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First Drive: 2010 Lexus RX350 and RX450h

Making it tough or tougher for the competition.

by on Feb.20, 2009

The 2010 RX350 - 3rd generation luxury crossover.

The 2010 RX350 - 3rd generation luxury crossover.

It’s a rare occurrence, but every so often, an automaker introduces something unique and exciting, a product that creates a niche of its own in an otherwise crowded market. Ford’s Model T was one, of course, as was that automaker’s Mustang, which followed decades later. Chrysler hit a home run with its minivans.

In 1998, Lexus weighed in with the all-new RX300, which boasted the functionality of a minivan, the go-anywhere cache of an SUV and the comfortable ride and fuel economy of a sedan-like crossover. Adding the quietness, luxury features and reliability that Lexus was already known for, the RX was an instant success, quickly becoming the Japanese marque’s top-selling product line.

The second-generation RX330, which followed in 2005, delivered more of what customers craved, including an optional gasoline-electric powertrain – making it the world’s first luxury hybrid. Together, the two versions nudged RX sales to an all-time record of more than 100,000 in 2007.

Can Lexus three-peat with the third-generation RX350, and its companion hybrid, the RX450h? The new offerings certainly looked good, when we got our first look at last year’s Los Angeles Auto Show. The 2010 crossover is the most sophisticated and attractive version we’ve yet seen, and as we’ve come to expect from Lexus, it was loaded with an array of upscale and high-tech features, from the all-new, leather and wood-clad interior to the Remote Touch controller, a mouse-like device that easily operates systems such as the Navigation computer and audio.