It’s a little hard to realize that this is nearly a fifteen year old design now, as it presaged a number of trends (jeweled taillights, the quarter window in front of the door, the ‘riding high’ station wagon dressed as a SUV) that remain popular today. Let’s take a little time to remember this pioneer.
The RX started out as a hybrid of a luxury sedan and SUV, first appearing in the designer’s minds in 1993. The first production model showed up as the Toyota Harrier in 1997 before crossing the Pacific wearing Lexus badges in 1999. Ford and GM were busy hocking SUVs as wagons, but Toyota correctly sensed that what most folks wanted was something that looked truck-ish, but was a car underneath . Unlike AMC, they could afford to do the job properly, rather than jacking up an elderly platform and sticking a Jeep underneath it.
And as usual in this timeframe, they were correct. The model took off, and soon everyone was trying to cash in. One only need to look at the market today vs. 1997: The Ford Explorer is now a CUV based on a platform with Volvo roots, and the competition from GM has also migrated to the same concept. Indeed, it seems like Chrysler is one of the few manufacturers using “traditional,” dedicated SUV platform with the Durango (I would categorize the Journey as a Minivan), though even the new Cherokee has shifted to a Fiat C-segment platform.
As Paul has pointed out, this gem re-invented the car, for better or worse. I myself think it’s for the better, as it really does jibe more effectively with what the majority of buyers expect in a family car than a boulder-hopping SUV that never sees its intended terrain or a minivan that the fashion conscious would cringe at being seen in. The fact that it was built well enough to remain a common sight fifteen years after its debut is just the icing on a very nice cake.