2003 Lexus RX 300

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2002 Lexus RX 300

This 2002 review is representative of model years 1999 to 2003.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

One of the best upscale, car-like sport-utility vehicles.
Pros:
  • Car-like
  • Very refined
  • Roomy
Cons:
  • Rather fuel thirsty
  • Occasionally jouncy ride
  • Soft brake pedal

The Lexus RX 300 flung open the door for midsize luxury sport-utility vehicles when introduced in March 1998. It did an end run around the rival Mercedes-Benz M-Class because that vehicle was too truck-like.

Lexus says the RX 300 platform is unique, but it's spun off the Lexus ES 300/Toyota Camry sedan platform. And the RX 300 resembles the new Toyota Highlander sport ute under the skin.

The RX 300 has changed little since its debut. The only significant visual changes came for 2001 when it got a revised grille, headlights and taillights. Also that year, the fuel tank was enlarged and Lexus' Vehicle Skid Control stability system and Brake Assist feature were made standard.

Top-Selling Lexus
The RX 300 became the top-selling Lexus model soon after its debut, so why tamper much with a winner? The only thing new about the well-equipped 2002 model are navigation system revisions to enhance convenience and reduce driver distraction.

The RX 300 has a $33,955 base price with front-wheel drive and costs $35,705 with an all-wheel-drive system. That system has no low-range gearing for tough off-road situations. But decent ground clearance and short front/rear overhangs let the all-wheel-drive version go places that would stall a typical sedan.

Potent Engine
The smooth V6 isn't especially large with a 3.0-liter displacement. But it's loaded with overhead camshafts and valves—and has items such as continuously variable valve timing for quick response off the line and good high-speed merging and passing. The engine registers a busy 3000 rpm at 70 mph, but hums contentedly at that speed.

The responsive 4-speed automatic transmission works well with the V6, which produces 80 percent of its torque at only 1600 rpm—not far from engine idle speed.

No Fuel Miser
However, there's a good reason why Lexus enlarged the gasoline tank: fuel economy is just so-so. It's an estimated 19 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway with front-wheel drive and 18 and 22 with all-wheel drive.

After all, although the RX 300 has tidy exterior dimensions, it's pretty heavy with all its luxury and convenience equipment, at 3,715 pounds with front-wheel drive and 3,924 pounds with all-wheel drive. Lexus says 87-octane fuel can be used, but recommends 92-octane gasoline.

The steering is a bit too light at highway speeds, but is quick and precise. The all-independent suspension easily soaks up bumps, although wavy roads cause the ride to become slightly jouncy.

Adroit Handling
The RX 300 handles adroitly during routine driving. And, if a driver is moving too fast for good control, the Vehicle Skid Control system helps keep it going on its intended course by detecting and controlling wheel slide.

The brake pedal is too soft, but stopping distances are short and the Brake Assist feature is valuable during emergency stops.

Handy Size
The RX 300 is the right size for zipping around town, where the light steering is appreciated for quick moves and parking. Occupants sit high and it's fairly easy to get in and out, although narrow doorway bottoms impede entry and exit at the rear. There's decent room for four tall adults, or for five if the third rear occupant is slender.

The backlit gauges on the sweeping dashboard are among the best in the industry. And large controls can be easily reached. Front cupholders are sturdy.

The interior looks upscale, especially with the leather upholstery available as a stand-alone option or as part of an option package. I can't remember seeing an RX 300 without leather.

Front seats offer good side support in curves, and the driver has a substantial raised floor area on which to rest his left foot. Another nifty touch: The transmission lever is on the upper console to free up floor space.

Decent Cargo Area
The cargo area is fairly roomy with the rear seat in its normal position. To enlarge it, the back seat slides nearly five inches fore and aft, and rear seatbacks can be folded forward.

The RX 300 would be above-average even without the Lexus nameplate, which adds to its luster and resale value.

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BB05 - 9/17/2014 11:22:23 PM