2004 Lexus RX330
By Keith Burton

The affluent neighborhoods and rolling hills of  suburban San Antonio, Texas were just the right settings for our preview of the new Lexus RX 330, a luxury crossover sport utility vehicle whose previous version, the RX 300 had proven very popular with buyers.

Lexus had invited a passel of journalists to San Antonio for a preview of their stylish new sportwagon. We seemed to fit right into the local scene during our test drives, receiving a few thumbs up from passing motorists. The New RX330 new look is distinctive and sporty.

 The RX330 is Lexus' entry level luxury SUV, and is well-worth a consideration if you are in the market for such a vehicle. The new vehicle builds on many of the strengths of the original RX300, but brings significant improvements.

"The original RX 300 became the template for a new kind of luxury vehicle, one that many competitors are now following," said Denny Clements, Lexus group vice president and general manager. "The RX 330 was designed to surpass its successful predecessor in every way and set a new benchmark in the segment."

Several new features help the RX 330 raise the standard in the entry-luxury SUV segment. Highlight features include: an Adaptive Front lighting System, included in the available sport package, that swivels the headlights independently to improve visibility on curving roads; a power rear liftgate operated by the key remote or an interior switch; an adaptive cruise control system; a rear backup camera that projects an image from behind the vehicle onto the navigation screen when the vehicle is in reverse. More on these features in a moment.

The editorial eye really likes the sleek new look of the RX 330, which has a sweeping, in motion styling that has a lot of appeal to the young at heart. It also has more room than the previous generation  with a 6.1-inch longer body and a wheelbase that is almost four inches longer. Width is also up by 1.1 inches while height has grown by just under half an inch. We also like the size and feel of the seats, which were easy on the backside even after hours of driving. The larger room provides ample space for people and cargo, but there is no third seat option. Cargo room is enhanced by split folding 40-20-40 rear seats and under-floor storage bins.

On the road, a RX330 drives much like a sports sedan than an SUV.  Steering feel is linear with good feedback and the suspension provides a sure-footed feel on the road, however that firm sporting feel can be upset by speed bumps that can cause a sharp jolt to passengers. While the RX330 can be equipped with an all-wheel-drive option, it is not a suspension designed for off-road use. Acceleration is excellent thanks to a larger 3.3-liter V6 engine, which provides increases in horsepower and torque. The engine is backed by a new 5-speed automatic transmission. The results are exemplary performance in class with a 0-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds and class-leading fuel economy of 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway (2WD models). The four-wheel drive model uses a  new traction control system that eliminates the need for viscous control of the center differential. The only downside to the RX330's performance was the slow downshifting skills of the transmission.

The RX330 now comes standard with17-inch wheels and tires. An optional sport package that includes an adjustable-height air suspension system with 18-inch wheels and tires further improves ride and handling, and provides automatic load leveling as well as aiding vehicle access. The air suspension will lower the vehicle automatically to ease entry.

Safety features on the all-new RX are abundant and include a new driver's side knee airbag, multi-stage front airbags, side-curtain airbags and a large new side airbag for the front seats designed to protect the torso, abdomen and pelvis. Anti-lock brakes  and brake assist are also standard, along with a new tire pressure monitoring system and Vehicle Stability Control.

Technology buffs will really like the RX330. The RX will be one of the first U.S. vehicles with AFS. It features swiveling headlamps to help illuminate the driver's path on curves. The RX 330 also offers a unique adaptive laser cruise control system like that on the brand's LS 430 flagship sedan. Also a first is a rear view camera, which appears in the navigation window display when the vehicle is put into reverse. The camera feature comes with the package that includes the in-dash navigation system, which we found very easy to use and much improved over previous versions.

Luxury is everywhere in the interior. Rich woods surround the cabin, the leather seats have a buttery soft feel and the fit and finish is top notch.

A high-performance CD audio system upholds the Lexus tradition of making premium-quality sound standard. RX customers will be able to upgrade to an optional Mark Levinson 11-speaker system with an in-dash 6-disc CD changer. A factory-installed rear DVD entertainment system is also available. We spent several hours sampling both the upgraded sound system and the DVD entertainment system. We can tell you both are excellent and will draw an audience if you leave the doors open.

With all of its improvements, the all-new RX 330 has a base MSRP of $35,025 for the two-wheel drive model, a full $100 less than its predecessor. The four-wheel drive version will carry an MSRP of $36,425, or $500 below current pricing. The delivery, processing and handling fee remains at $575 for both RX models.

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