2004 Lexus RX 330 – Wheels.ca

26 Sep 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 2004 Lexus RX 330 – Wheels.ca

Lexus RX 330

2004 Lexus RX 330

VANCOUVER- Toyota virtually created the luxury crossover SUV market with the introduction of the Lexus RX 300 in 1998.

Basing the chassis and much of the driveline on that of the Toyota Camry/Lexus ES 300 resulted in a unique car-based SUV that sacrificed ultimate off-road capability in the name of refinement and on-road manners.

It proved to be a successful formula, one that has been duplicated by several manufacturers since, and so Toyota is considerably raising the ante with its 2004 RX 330.

The additional news is that the SUV is coming from Toyota#039;s widely lauded Cambridge facility, which puts its reputation on the line, because for the first time a Lexus model is being built outside Japan.

The 2004 RX 330 builds on the RX 300#039;s original concept, which was to combine the features and driving experience of a luxury sedan with the poor-weather security of all-wheel drive (Toyota insists on calling it full-time 4WD).

That it has light-duty off-road capability is likely of little consequence to most RX buyers, though they#039;ll no doubt appreciate the image and higher seating position anyway.

We drove the RX 330 along rough forest roads that it handled with aplomb (though honestly, even my aging 240 SX could probably have traversed them). Glorious twisty asphalt stretches combined with some sections of rock-strewn logging trails littered with potholes proved that Lexus has found a good compromise between on-road handling and rough-terrain comfort.

In fact, the six-disc in-dash CD changer didn#039;t miss a beat, even when I was playing rally-driver on a dirt road that resembled the in-car footage from Colin McRae#039;s Citro?n WRC car.

The new RX proved to be a willing partner during my back-road shenanigans. The V6 engine has received several technical improvements along with a displacement increase from 3.0 to 3.3 litres. Fuel economy actually improves.

Horsepower moves up 10 to 230 at 5600 rpm, and torque climbs 20 lb-ft to 242, now at a more useable 3600 rpm.

Paired with a new five-speed automatic transmission that offers a wider ratio spread and seamless shifts, Lexus predicts 0-to-96 km/h times of around 7.8 seconds, good for this class of vehicle.

To put that power to the ground, all RX 330s use a new all-wheel drive system that combines three open differentials with electronic traction (TRAC) and vehicle stability control (VSC) to provide optimum power distribution.

Forward motion never proved to be an issue on our hilly test route, and I was unable to deliberately invoke the VSC, even on a loose gravel road surface. Having all four wheels driven all of the time also made the RX#039;s behaviour more predictable than the reactive systems found in some other car-based SUVs.

Inside the RX 330, you#039;ll find the high quality finish that is typical of Lexus vehicles. Bright white-on-black electroluminescent gauges sitting in a trio of overlapping round enclosures greet the driver with three stages of illumination when the ignition is switched on.

Depending on the trim level, the dual zone climate control may be partially incorporated into the navigation system#039;s screen, or lumped into an LCD display that crams two temperature setting displays, fan speed and mode, a fuel economy and outside temperature readout and a clock into one place. At least with the nav system you get a stand-alone digital clock that can be easily glanced at.

The nav system worked pretty well for us, though it did try to direct me up a one-way street on the way back to our hotel.

Missing that turn, it quickly figured out how to get us back on track, and I appreciated that our female-voiced digital guide provided degrees of direction change, from turn right to gentle right or just keep right.

The interior is pretty flexible. Like the comfy front seats, the leather rear seats adjust fore and aft and have an adjustable backrest angle. Their three sections fold individually in a 40-20-40 configuration to expand the enlarged cargo area.

That space can now be more easily accessed by means of a power operated tailgate, and all models provide several lidded storage bins in the floor.

Toys are the name of the game in the RX 330. The front seat#039;s centre console slides back and forth to make room for a handbag or such #8211; a neat piece of engineering since it incorporates rear seat heater vents.

Xenon HID headlights are (surprisingly) optional, and a Tucker-esque swivelling low-beam headlight system is grouped with the height adjustable air suspension that comes in the Sport Package. Those lights will pivot individually, chameleon eye-like, up to 15 degrees as directed by a computer#039;s interpretation of vehicle speed and steering angle inputs.

Upping the technology bar a notch, the RX will offer a performance-biased Hybrid Synergy powertrain option in late 2004.

The system of front and rear electric motors plus V6 engine dramatically increases power and significantly decreases emissions, the carmaker says.

Lexus went through a great deal of trouble to bring interior sound levels down to those of its sedans, but both of my test vehicles exhibited a fair amount of wind noise from the A-pillar/side-view mirror area, along with some tire noise from the standard 17-inch Michelins.

That said, these were both early-production vehicles from Toyota#039;s Kyushu plant. Starting in September, Toyota#039;s Cambridge plant will begin producing up to 60,000 RX#039;s per year. This represents an enormous investment from Toyota, and is a huge vote of confidence in our assembly quality.

Does Lexus have what it takes to stay on top of the market niche that it created? Replacing an already strong seller with an improved vehicle whose price starts at $49,900, some $1,700 less than the former model#039;s MSRP, it#039;d be hard to lose.

Brian Early can be reached at bandb.early @ sympatico.ca.

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