WAIMEA, Hawaii -- On the Saddle Road, a rumpled ribbon of frayed asphalt climbing the lava-laced pass between towering volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the big island of Hawaii, we're feeling the nuances of a sophisticated ride quality and wallowing in so many luxurious appointments bound into the RX 350, a mid-size luxury crossover utility vehicle from Lexus, the elite spin-up line from Toyota of Japan.
Of course, we're also testing the get-up-and-go attitude of this fancy CUV, and it does not disappoint because Lexus has outfitted the RX with superior power of a strong engine and sophisticated electronic control systems always engaged to keep all four wheels tracking true along the rough and rutted Saddle Road.
Stylists at Lexus have carved a bold new face on the 2013 RX 350 with the low-sloping hood crowned by a pinched grille with chrome fins and low intake valence, plus canted lamp clusters mounted at the top of front corners accented by outlines of LED running lights.
Side panels are chiseled practically sheer to forge four slab doors, although there are crisp high-shouldered cutlines and a graceful inward tilt to the side windows, plus chrome-coated molding underscoring the doors.
The tapered body is distinguished by a low-pitched roofline and muscular flanks flashing chiseled flat-rim wheelwells housing large 18-inch alloy rollers capped by 235/60R18 all-season tires or optional 5-spoke 19-inchers bound by 235/55/VR19 rubber.
RX 350 of 2013 represents the latest treatment for the original Lexus CUV -- the RX 300 -- which landed in America in 1998 as a compact-class 5-door wagon with unibody construction and FWD (front-wheel-drive) orientation plus car-like components which eradicated the driving hassles associated with a truck-based SUV.
In effect, the Lexus design pioneered the concept of a luxurious crossover wagon that functions like a sport utility but drives like a cushy luxury car.
A larger and more powerful edition emerged as the 2004 RX 330, with numerals in the nameplate denoting increased displacement for the engine as expressed in liters. But the 2007 RX scored even more juice -- a 3.5-liter V6 to fashion the nameplate of RX 350.
RX 350 of 2010 expanded the size again and gained even more sophisticated electronic controls, and now the 2013 RX 350 receives a facelift as well as a revamped cockpit and a sporty new trim variation -- RX 350 F Sport.
Motivation stems from Toyota's impressive 2GR-FE aluminum-block 3.5-liter V6 rigged with dual camshafts and dual VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence) to optimize cam timing and maximize power production at all engine speeds.
It delivers 270 hp at 6200 rpm with torque rising to 228 lb-ft at 4700 rpm.
The V6 links to an intelligent 6-speed sequential shift electronic automatic transaxle.
To increase the traction advantage, Lexus adds the option of an AWD (all-wheel-drive) system which sets an electronically controlled coupling in front of the vehicle's rear differential in order to vary torque distribution between front and rear wheels.
On tap to help rein in the two-ton RX are four big disc brakes tied to electronic devices as acronyms in car safety: ECB (electronically controlled brakes), ABS (anti-lock brake system), VSC (vehicle stability control), ETC (electronic traction control), and ECTS-i (electronically controlled throttle system with intelligence).
Lexus wraps the RX 350 cabin in concealed air bags -- up-front inflators for front seats plus seat-mounted side air bags and two more to shield the knees of front riders, then seat-mounted side air bags for second-row seats and curtain-style air bags tucked into headliners above side windows front and back.
A generously scaled unibody structure for the RX creates ample space for passengers in the five-seat cabin and more room for cargo. The compartment is an efficient design and shows improvements in styling and the tone of materials, with comfortable seats and useful instruments plus a load of standard equipment aboard.
New accent options for the cabin list walnut or ebony birds-eye maple wood trim and new saddle leather.
Stock gear on the RX 350 includes front foglamps, LED DRLs, LED brake lamps and side mirrors with integrated LED, keyless ignition/entry, new power liftgate, automatic dual climate controls, steering wheel audio controls, cruise control, a leather-bound power tilting-telescoping steering wheel, 10-way power controls for the two front bucket seats, reclining/sliding fold-down rear seat with 40/20/40 split, organic white LED multi-information display, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth phone connectivity plus an audio system with AM/FM/6xCD/MP3/WMA/USB and nine speakers.
New AWD F Sport edition carries unique styling cues on the body with a sport-tuned suspension and 8-speed electronic automatic transmission. In the cabin seats are clad in black perforated leather with white contrast stitching and pedals are perforated aluminum.
An optional Premium Package brings leather seats, a power glass sunroof, power-folding electrochromic outside mirrors and roof rails. The Luxury Package builds on Premium Package contents by adding power front seat cushion extenders, a heated wood/leather steering wheel, illuminated scuff plates and headlamp washers.
Lexus sets price points for the 2013 RX 350 at $39,310 (FWD) and $40,710 (AWD), while the RX 350 F Sport lists for $47,000.