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Lexus RX 350 tops competitors to offer high-end value

Eighteen years ago, Lexus started something big with the first crossover SUV. It continues to wow customers today with some of the strongest sales numbers going. And for good reason.

Lexus engineers plug in a cadre of cool stuff every couple of years, as with last years’ techno advances and curvy design, and sales keep increasing. It’s not a bad formula. The trouble is every other automaker is copying the formula, giving parent company Toyota a constant challenge.

At just over $43,000 base, the RX is in high-end territory but carries a price advantage over most of its rivals, including the Mercedes-Benz GLE Class, Jaguar F Pace, Porsche Macan and Audi SQ5.

Powering the crossover is the standard 295 horsepower V-6 engine mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Together, they deliver a compliant ride with enough oomph to satisfy most drivers. We would stop short of calling the RX sporty, but its elegant looks and trim body keep it energetic and athletic in appearance.

This year’s RX comes in two models, the base RX 350 and hybrid version RX 450h. An available F Sport package of options with upscale structural and cosmetic modifications is available with either model.

Our tester SUV reached 60 mph from a dead stop in a respectable 7.2 seconds, average for its segment. Save a few trim level packages here and there, the 2017 RX is basically a carryover from last year’s major overhaul.

After driving the new RX for a week, we found very little to nit-pick, although our tester’s transmission had trouble searching for the right downshift gear at times and it tended to lurch forward under performance testing. This may have been an anomaly with our prototype tester.

On the highway, the Lexus delivers a smooth ride that glides over most bumps in the road. We noticed very little body roll in turning maneuvers. Steering feedback is improved over last year’s model thanks to new modifications and tweaks to the suspension system that resulted in more ground clearance.

Cabin amenities are bountiful, with posh leather treatment and high-grade materials used throughout. Fit and finish are superior inside and out. The soft and refined RX ride has become the standard bearer in the industry.

Normal, Eco and Sport driving modes are available with appropriate changes to powertrain responsiveness, steering and climate control.

Lexus has raised the safety bar considerably by offering a comprehensive safety and pre-collision system as standard equipment. The suite includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, forward collision warning and mitigation with emergency braking, intelligent high beam headlamps and smartphone-integrated navigation.

In the luxury crossover segment, there is probably no better set of wheels for the money and resale value than the Lexus RX 350.

• Email independent automotive columnist Len Ingrassia at lenscarcorner@ptd.net.

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