2006 Lexus RX 330

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2004 Lexus RX 330

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Revamped to keep this upscale sport utility at the top of its game.
Pros:
  • High quality
  • Roomy
  • Plush
  • Fast
Cons:
  • Lazy transmission response
  • Bulky rear appearance
  • Costly options

Lexus wants its new RX 330 to retain top-dog status in the rapidly growing luxury sport-utility market—and thus has made it larger, more powerful, roomier and safer than its RX 300 predecessor.

The RX 300 has been the best-selling Lexus since its first full year of production—and the top-selling model in its market segment.

Pioneer
The RX 300 was introduced in March 1998, with a 3.0-liter V6 as a pioneer "crossover" vehicle because it was a sport utility built on a modified Lexus car platform. The early 2004 RX 330 continues that practice, since it's based on the platform of the Lexus ES 300 sedan, which was redone for 2002.

Sharing of platforms (basic mechanical stuff beneath the body) thus continues as automakers keep regularly introducing new models based on other models to hold down costs.

The RX 330 has tough rivals, which include the Acura MDX, BMW X5 3.0i, new Chrysler Pacifica, Mercedes-Benz M-Class and new Volvo XC90.

Base prices of the RX 330 are slightly lower than its predecessor, at least at introduction time. The front-drive 2004 model costs $35,025. The $36,425 version has all-wheel drive, and it's a simpler, lighter all-wheel-drive system.

There's no low-range gearing for serious off-road treks because the "RX" never was built for such driving.

Larger and Heavier
The wheelbase of the RX 330 has grown 3.9 inches for more room and a better car-like ride. It is 5.9 inches longer, 1.1 inches wider, and its height has grown by nearly half an inch.

Weight has increased about 140 pounds to 3,860 pounds for the front-wheel-drive version and to 4,065 for the all-wheel-drive version. Estimated fuel economy thus isn't terrific, although it's hardly disgraceful: an estimated 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive and 18 mpg and 24 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Lexus says the RX 330 can use 87-octane gasoline, but recommends 91-octane gasoline for the best performance.

The new RX is more rigidly built, but it looks bulkier, especially from the rear, and feels larger and heavier—although external dimensions and weight haven't increased an awful lot.

Car-like Behavior
The RX 330 still drives like a car-based crossover sport-ute. Steering is quick, and the suspension provides a firm-but-supple ride and good handling, particularly with the optional height-adjustable air suspension. Both front- and all-wheel-drive versions have a Vehicle Stability Control system, which helps stability when, for example, snaking through curves.

Standard anti-lock brakes do a good job with their brake-assist feature in emergency stops, and the brake pedal has a reassuring feel.

As indicated by the "330" designation, the new RX V6 has been enlarged from 3.0 liters to 3.3 liters, with ten more horsepower and additional torque. It generates 230 horsepower and strong acceleration both off the line and on the open road.

Lazy Response
Too bad the new 5-speed automatic transmission, which replaces a 4-speed unit, often causes lazy engine response during full-throttle downshifts. It seems as if Lexus doesn't want to ruffle feathers of RX 330 occupants with snappier acceleration during downshifts.

The new RX is well-equipped, but still offers alluring, expensive, stand-alone options and option packages.

Costly Options
For instance, there's an $1,840 rear-seat entertainment system with wireless headphones and a $2,350 navigation system with a rearview camera to let a driver see out-of-view objects when backing up. The $600 Dynamic Laser Cruise Control is a futuristic item that keeps the RX 330 a pre-set distance from vehicles ahead.

The RX 330 almost demands a leather interior, and the $2,145 Premium Package contains that feature, along with a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel and power sunroof. There's also a $3,440 Premium Plus package with such items as a new power rear hatch.

Whole Hog
Want to go whole hog? Then get the $6,770 Navigation System-Mark Levinson package. It includes the Premium Plus package, upscale Mark Levinson audio system and the navigation system with rearview camera. The dashboard navigation screen doubles as the rear-vision monitor when the RX 330 is slipped into reverse gear.

Let's not overlook the $5,445 Performance package, which has a height-adjustable air suspension for a smoother ride and enhanced handling, large 18-inch (versus standard 17-inch) wheels and Adaptive Front Lighting system, which swivels headlights so a driver can see further into a curve.

Shades of the Tucker
The last car to have such a lighting feature for the U.S. market was the ill-fated, well-publicized 1940s Tucker.

Among the best stand-alone options are the 18-inch wheels for better handling. They cost $215 and come with a full-size spare tire (would you really want to bother with a mini-spare if the RX 330 gets a flat?) The $665 multi-stage heated front seats are a blessing on cold mornings—and come with rain-sensing wipers and headlight washers.

The quiet, luxurious interior (especially with leather) has a good number of storage areas. The nicely designed dashboard has large controls and backlit gauges, which should be required for all cars because they easily can be read under a variety of light conditions. Front seats are very supportive, but the middle of the rear seat is too hard for comfort.

Roomy
There is plenty of comfortable room for four tall adults. Space in the rear-seat area is especially impressive, and back seats slide fore and aft a lot. Adjustable rear seatbacks can be folded in 40-20-40 segments so, for example, a surfboard can be put through the trunk pass-through area between two people.

There is no third-row seat because Lexus feels most RX 330 buyers wouldn't order it.

Occupants sit high, but driver vision is hurt by thick rear roof pillars and a rather narrow tailgate window. Oversized door handles facilitate entry, although it calls for a little extra effort to get in—or out.

Reclining rear seatbacks are hard to adjust while seated, but significantly enlarge the roomy cargo area when flipped forward. The power tailgate—also offered as a $400 stand-alone option—is expected to be popular and can be controlled with the standard remote entry system.

Many Safety Features
Among numerous safety items are multi-stage airbags for the driver and front passenger, a new knee airbag for the driver (but not front passenger) and a large new side airbag for the front seats designed to protect the torso, abdomen and pelvis. Side-curtain airbags help provide head protection for front and rear occupants.

A $1,215 Lexus Link emergency and roadside assistance system combines satellite and cellular phone technology to connect RX 330 occupants with Lexus personnel at the press of a button, or automatically in certain emergency situations.

Lexus expects the RX 330 to capture a good chunk of the luxury sport-utility vehicle market, which is expected to hit 580,000 vehicles in 2005. That's up from about only 90,000 when the RX 300 was introduced and from approximately 322,000 units in 2001.

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BB06 - 8/20/2014 1:50:27 PM