ft.).

But the driving feel is a bit disappointing because in an earlier life I drove a customer shuttle for a local Lexus dealer. That was a mid-2000's RX 330 and, while it was still steeped in luxury, it was a lot more interesting to drive than this current one.

The power is fine, and the engine is very smooth but, thanks at least in part to an eight-speed automatic that replaced the old six speed they had a few years back, it runs up through the gears as quickly as it can to lower the revs and save gas. At least it has paddle shifters on this version, though they seem to shift more when the vehicle deigns to than when you deign it to. So, the paddles are welcome, but not particularly helpful.

The brakes (four-wheel discs, with the usual assistants), offer good performance and feel, and the steering is actually pretty good in a luxury kind of way. The suspension is independent all around, with struts up front and double wishbones holding its bum secure.

Lexus' sample also "sported" some of the nicest front seats I've experienced recently. They fit my ponderous posterior perfectly, cupped my back really comfortably, and I could drive all day without discomfort. And of course, they're heated and ventilated and offer power adjustment and memory settings for the driver's seat.

Those seats are highlights of a typically Lexus interior that's classy and reeks of quality. The instruments, centre stack, etc., are all laid out well and very efficient, as long as you can avoid the darn touchpad that Lexus inflicts on its customers as a cursor control system. I hate them on computers, too, so maybe it's just me.
You can get around this trackpad thing to a certain extent by using the steering wheel controls and voice recognition, but I still had to use the trackpad at times. I'd recommend you do your "trackpadding" while the vehicle is stopped.

The Black Edition, as with each and every Lexus, is full of state-of-the-art safety features, headlined by Lexus Safety System + 2.0, a suite of nannies that includes the Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, rain-sensing wipers, and a backup camera.

You also get:

  • Front Seat-Mounted Side Airbags, Driver & Passenger Airbag,
  • Driver Knee Airbag,
  • Front Passenger Seat Cushion Airbag,
  • Front and Rear Side Curtain Airbags,
  • Roll-Sensing Front Head/Side Curtain Airbags,
  • PreCollision System with Bicycle and Pedestrian Detection (low light),
  • Automatic High Beam,
  • Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (Full Speed),
  • Lane Tracing Assist,

As one might expect, the audio system rocks – and Lexus even included a CD player, which seems to be the exception these days rather than the rule. No big deal – heck, my car has a six-disc changer and I never use it because I prefer streaming from my phone.

There's a lot of overall goodness with the RX 350, whichever incarnation of it you might choose. Sure, it isn't a particularly exciting vehicle to drive, but not everyone cares about that. And for those who prefer their Lexus to be something that strokes rather than excites, it's just great.

And that's probably why it sells so well.

Copyright 2021 Jim Bray
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