If you’ve ever tried on a Giorgio Armani suit, with its simple, perfect lines, subdued hues and deliberate lack of bling, and thought, “I love it, but I can’t say exactly why,” well, that’s just the point (the French call this ‘je ne sai quoi’).Armani is rich in subtlety and fine craftsmanship; its many, many design details come together to flatter the wearer with subtle perfection rather than screaming “Look at Me!” Armani is luxury that is rich, sublime and stealth.
Lexus might be the Armani of cars: finely crafted, its exterior is built to command the road and combat the wind more than to stand out in traffic; its interior is designed to care for its occupants needs and comforts in an intuitive, “I thought you’d like this” sort of way.
The Bespoke Car
The bespoke, hand tailored approach to car design has influenced the shape of the Lexus RX 350, and it’s become a familiar one: it looks, at a glance, like many other SUVs or crossovers on the road today: its aerodynamics–a tapered front and a back end that slopes down, finished with a spoiler over the back window–has become a very popular design: it works really well, for both aerodynamics and passengers.
Recently I got to spend a week with the RX 350 Sport, a mid-sized five passenger SUV/crossover. In it, I sort of fell into line with all the other Lexuses in town–where I live it seems to be the car of choice–and immediately discovered what all these other drivers know: this car takes very good care of you.
From the moment you’re enveloped in its rich, comfortable leather interior, the RX 350 takes over: the car’s technology is very intuitive (the learning curve was not nearly as mountainous as I thought it might be) it has world class tech, and yet all the car’s key controls are exactly where you’d expect them, allowing you to ignore the tech if you want to (or learn it later if you’re in a hurry, as I always seem to be).
Bespoke Technology, Too
But when you give the Lexus Enform media console a whirl, it’s pretty good: the system is not a touch screen like so many others, but controlled with a mouse on the center console near the gear shift or with buttons on the steering wheel. You can make hands-free calls (speaker quality was great and my phone synced seamlessly every time), and on the screen you’ll find maps, phone, information about the car, climate control. Once you’ve downloaded the Lexus Enform app, you can access a number of apps on the system. Through your phone’s data streaming, you can find local restaurants on Yelp pretty easily, then pop over to Open Table and make a reservation. You can also book movie tickets or search for something on Bing. You can stream music from Pandora or iHeartRadio, and you can check in on Facebook–great for keeping family informed when you’re on the road or knowing where your teen is–if you dare let him drive this car.
Then, the car has everything else you’d expect: USB port in the center console, power charge ports front and back, a heated and cooled seats, blind spot detectors, electric folding mirrors, a sunroof. And, in the tradition of taking care of its passengers with the small thoughtful touches, Lexus added things such as door panels that pop out a bit so you can find things stored inside, a cargo net in the back for groceries or other small things that might roll around the load floor, and a heads up display that projects your speed, and when you change the radio station, the station name or frequency, onto the windshield so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. Very cool.
Another design feature we loved is the cubby carved out underneath the center console: It’s a secure, accessible, convenient place to put your handbag (Yay!). While it’s not a huge space, if you have a small to medium sized bag, it will fit.
Another very cool option is the Res+ phone app. Once the app is downloaded (on to up to four phones), the system is installed on your car and you’ve subscribed to ($60 per year) you can remotely start your car (which starts the climate control!), lock or unlock the car, get the outdoor temperature near your car, locate the car (Mall of America, anyone?) and the system will send you an email if someone tries to steal the car.
Service: The Reason to Consider Lexus?
The Lexus dedication to taking care of its customers extends well beyond the intuitive attributes of their cars. Certainly one of the reasons so many of my neighbors choose the brand is for its service: they love the service department of our local dealer, Lexus of Greenwich. From loaner cars to shuttle service to appointments that accommodate all hours and needs–they are open until 9PM most nights–I have friends who say they’ll never buy anywhere else because they love the service. And, some maintenance services are included in the price of the car, a roadside assistance package is standard, and if your Lexus breaks down more than 100 miles from home, Lexus will pick up your hotel bill.
The “Genius Bar”
I found the technology in the RX 350 pretty easy to learn and use. But frustratingly, I couldn’t find the live map. I found out how to set a destination (very easy) start navigation, locate a POI (point of interest) and even make a dinner reservati
on, but I couldn’t see where I was! I had heard that the Lexus service departments have on-staff ‘geniuses’ (taking a cue from Apple) who are there to help customers better use their four-wheeled devices. So I stopped by–no appointment or call ahead– and Joe Viverios, the technology specialist, came out to the car to show me around the car’s media console and answer my questions. As it turns out, in trying to find the live map I’d given myself a pretty good tour of the system. And, I had to laugh when Joe showed me: the map selector is a button on the console, not an option on the screen. Like so many things about the Lexus, the answer was a simple and intuitive, and at the same time, very advanced. And right where it should be.
What We Loved
Heads up display (a $1,200 option)
Sporty front grille and 19” gunmetal wheels–stealth style!
LED front lights–beautiful
Back up camera
Heated and cooled leather front seats
Hands Free Liftgate
Cargo Net ($59 option and way worth it)
Lexus Enform media console and app suite
Apps on the infotainment system: find a Yelp rated restaurant and make reservations with Open Table!
Electric fold-in mirrors
Blind Spot Monitor–an option that is very worth it ($500)
Keyless entry and starter
Paddle shifters that let you shift through 8 gears (these are standard!)
Side mirrors tilt downward when the car is in reverse
What you Need to Know
18 MPG city/26 Highway (we averaged about 20)
Seating for 5
40 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row seats
Lexus Enform, navigation system, app suite and multimedia display is an option ($2,775)
Base price: $47,000; Price of the model tested here: $53,924
Disclaimer: Lexus provided the RX 350 for our test drive; opinions expressed here are all our own.