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The Lexus RX 330 was redesigned and introduced as an all-new model for 2004. Sleeker, more stylish and more powerful than the best-selling model it replaced, the RX 330 glides into its second season with added luxury.
The Lexus RX set new standards for the modern luxury utility vehicle when it was introduced. The original RX 300 pioneered the crossover style of SUV based on a unibody car platform rather than a heavy-duty truck frame. Crossovers offer improved ride and handling. They offer more cargo room than a car. They also give the driver a better view over the traffic and a sense of security from an elevated driving position.
The original did all of those things, but this new, second-generation RX does them much better. Swift and silent, it rides more quietly than most cars, not to mention other SUVs. It glides over bumpy roads and its airy cabin is luxurious and inviting. While crossover vehicles offer neither the big towing capacity nor the off-road capability of a true truck, the RX 330 handles gravel roads just fine and can tow up to 3500 pounds with the optional trailer package.
The RX is very easy to drive with light steering and excellent brakes. It offers the latest in technology: headlamps that swivel to help the driver see around corners, a rear-mounted camera that displays more of what's behind the car on the dash, a voice-activated hands-free telephone system that wirelessly links to your Bluetooth compatible cell phone, a cruise control system that can adjust for certain changes in traffic, a giant sunroof. Even more important, it's equipped with advanced safety engineering, including seven airbags.
The Lexus RX 330 features zoomy styling. It's sleeker than the RX 300 it replaced. The RX 330's shape is sharply defined by radically raked, body-colored pillars at all four corners of its cabin, with the window frames and posts blacked out to blend in with ovoid side-window opening. The RX 330's raked-back front fascia and headlamps are reminiscent of the Lexus ES 330 sedan.
Despite these car-like cues, however, the RX 330 looks sufficiently brawny for off-highway duty, thanks to its beefy front bumper and pronounced fender flares. Door handles are of the reach-through type, more hand-friendly than the fingertip-grip variety and offering less opportunity to break long fingernails.
A nice feature, something that was not seen in the U.S. since the 1948 Tucker but is now also available on other models, is the Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS), what Preston Tucker would have called steer-able headlights. The system uses an on-board processor that calculates a more optimum angle to illuminate a turn, and swivels the headlamp closest to the turn accordingly, allowing drivers to see around corners better. It comes on all RX 330s with HID headlamps.
A rear view of the RX 330 reveals a visor over the top edge of the rear window, a short radio antenna at the right rear corner of the roof (promising better reception in marginal areas than the also-included imbedded-in-glass type), and clear-lensed tail lamps.
Like the Toyota Highlander, the RX 330 is built on the same platform (with modifications) as the Toyota Camry and Lexus ES 330 sedans.
The RX 330's cabin is luxurious and inviting. The optional leather is soft and slightly bunched, and there are splashes of real wood trim on the doors and center console.
Getting in is easy, with no need to either climb up or duck down. The front seats are positioned off the floor at a comfortable chair height and are snug and supportive. Foldable armrests on both front seats provide additional comfort on longer trips. The center console slides forward and back, allowing room for a purse or whatever else between the front seats.
The instrument panel has three large round gauges trimmed in silver. The center dash area is framed in metallic-looking plastic topped with a pair of air vents. The center stack is dominated by the available seven-inch display. This screen is used for climate control and trip computer functions, as well as displaying the outside temperature and clock (with alarm). It's also used by the optional navigation system and rear-view camera. The camera is automatically activated when the transmission is shifted into reverse. You can't drive backward by watching the screen, but it's very useful for checking for obstacles that are difficult to see from the driver's seat.
Audio controls are at the bottom of the center stack. The radio has big knobs for volume and tuning, that are easy to use. The Lexus premium audio is a 132-watt, eight-speaker system with AM/FM/cassette/CD. The optional Mark Levinson audio system features 11 speakers and 210 watts and an in-dash 6-disc CD changer.
The shifter for the automatic transmission is located on the center dash. This was novel when the RX 300 first appeared, and has been copied since. The shift lever follows a mechanical zigzag pattern to make sure you only move it one gear position at a time. We found it made shifting between reverse, drive, and the lower gears ponderous, particularly when we were in a hurry.
The rear seat is contoured for two, though it has belts for three. There's a folding center armrest with cup holders, storage, and its own wood trim. The rear seats fold forward 40-20-40, the center section providing a long, narrow space for skis, shovels, and fly rods, while still allowing four people to ride in comfort. This is a better solution than the typical 60-40 folding seats, which force one of four passengers to travel in the less-comfortable center-rear seat when carrying the aforementioned long items.
RX 330 bucks the trend by offering no third-row seat. Lexus says buyers wanting more passenger space can buy one of the larger Lexus SUVs, such as the GX or LX.
Folding the rear seats down reveals 84.7 cubic feet of cargo space, more than a BMW X5, Mercedes ML350, or Infiniti FX. The rear seats don't fold completely flat, but they are split 40/20/40 for versatility between passengers and cargo. Cleverly hidden under the cargo floor are compartments for additional storage. The cargo cover automatically retracts when the rear hatch is opened, useful when your arms are full and you don't want to put things down on the wet pavement.
The Lexus RX 330 is notable for its smooth ride. It glides over broken, potholed pavement. Its steering is light and accurate and it feels poised when cornering. Its fully independent suspension helps keep the tires in contact with the pavement for lots of grip.
The 3.3-liter V6 engine is smooth and quite responsive around town. It's rated at 230 horsepower, but more important is its torque, that force that propels you from intersections and up hills. The V6 delivers 242 pound-feet of torque at a relatively low 3600 rpm, giving the engine strong response at all speeds.
The RX 330 also benefits from a five-speed automatic transmission. Its low first gear offers quicker response off the line, useful when you need to merge into traffic from a standing start. The all-wheel drive RX 330 can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds and run a standing-start quarter-mile in 16.0, according to Lexus. Fifth gear, meanwhile, provides lower engine speeds when cruising, which translates into quieter running with less engine noise and better gas mileage. The RX 330 AWD hasan EPA-estimated 18/24 mpg City/Highway rating.
The RX is relatively immune to road noise, there's very little wind noise, even when equipped with a roof rack, a device notorious for loudly battering the passing air. Lexus engineers took the time to aerodynamically shape the RX 330's roof rack for quieter running.
The brakes are smooth and respond with good feel. The brakes feature large discs front and rear and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), which directs braking effort in proportion to weight bias and brake loading for improved control under hard braking. The RX 330 also has advanced four-sensor/four-channel anti-lock brakes (ABS), which can help the driver maintain steering control in an emergency stopping situation. Brake Assist is also provided, which is designed to sense panic braking and to fully apply braking pressure, even if the driver makes the common mistake of relaxing pressure on the brake pedal when the pulsing of the ABS is felt.
The all-wheel-drive system dispenses with the locking center differential and viscous couplings of truck-style 4x4 applications, in favor of a system that uses the ABS to slow any wheel that slips and spins. The system automatically routes power to the wheels with the best grip.
The Performance Package features an air suspension with four driver-selectable settings. The air suspension automatically lowers the RX 330 by 0.3 inches at speeds over 62 mph, to reduce air drag for better handling and fuel economy. Drivers can select a mode that lowers the car by 0.6 inches for better cornering and a smoother ride. Rough roads and unpaved trails requiring greater ground clearance can be accommodated by the High position, which raises the ride height by 1.2 inches at speeds up to 30 mph. An Access mode lowers the RX 330 for easier entry and exit when in Park; the Access mode can be programmed to lower the RX automatically when the ignition is turned off.
The RX 330 provides a smooth ride, a plush and innovative interior, responsive power, and the confidence of optional all-wheel drive in winter weather. It rides like a car but offers a lot more room. The Lexus reputation for quality and reliability and responsive dealers add considerably to its appeal.
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