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CPO 2013 Lexus RX 350: Road Trip to Santa Barbara

If there’s one trait I expect our long-term certified pre-owned (CPO) 2013 Lexus RX 350 to have, it’s an affinity for the open road. Lexus has a reputation for building some of the quietest, smoothest-riding vehicles on the market, so it’s hard to imagine that the strong-selling RX 350 wouldn’t measure up.

But it took me a while to test this theory, because all of my early RX trips were low-speed errands around Los Angeles. Work was pretty hectic; I just couldn’t get away.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to chauffeur a couple golfing buddies to Rancho San Marcos, a beautiful Robert Trent Jones Jr. design in the mountains above Santa Barbara. Not that the guys would have had to twist my arm otherwise, but I was especially excited because of the extended RX seat time.

Would the RX live up to its luxury-brand billing? Could it curry the favor of three intrepid golfers before and after playing 36 holes?

I couldn’t wait to find out.

Golfer-Approved Trunk

Before I get to the driving impressions, I need to give Lexus a hearty shout-out for engineering one of the most golfer-friendly trunks in recent memory. Check out the photo; that’s three sideways golf bags on the cargo floor, with room for a fourth and even a fifth on top. Many crossovers these days have thick cargo walls that make sideways golf-bag loading impossible, requiring advanced geometric maneuvering or even a folded-down rear seatback to accommodate three bags. But the RX has space to spare, and that’s something golfers everywhere will appreciate.

Cloudlike Ride

Now for some reflections from the driver’s seat: The greatest compliment I can give the RX 350 is that it tends to make me forget I’m even driving. This rig settles into such a Zen-like state at 75 miles per hour (a typical flow-of-traffic speed on the 101 freeway) that the rest of the world seems to melt away. You can’t hear the engine, the tire roar is muted and there’s little wind noise to speak of. Plus, the ride is so supple and lacking in vibration that it’s not much different from sitting in your driveway. Ordinarily, I’m a fan of taut, sporty vehicles that make you intimately aware of the current road conditions, but as I drove up the coast that morning and then back down to LA in the evening, I was grateful for our rolling isolation chamber.

So does the RX 350 road-trip like a proper Lexus? You bet it does. And my fellow golfers agreed, lavishing praise on the firmly supportive seats, the serene cabin and the ultra-absorbent suspension.

Fuel Economy Report

Here’s the reality in a sizable crossover with all-wheel drive (AWD) and a powerful V6 engine: It’s not easy to hit the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy estimates. Against ratings of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway for our RX 350 AWD, I measured about 19 mpg at the pump when we got back to LA.

Now, in fairness, the 220-mile round trip only accounted for a little more than half of my total driving for that tank. As noted, the rest was around-town stuff, and in a big bopper like the RX, I’m probably only getting 16-17 mpg with all the stop-and-go action, so it’s possible that I got a full 24 mpg on the Santa Barbara leg and that the previous urban driving brought me all the way down. Also, I need more data before I can start drawing definitive conclusions; this was just one tank, and it might end up as an outlier when all’s said and done.

But at least, I’m thinking that you don’t really need AWD in warm climates, so that’s an easy way to save an mpg or two. For fuel-conscious shoppers, the RX 450h gas-electric hybrid would clearly be a better bet, since it’s rated at up to 32 mpg city/28 mpg hwy.

In any case, the CPO 2013 Lexus RX 350 showed its road-trip mettle throughout our jaunt, and I was duly impressed. I’m starting to understand why the RX is a no-brainer purchase for a wide range of folks across the country.

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