I’m partaking in Santa Monica’s “One Car Challenge,” which requires my girlfriend and me to drive only a single car for our daily commuting/errands, and for whatever reason, we chose her 2017 Lexus RX 350 — the most boring car in the world. I don’t like driving it, but I also do like driving it. I find myself facing an internal struggle every time I get behind the wheel, but ultimately when I shut the car off I always conclude: This thing is legitimately excellent. It may be the ultimate no-bullshit luxury SUV. Here’s what I mean.
Driving a car that doesn’t represent you in at least some way is a miserable experience. I learned this when I bought a 1995 Honda Accord as a winter beater because 1. It was cheap and 2. It had a five-speed.
The truth is, there’s not a single fiber of my being that feels even the slightest connection to a 1995 Honda Accord, and even when that pile of crap did run, driving the thing was never fun. I later bought a much junkier 1965 Plymouth Valiant, and though it was worse in every measure way, I loved piloting that machine. It felt like me.
My girlfriend’s 2017 Lexus RX3 50 feels more like the Honda than the Valiant in that I feel zero connection to it. The vehicle doesn’t represent me at all. It’s an appliance. And yet, unlike the with the Honda, part of me does enjoy driving the RX 350. Why? Because I respect how objectively good it is. Lexus absolutely nailed this car, and that’s an impossible fact to ignore.
It’s Hard Not To Respect The Lexus RX 350
Motor Trend has a metric that it uses to evaluate its Car of the Year contenders: Performance of Intended Function. The publication defines this term as answering: “How well does a vehicle do the job its creators intended it to do?” With the Lexus RX 350, the answer is: “Incredibly.”
That’s the internal struggle I face when driving this machine. There’s DT the car-nut who loathes driving this luxury-ified Toyota, and there’s DT the car journalist who evaluates cars based on their performance of intended function. I don’t love the Lexus, but I respect it. It has exactly what customers like my girlfriend want in a car, to a point where it’s almost flawless.
The engine is a 3.5-liter V6 making 295 horsepower and sending it all through an eight-speed automatic. Thanks partly to the engine’s decent low end torque and the transmission’s short 5.25:1 first gear ratio (the differential ratio is either 3.329 or 2.277; I get the feeling that my girlfriend’s is the former), the RX 350 is legitimately responsive. Whereas so many modern cars have dead-feeling pedals that have been set up for maximum fuel economy, the RX’s pedal calibration feels old-school in a way. You press it a bit, and the car goes, which is what everyone wants out of a no-bullshit car (which is what the Lexus is) — you want the car to do what you tell it to now.
This actually surprised me, because I expected the RX to have every sensation dulled just a bit so that the car fades into the background as something you barely even experience — just a way to get to work or home or wherever. But nope, the engine feels surprisingly quick, even if 0-60 only happens in 7.9 seconds, per Lexus.
The responsive engine and beautifully tuned transmission — mated with an all-wheel drive system and a good traction control system give the car a feeling of competence and safety: It works exactly as you want it to. It’s responsive, it’s quick enough, everything happens as smoothly as you want it to: It’s what people like my girlfriend want out of a powertrain.
Most important about that powertrain is that it just works. That 3.5-liter V6 is part of an engine family known for living until well past 250,000 miles. Also powering the previous-generation Toyota Tacoma (which was unfortunately saddled with a pretty rough six-speed automatic), it’s a nicely engineered motor that’s smooth and really shouldn’t require much maintenance. And when it does, like many of the other bits on this car it can be mended with relatively inexpensive components shared with Toyotas.
The Lexus’s interior is nice. I think the three-spoke steering wheel is almost as perfect a steering wheel design as exists on this earth, all the important bits of material you touch are soft and well put together, and the user interface is fantastic. The infotainment and climate control switches have quite a few nice, physical buttons, the gauge cluster looks clean, and while the automatic shifter isn’t the most modern, it works — everyone knows how to use it; you shove the stick into P to park, you shove it into D to drive.
The leather seats are comfortable and feel durable — they’re heated, cooled, and power-adjustable with memory function. They’re excellent seats in an excellent cabin in a car that floats quietly like a magic carpet
There’s a ton of space, visibility out the front is good, and though the D-pillars definitely create a blind spot, the vehicle does have beeping blind spot monitoring, and it rarely seems like an issue.
It May Be The Ultimate No-Bullshit Luxury SUV
My girlfriend sometimes gets upset when people call her car boring. It seems like an insult to a car that she thinks is so great. Are people saying she’s wrong?
No. She’s absolutely right. It’s an excellent car, and Lexus should be commended for building something that perfectly aligns with what she and so many other consumers are looking for: The ultimate no-bullshit luxury SUV. That’s what the Lexus RX350 is. You buy it, you’re comfortable, you’re confident, you’re safe, you rarely have to worry about significant mechanical issues, the dealership will give you a great service experience (my girlfriend actually enjoys going to the Lexus dealer, which says a lot about what Lexus is doing right), and the car just demonstrates its competence every time you’re behind the wheel. It fades into the background, and lets you live a life where cars are not at the forefront.
We car enthusiasts can’t imagine why someone would even want to live such a life, but it’s possible we’re all ill.
To be sure, there are quite a few other cars out there that check the boxes I just mentioned — comfortable, safe, reliable, easy-to-maintain, relatively luxurious. But the reality is that the average person probably trust’s Toyota’s reputation for reliability more than they do any other brand, and if that person wants luxury, it only makes sense to buy a luxurious Toyota. Factor in the dealership experience, and it’s no wonder I spotted so many of these RX’s here in Santa Monica during a short five-minute drive:
And it’s not just me preaching on about how this boring car is actually really good. Autoweek’s review of this generation Lexus RX is titled “2017 Lexus RX350 Review: Best-Seller For A Reason.” And Car and Driver wrote:
Assessed in terms of the goals laid down for this latest redesign, the fourth-generation RX sustains and augments the virtues that have made this vehicle a perennial strong seller: a posh interior, enduring comfort, quiet operation, contemporary safety features, the latest infotainment, and now a bolder exterior.
This beige Lexus SUV that I’m stuck driving for the next five weeks is boring as hell. It’s not amazing at handling, its acceleration won’t tear your face off, the styling is not incredible, and there’s really just not much soul. But at its job, it’s legitimately excellent. And I have to respect that.