“Um-hmm”, I heard from a passer-by stopped behind me.
I was scrunched down on the asphalt, leaning into a low-angle shot.
It seemed a kind of non-committal comment on the car, or maybe it was the colour – a polarizing and eye-catching blue that I was on the fence about myself. But when I turned around, the passer-by had passed on, so I sat there on the ground and considered the 2021 Lexus RX 350.
Lexus likes to maintain that the RX series established the luxury SUV segment in 1998, an argument I’ll cede due to its monocoque originality and acceptance, despite the body-on-frame 1998 Mercedes-Benz ML and earlier lux attempts by the 1966 Jeep Super Wagoneer and evolutions of post-1970 Range Rovers.
After four generations with intermittent facelifts in-between , the current RX has been chiseled to its sharpest level of elegance, sporting the now trademark love-it-or-leave-it Lexus spindle grille flanked by aggressive air intakes and L-shaped LEDs, the whole styling exercise somehow successfully blending jagged edginess with sleek streamlining.
The sharply delineated body lines and protruding nose work did vaguely bring to mind the image of a woman lifting her skirts to ford a stream, but that was probably due to my low angle of view and and the biggish 20-inch wheels raising the RX to a higher posture.
The Lexus RX lineup boasts 16 model and trim choices, starting with RX 350 gas-powered models and RX450h hybrid versions, in regular two-row or extended three-row L layouts, with all models in Canada harnessing all-wheel drive (AWD). Those choices can be bolstered with Executive, Luxury or racier F SPORT configurations.
New for 2021 and tested here in RX 350 form, Lexus is also offering a Black Line Edition mixing sport packaging and added content, blended with blacked-out styling cues.
It starts with those aforementioned 20-inch Black Alloy wheels, along with a darkened grille, black intakes, black side graphics, black mirror caps and a few other blacked-out exterior trim pieces. Premium triple-beam LED headlamp assemblies, fog lamps, outboard dual exhaust ports, and other minimal touches of chrome trim and fender F SPORT badges add a bit of bling to dial back the black. And while this mid-level Black Line Edition packaging removes the heated rear seats and Adaptive Variable Suspension, it does add front and rear performance dampers to enhance the already impressive taut electric steering system and the MacPherson strut front and double wishbone rear suspensions.
Under the hood, a venerable 3.5-litre V6 hooks to an eight-speed automatic sending power to the front wheels for economical cruising, or to all four-wheels on demand. Drivers can select Normal, Eco or Sport modes via a console dial.
Admittedly, there’s none of the eco-conscience-stroking propulsion of the RX 450h hybrid. Rather, the RX 350 powertrain develops 295 hp and 268 lb-ft of torque in old school, non-turbo V6 fashion, making muscle for snappy acceleration and a 1,588 kg (3,500 lb) tow rating while maintaining a reasonable 12.2L/9.0L/100km (city/hwy) fuel economy rating. My real-world results averaged 9.9L/100km (comb).
Crack the driver’s side door and the RX 350 AWD Black Line opens to an F SPORT-styled interior – special scuff plates, drilled pedals, a three-spoke F SPORT heated steering wheel and a unique Black/White Nuluxe seat and interior treatment accented with blue stitching, as well as blue-edged floor mats, also echoing the Grecian Water exterior.
Other features include an LF-A-inspired digital dash, an upgraded 12.3-inch Touch Display infotainment screen, a remote-control touchpad on the console, Lexus Navigation, Enform, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Intelligent Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross Traffic Brake, and more.
Up front, the RX350 has all the comforts and luxuries you’d expect. Ergonomics are good, laid out in techy Lexus style but with enough redundant buttons and knobs to please touchscreen Luddites. A CD player is a bit of a retro surprise and the 12-speaker audio system will blow you away quite handily.
The Nuluxe sport buckets are heated, ventilated and bolstered aggressively enough to have you squirming if your wallet is still stuck in your back pocket. There’s plenty of rack back seat room but have some mercy on your rear seat passengers. The coupe-like floating roof requires a bit of ducking through the door but second row room is do-able with versatile 40/20/40 seating featuring a centre armrest/pass through.
In back, the power lift gate opens to 453 litres of luggage space, expanding to 924 litres with the second row folded. The dual-illuminated cargo area features 12V power, rear subwoofer, rear seat release switches, grocery bag hooks, four tie-down loops, a cargo net contained in a vinyl sleeve, along with owner’s manual and first aid pouches Velcroed to the carpeted side walls. The cargo floor lifts to reveal a temporary spare and hidden storage nook.
I haven’t done enough justice to the RX 350’s content, qualities and abilities, the refinements building year by year on its original ES-based crossover design, the modern technologies and included amenities that can be boosted to further limits through other trim packages ranging in cost from $7,900 – $14,050.
The Black Line Edition ($8,850) package of extras complements the RX 350 nicely with a good mix of sport, comforts and cosmetic add-ons for to suit blacked-out styling fans, although I think I’d opt for Ultra White, the only other available colour with this package, and a stronger contrast to the Black Line cues.
But I shouldn’t forget to touch on the one, and possibly most important, item included in the RX 350. And that’s the “Made in Canada” sticker on the door post, showing that this particular 2021 Lexus RX 350 AWD Black Line Edition, built in September last year, is one of the up to 400 RX models that roll off the assembly line every day, built by our friends and neighbours at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) in Cambridge, Ontario.
So, for mid-size luxury SUV fans looking to buy quality and buy Canadian, this is a pretty good place to start.