2006 Lexus RX 330

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2004 Lexus RX 330

This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2006.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.75

Bottom Line:

The top-selling mid-size luxury sport utility, the Lexus RX 300, is upgraded in a new, second-generation model for 2004. Called the RX 330 to denote a larger engine with more power, the new model has all the good stuff from the predecessor and adds more room, more luxury and more features.
Pros:
  • Manageable size
  • Lots of fun features
  • More power now
Cons:
  • No third row seat
  • Exterior doesn't look too new
  • Unimpressive manumatic

I can pardon the folks at Lexus if they didn't make the 2004 Lexus RX 330 groundbreaking.

Why should they? The predecessor RX 300 has been a top-selling midsize luxury sport-utility vehicle for years, and even as its end neared, sales remained extremely healthy.

So it was no surprise to me to see the new RX keeping much of the good stuff from the original and adding on to it.

Some exterior changes
Yes, to the casual observer, the RX 330 exterior doesn't look to have changed much, and the overall shape is about the same.

A closer examination shows the 2004 RX is 6.1 inches longer, overall, than its predecessor and has a wheelbase that's 3.9 inches longer.

Surveying the silhouette of the new model, and you'll see the roofline and tailgate are sloped more than before.

Note the RX 330 has no cladding, and while the front end has a modern face, complete with projectile-styled headlights, there's no brutish, garish appearance.

At the back, taillights now have clear covers, which adds a youthful customized touch, and the rear spoiler now is black only and less noticeable.

Luxury interior made better
Inside, the silly pods on top of the dashboard in the RX 300—I think they were for the audio system—are gone in the new RX 330, thank goodness. So are the weird, small triangles of glass that used to be by the windshield pillars.

That soft, supple, aromatic leather that I expect in a Lexus is still there. So are the wonderful luminescent gauges and large-sized buttons and knobs.

I also noticed the RX cupholders are illuminated now.

There's no third seat here, though, as there are in some other midsize SUVs. Lexus officials maintain the five-person maximum in this new SUV. If shoppers need more seats, they say, the Lexus GX 470 is available.

The new RX does have a lengthy list of features—some of them optional. In fact, Lexus officials boast this SUV offers more luxury equipment than can be found on any vehicle in its class. Example: An optional rear-mounted camera on the RX 330 helps drivers see what's behind them as they back out of the driveway or out of a parking space at the grocery. A second example: A three-panel glass sunroof.

Expanded engine
I could tell right away in the test vehicle—an RX 330 with four-wheel drive—that the engine had more pep and power.

The tester moved quickly to merge into 45-mph traffic on a suburban street without fuss. On a highway entrance ramp, I easily got up to highway speed in advance of joining the traffic on the highway.

Yet, when I needed to slow down and travel in residential neighborhoods, the RX 330 obliged and felt comfortable at those speeds, too.

The engine is larger now—going from 3.0 liters to 3.3. In the process, horsepower rose from 220 to 230 and torque went from 222 lb-ft to 242 at 3600 rpm.

All my travel was done in the usual Lexus way—smoothly, without jerks or transmission shifting distractions. The RX has a new, five-speed automatic transmission.

The tranny can be had with an optional sequential shift function, but in the test car, the sequential shifting wasn't as sporty or impressive as I expected.

I did note, though, that despite the higher performance of this new RX—the RX 330 with two- or four-wheel drive zips from zero to 60 mph about a second faster than its predecessor—fuel economy is improved.

In the tester, for example, I averaged 20.7 miles a gallon in combined city and highway driving.

Note the Mercedes-Benz ML350 with V6 puts out 232 horses and 254 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm, while the Acura MDX with V6 generates 265 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque as low as 3500 rpm.

Sportier ride available
Riders will quickly notice the RX 330 is very quiet. I didn't hear wind noise, even at highway speeds. I did hear some road noise on certain surfaces. The test vehicle had the optional, 18-inch tires.

The tester had the optional air suspension system, too, and the ride had a sporty, yet luxury character.

My body felt some vibrations over major road bumps. But the suspension managed the ride over most road surfaces so I never felt jostled or fatigued and the driving sense, overall, was of pretty precise driver control. Obviously, the new, more rigid body of this new RX is evident.

The slightly larger size of the new RX also means there's 1.8 more inches of front legroom and cargo capacity has grown from 75 cubic feet to 84.7.

Still, I noticed the front passenger has to reach around the gearshift lever to turn on and adjust the optional front-seat heater.

This and that
The RX owner's manual is a whopping 600-plus pages.

Water dribbled down on me at the rear tailgate and from the roofline at the driver door of the test vehicle after rainstorms.

Shoppers also should note that at introduction, base manufacturer's suggested retail pricing for both the front- and four-wheel-drive RX 330 were actually a bit lower—by $100 and $500, respectively— than their 2003 RX 300 counterparts. Prices start in the mid-$30,000s.

A bit of history
Introduced early in calendar 1998, the RX 300 was an immediate hit as one of the first luxury SUVs to combine the versatility of a five-passenger SUV with the comfort and ride of a car.

Sales peaked at 89,864 in calendar 2000 and then settled into an average of 75,000 in calendar 2001 and 2002—easily outdistancing the 42,700 average sales of the competing ML-Class during those years, for example.

Even new competitors like the Acura MDX didn't knock the RX off the top of the sales list. MDX sales in 2001 and 2002 averaged 47,000 annually.

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BB01 - 8/1/2014 5:23:36 PM