(first posted 4/17/2012) My son has made a career out of writing about the car industry, and most of what he’s learned is through his own efforts, but there were a few paternal teaching moments along the way. One sunny late-fall day in 1997, we were walking down the street when we came upon our first-ever Lexus RX 300. I took it in for a minute or two, and then, in the usual fatherly way, imparted words of (hopeful) wisdom and insight: “there, my son, is the future of the car”. True enough, as the CUV segment has been the hottest one since about then, and shows no signs of abating. But despite the broad sweep of my prediction, it still didn’t quite fully encompass the breadth of the RX’s significance.
An automobile that provides that kind of insight doesn’t exactly come along every day, and the RX is no exception. One can argue about what was the first true CUV, but it’s mostly a semantic issue. We’ll look at some candidates below, but as history has shown, the RX300 really was the first CUV as the market has come know and define it. And in so doing, it was perhaps the most revolutionary and influential car of its time, along with its stablemate, the Toyota Prius, which also arrived about the same time. Was this a high point in Toyota’s evolution? Were the Japanese finally no longer copiers, but innovative leaders? And has there been a new car as influential as the RX since?
Yes, passenger-car based all-wheel drive vehicles have been around for a while; it can get pretty messy trying to argue what was the first CUV. The term has been around for some time, and was actually used for the first time in the 1989 in print in this book “The Auto Industry Ahead: Tough Times Demand Change”, and is from a quote from a Chrysler spokesperson discussing the acquisition of AMC/Jeep:
Clearly, he’s referring to the Jeep Cherokee and other small AWD utilities/CUVs, like the Blazer S10 and Ford Bronco II. Many might now call those compact SUVs, but their less-trucky size and demeanor were clearly seen in the market to be crossovers, of some sort.
But let’s stick to the current (and my) modern definition: a taller and unique body with available all-wheel drive but sitting firmly on passenger-car underpinnings, and offering passenger car ride and comfort. That excludes the AMC Eagle, which certainly was a legitimate precursor, but lacked the unique and taller body (by taller, I mean the body itself, not just the ride height).
So who gets the honors? How about this oddball, the 1994 Nissan Rasheen? With styling inspired by the East German Wartburg 353, it falls into the retro “Pike” family, like the Pao and Figaro. But it does meet the criteria, more or less.
If the Rasheen is a bit too esoteric and maybe not tall enough, Toyota can certainly take some pioneering honors in the category with its own RAV4, which also first appeared in 1994. Given its influence and widespread appeal, it certainly launched what was then called the “cute ute” category. But it really wasn’t quite a modern CUV, due to its rather jiggly ride and tight accommodations; more like a somewhat-more-civilized alternative to the then-popular Suzuki Samurai and Sidekick mini-SUVs.
It was rightfully Toyota’s 1997 Japanese-market Harrier (typical weird Japanese ad above) that etched the template for all the genuine CUVs to come: medium-sized, very passenger-car-like accommodations and ride, and enough height to set itself up well above mere “cars”.
The Harrier/RX 300 nailed it, with a very right-sized 180 inches overall length, and highly comfortable cabin for four. And its buttery-smooth drive train and velvety ride instantly set class standards that no one has yet to definitively surpass. The RX didn’t just pioneer in the usual way; it instantly set a lofty standard that had everyone playing catch-up.
And the formula is of course very much intact, except for the usual bloat.
Honda’s best-selling CRV is now exactly the same size as the original RX 300, and the RAV4 is even a couple of inches longer than it. The RX has grown in each of its successive generations, but what else is new. Time for a Lexus RX 250?
The RX’s profound influence wasn’t just felt in the US either; it triggered a global phenomenon. I remember well the first review of it in Germany’s auto motor und sport; they raved about it; every bit as much as the American press. And just like in the US, Europe too quickly adopted the CUV format as the hot new thing. For a Japanese car to do that in Europe was a very significant thing indeed. Frankly, there’s no question that this makes the RX300 the most influential Japanese car in Europe, as well as the rest of the globe. The CUV is a global phenomenon.
The CUV has been defined as a melding of mini-van and SUV. Well, that’s a bit of a stretch, or shrink, as the case may be. Whatever; but what it did do is permanently damage both categories, and hard. Old-school SUVs are getting mighty scarce, and the minivan category has been shrinking too for years; dating right about to the time CUVs started to sell well. Needless to say, anyone with several kids is better served with a mini-van, but tell that to Mommy.
Yes, women love that high seating position. And everything else about it. Now there’s hardly a stigma attached to a man driving a CUV anymore, but let’s face it, the CUV is a female car by nature, and represents another growing phenomenon in modern society: the steady rise of women professionals. Or should I say dominance? And I don’t say that as an angry white man. Women really are the superior sex, and the CUV was made to order for them. So I guess my teaching moment with my son wasn’t quite complete. I should have said: “there, my son, is the future of the world”.
“but let’s face it, the CUV is a female car by nature”
These cars are perfect for those who like minivans, but don’t want to be seen in one. Both the people I know knew who drove these things were women, one of them traded a loaded up T&C minivan on the RX – which I suspect was a pretty common occurrence a few years back.
Personally I think an AWD minivan makes more sense, but I’m a bit out of touch as my family car is an AWD station wagon with a manual transmission….
I still like minivans better, especially the old, boxy Mazda MPV with AWD. To me that was just about the ultimate minivan.
My uncle has a completely loaded ’98 AWD with the chrome wheels and all that which he bought new. Totally weird appearance, but he’s always loved it.
It definitely makes you feel old when a car like this is already considered a “Curbside Classics”.
I have very mixed feelings on this car.
On one hand, I recomended my parents buy one. I think it has classic, slow changing Toyota looks and I figured they could give it to one of my siblings as it got older. It was a 2008 model, and they got it for something like 33 new. My mother loves it; has put 50K miles on it.
But I’ve never driven a car/vehicle I liked less. Inside in junk — leather is ok. steering — my lord. Brakes catch too quickly. Smooth acceleration. And I can’t find a comfortable upright driving position with hand in the right spot.
And it comes does to what sort of driving do you do. For city driving — a nightmare. 5 minutes into DC parking my dad rear ended a pristine mid 90s e class. Ouch. For highway — well, I “borrowed” the car and drove around SW colorado last summer for two weeks and I have to say it worked well. Probably the most fun was doing some sliding of a gravel road.
I cannot say that I have ever been drawn to these. Of course, as a family of five, these were never really big enough to be a real family vehicle. Maybe if I were to drive one, I could understand its charms. I always wondered if someday I would be drawn to try an old, well-kept one. Older ladies are not always going to drive Buicks, you know.
In my area, these were driven by upper income mothers with two young kids. Were these the women who would have driven a TBird or a Riviera in the early 60s? Who knows. But the Bird and Riv would have appealed to their husbands more.
They were never meant to be vehicles for big families; Toyota nailed it right on the head when it designed the RX since most families these days have either less than two kids or no kids. The need for BMWs (Big Mormon Wagons) has lessened every year. That’s why we see so few of them now.
>>In my area, these were driven by upper income mothers with two young kids. Were these the women who would have driven a TBird or a Riviera in the early 60s? Who knows. But the Bird and Riv would have appealed to their husbands more.<<
Bingo. The one person I know who had one of these fit exactly that demographic. I never drove it, so not sure what the driving dynamics were like, but I distinctly recall her mentioning that one of the main criteria for buying was that there was a space between the front seats perfectly sized for a large handbag.
Whatever, although I'm not against them in principle, I would be no more likely to ever consider taking one of these off-road than I would, say, a Mazda Miata.
CUVs remind me of the car salesman’s line from “National Lampoon’s Vacation”: “[T]he Wagon Queen Family Truckster; you think you hate it now, wait ’til you drive it.”
I’ve driven several different CUVs and not yet found one that didn’t make me hate the vehicle. My wife and I even took one on a road trip to South Dakota from Oakland and back. The real moment of revelation was getting out of that miserable CRV at the in-laws’ house White Lake and then immediately taking their Lucerne to the grocery store in Sturgis. One drove with purpose and confidence. Great interior and real storage space. The other was cramped, ineffecient, twitchy, and top-heavy. Miles vanished in the Buick, whereas the CRV was a jarring, unpleasant experience.
I have hope. The automotive world is one of fads and cycles. We’re seeing a spate of larger, very good cars coming onto the market. There’s the new Malibu, Fusion, Buicks, Avalon, 300, MKS, etc. My expectation is that one day people will start reconsidering real cars and realize that they’ve spent the last decade plus compromising and the CUVs will be relegated to teenaged drivers.
I agree with this whole-heartedly. My parents didn’t own an suv until they bought my brother a 98 cherokee 2dr 2wd 5spd (“a 2dr wagon with an old inline 6 with an open diff a standard shift” my dad used to call it).
Point is, we always had vehicles that performed tasks well, and none that didn’t. No jack-of-all-trades. Full size GM Bbody wagons, Lincoln Towncars, a Deville; they all were formal cruisers with highway prowess under 5 passengers plus luggage. Our two dodge 2500 vans, haul 8 people and a racecar and trailer to the track, now replaced for less passengers with a super duty crew cab diesel. Have fun: racecar or Viper. Runabout: Dakota R/T, Sebring convt, 330cic, VW CC.
Nowadays the dealer/marketer hears that and wants your 3 trade-ins to sell you a Cayenne TwinTurbo or a audi Q7 diesel, for two ppl, plus errands, maybe tow your boat.
Or an rx450h to do everything and cease buying a vehicle for one purpose only. Great torque, mpg, ride, craftsmanship, enviro-plus, resale blah blah blah that sounds like well marketed, well engineered RXiPOD.
which incidentally enough, plays low-quality digital audio, low-quality small-screen video, stereo sound (2.1 vs. 7.1), and requires proprietary user interface software and media aquisition (i.e. sales and service).
The best CUV is still an iPOD, which is a jack of some trades, and master of few. Yet everyone wants one because they “fit” and are a fashionable well-made piece of fad that allows for constant convenience/utility but by default shuns true focus and any chance of ever being the best gadget for any task.
Try a Mazda CX-5 with the turbo motor – it may change your mind.
Around the Seattle area, the drivers of these things are usually:
– Blonde women from the upper middle class suburbs of Bellevue or Issaquah.
– Asian women from the same suburbs.
To my wife (who is in her late 20’s) the RX represents “something my mom would drive”.
Ditto for Nashville (where I used to live) and much of suburban LA.
I sold a lot of these when I worked at a Lexus dealer for a few months in 2006. All but one went to women who were at least 45 years old. One went to a gentleman in his 50s who was kind of a tech geek – he bought the hybrid version.
My wife is in her mid 20s and wouldn’t be caught dead in any crossover, or “bitchbox” as they were called at the dealer, and now by her.
Lexus, for folks in her age group, has the same rep as Buick does to baby boomers – nice cars for old folks.
“Bitchbox”. Love the term.
A friend from Lake Oswego (PDX$$) calls it “the navel….everybody has one.”
My wife passes these with disgust when their bovine drivers get in her way.
And your wife’s mom is the one who has the $40k to buy one. Ergo, said car is designed for her. The largest car buying demographic is now 44-64. That is where the bread and butter cars go and that group has the dosh for a nice ride. A 50 year buying an RX330 couldn’t care less about g forces or 0-60. It’s all about comfort, easy driving and style.
In our case, money isn’t the issue. The wife can have a $40k car if she wants it, but it would be far more likely to be a loaded up Mustang GT convertible, or a Cadillac CTS wagon if we had kids.
Great, then don’t buy one. But loads of people do, it is the largest selling Lexus by a good amount and smokes the CTS wagon by a huge margin.
In the car business, it is about making money. Any car company would love to have a product that sells as well as the RX.
Not sure why you’re being confrontational about it. All I am saying is that trends come and go. We all remember when station wagons got a stigma when minivans got popular. Then the minivan got a stigma when the SUVs got popular. Then the traditional SUV got a stigma when CUVs got popular. Eventually crossovers will suffer the same fate as the trend moves on and they’re viewed as “old folks’ cars.”
I do wonder what the next trendy mommy mobile will be. One would think there are only so many ways to skin the cat!
Anyway, this site is about appreciating the history of cars, and I will wholeheartedly agree with Paul that this car basically created the luxury crossover market. Let’s save the arguments for TTAC, so I can successfully ignore them. 🙂
Canucknucklehead, You are spot on correct. My parents buy a new RX AWD about every 3 years. It’s all about comfort, quality, safety, retaining value AND customer service for them. Cadillac nor any other domestic would even be on their radar for those reasons. To be fair, I don’t think my parents are on the company’s radar either.
And being concern with whatever image a car gives?? Ha!
My wife and I could easily afford the Toyota version of the RX, brand new. We have zero desire to buy one and would rather enjoy her new Mini and my BMW, both of which were paid for in cash.
Enjoy the run-flats on the B-enema.
My wife (30) calls it a rich Bxxch car….
Around here (Boston Suburb) you see the upper middle class mothers with kids already at BU or BC or MIT driving these, always gold…hmmm
Sorry, but your definition is too narrow, demanding the higher roofed body. The AMC Eagle is the definite precursor to the CUV, the first car-based utility vehicle.
Syke, you have a good point.
The U shouldn’t be any part of a descriptor for these. MPV fits better. There’s as much “Utility” built into a modified Hornet as there is in a modified Camry.
No. The AMC Eagle is the exact inverse of a modern CUV.
Eagle = Car body with a Utility chassis underneath. CUV = Utility body on top of a car platform.
Admittedly there is a bit of a gray area where modern platforms are upfitted for off-road use, such as the modern Jeep Cherokee. But for the most part, the AMC Eagle was a complete dead-end in automotive evolution.
(It always feels funny replying to a 3 year old post, but who knows, they will probably rerun this again in 2018, and maybe someone will read it.)
Sorry I’m late.
Think I have to side with syke on the eagle. Funny thing though. I think I like them and find them practical. Drove a Saturn vue and loved it when it ran. Seemed like exactly the right car. This car would fit well in my driveway.
my sister-in-law has owned a 1999 model since new. before that she had an aerostar. i had the pleasure of borrowing it in colorado and driving it through the rockies. on the one hand, it was comfy and screwed together very well. on the other hand it was a gutless wonder and sounded like a buzz bomb every time i had to go up a mountain pass. i was shocked out how underpowered it felt compared to my own 197hp volvo v70xc of the same vintage. there must have been a better drivetrain option that she didn’t get. the damn thing didn’t even have awd.
Ahhh, how gear heads love to hate cars like the RX300 and 330. They don’t have the proper g-force thingy and they 0-60 isn’t under 6 seconds and the steering lacks feel. Oh and the RX doesn’t have 400 horsepower.
Yet Toyota sells loads of them and makes tons of profit on each one. There is a fundamental disconnect here, ladies and germs. Not everybody is looking for the same thing from a car but there is a huge section of the market that basically is: they want a comfortable, reliable vehicle that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The RX is really just a nice Camry with a nice interior. At $45k starting it must be ridiculously profitable for Toyota, since it is very closely related Highlander which starts at $31k and goes all the way to $45k.
Would I buy one? No, I would not, it is not the kind of thing that appeals to me. Would I recommend one? Yes, for certain I would, especially used, as a used one would be a good car and save lots of money.
Most of us who follow CC are not the target demographic for an RX or a minivan….
not trying to start a fight….but you seem to be defending these turds like you have a large chip on your shoulder about people not liking them…
Minivans are much more practical than crossovers, especially minivans with AWD. Crossovers are sort of a bad compromise between an SUV and a minivan. Given the choice, I’d rather drive a minivan than a crossover.
Don’t know why he’s defending crossovers so vehemently, either.
crossovers are better cars than cars are, now days. A little more cargo, a little more ground clearance, and some moderate towing make it a better car, like cars used to be before they were three inches off the ground and could not hold more then three suit cases. Bring on the CUV.
There is no way that a CUV like an RX or it’s Toyota sister the Highlander have more cargo space than an equivalent Camry Wagon. We own a Camry Wagon and the rear cargo space is huge compared to my brother’s Highlander. It doesn’t matter if the rear seat is up or down.
I don’t see it as criticism of Toyota for selling the RX so much as commenting on how much it represents an era in automotive history. As we had the brougham era, so too did we have the (near) luxury SUV/CUV era. They were the go-to for people with the money to spend and a desire for a certain packaging.
I was stationed in the LA area around the time the subject vehicle was rolling off the lot and it seemed like they were everywhere, especially as one rolled down to Orange County or up toward Calabasas. I started to suspect they were being issued to people or given away with grocery store stamps.
No one is arguing that Toyota has minted money on these. Any car company would be foolish to leave such hefty profits on the table in favor of selling a car they felt was a better vehicle. Heck, one could make a strong argument that the great success of the Escape kept Ford alive.
The RX captured a huge market here in SoCal; from unscientific observation it is overwhelmingly female over a wide range of age. My cousin is on her the second, the first being a copy of the one in the photo, the second a fully loaded red 2011 (three female friends bought the same vehicle that year in blue, gold, and red respectively). After years of Mercedes E-class sedans, she finally got a car that was fully reliable, and the dealership sent flowers rather than tow trucks.
The newer models have more power, smaller turning circles and hopefully more reliable gadgetry. From the experiences of friends and relatives, Lexuses run perfectly for years and then the electricals tend to go all at once. Dealerships recommend you trade in before the age limit on resale as a Certified is up. The RX provides a hushed, luxe ride, a certain image, and is practical for both a Costco run and dinner at a fine restaurant. One of Toyota’s greatest success stories.
Agree, these things are everywhere here in Socal. They are the ultimate “nice Mom car” — in my observations bought by (or for) women whose children are already of driving age and don’t need to be chauffeured around. Most I know who have them came out of big traditional SUVs or three-row CUVs/minivans.
The most random RX buyer I know is a college buddy (he’s 26, single and lives by the beach) who purchased one to replace his aging mid-90s Ford Explorer. We work in the same building, and one day he showed up with a slightly-used Lexus RX330 in Blanche Devereaux Gold. I assumed he inherited the RX from his mom or another family member as it just doesn’t “fit” him. Come to find out he actually chose and bought it himself. At that moment I knew he was not a car enthusiast.
“They are the ultimate “nice Mom car” — in my observations bought by (or for) women whose children are already of driving age and don’t need to be chauffeured around. Most I know who have them came out of big traditional SUVs or three-row CUVs/minivans.”
Here is where we see Toyota’s firm understanding of the market for this car – which is wider than we think. Of the four 2011 RX’s I mention above, not one of the women is or has ever been a “Mom” and only two had ever owned an SUV or minivan before – the other two only sedans, coupes, or convertibles.
I remember when my cousin purchased her first one – the 2003 – and we went to lunch at a swank restaurant in Newport Beach – there were four identical models in the same pearlescent white parked together in a row that we joined. I know this is exactly the kind of car/attitude Carmine laments below but it does make money for the company. The RX here in SoCal today is as ubiquitous as the VW bug in the 1960’s and once the Hybrid version was thrown into the mix, you could feel smug/politically correct driving one.
Your friend is so not the demographic for this car, I can easily understand your initial assumption.
And what a sad sad world it is……somebody stop, I want to get off.
It probably says more about me than about the RX300 that cars like that are essentially invisible to me except when they’re ahead of me on the road. I simply do not care about them at all.
In my neighborhood of Redmond, WA these things literally disappear into the background because they are so common. Always piloted by a female as noted. If you want to go completely unnoticed (and I mean that quite literally, they won’t even look up from their in-car computer screen) by the local po-po around here, drive one of these.
And I had no idea that the latest CR-V has put on so much bloat, not to mention the Crosstour front end. It’s simply amazing to me how badly Honda has lost their way . . . (said by somebody who has owned nine Hondas)
That Rasheen is quite the odd duck. 4wd? Not that it would mean much, since JDM vehicles are offered in 4wd much more often than exports.
Off-topic: WHY do JDM cars get 4wd when we don’t? IIRC, there was a 4wd Camry wagon until very recently!
Every single JDM car seeme to have a 4WD or turbo diesel option and all Toyotas had a 4WD option JDM
Everything awful about the minivan and SUV rolled into one crummy
The only time I notice these on the road is when I’m in traffic and can’t see over or around them when I’m trying to switch lanes. Or I’m getting tailgated by one. Hmm, I guess I do notice these RXs(and followers) all the time in the Chicago area then. It’s just never because of their merits.
Pretty crummy package, eh? But one that sells in droves and makes Toyota loads of money.
They must be doing something wrong.
So did personal luxury cars from the Brougham era. I didn’t realize those too must be highly regarded because GM and Ford sold them in droves?
Actually, a Delta 88 Royale Brougham with FE3 was a darned nice car in its day and made loads of money for GM. I have never driven anything in that price class that was better in its day.
So, yes, this particular Brougham is quite highly regarded my me and the couple of million people who plunked down the equivalent of $35k to buy one, circa 1983.
The Delta 88 didn’t sell “a couple million” in 1983, and what percentage of total production had the FE3 option?
Justin Beiber sells in droves and makes himself tons of money. So does Kardash*t. Enough said.
1998 Lexus RX300
L/W/H: 180.1 in, 71.5 in, 65.7 in. Wheelbase: 103.1 in. Curb weight: 3715 lb
1946 Willys Jeep Station Wagon
L/W/H: 176.25 in, 71.75 in, 74 in. Wheelbase 104.5 in. Curb weight: 3206 lb
And the Willys has umpteen airbags, ABS, navigation system, leather interior, power windows, keyless entry and a five star crash rating, too. We really haven’t come very far, have we!
Nor does any other 1946 car have airbags, ABS, etc. The point is, the exact size, shape and utility of the RX300 was available fifty years earlier.
http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1945-1952-jeep5.htm tells us this Jeep had an all-steel body and independent front suspension, seated seven and was the cheapest wagon on the market.
It goes on: “A luxury version of the Jeep was added for 1948. Known as the Station Sedan, it was finished better than the Wagon both inside and out, though the same body shell was used. Solid body colors were featured in lieu of the Wagon two-tone paneled effect, and basket-weave trim was added along the sides.”
Why popular now, but not so much then? I think it’s an interesting question. I’ll offer one answer: power steering, power brakes, automatic transmission. Those became available by the 1960s, in the much bigger Wagoneer.
Good points, Mike. Paul a piece a while back stating the ideal family sedan had a 108″ wheelbase and was 180″ long. It was only then I realised my TL fit that metric perfectly…
I think the 1985 Honda Civic AWD wagon also meets your criteria for CUV.
Mostly, although the 4WD version wasn’t available at first.
Although the downfall of the Honda Civic Wagon/Shuttle and the Mitsubishi Colt Vista (inter alia) was that they weren’t marketed as distinct products and a distinct type of product. A lot of the success of CUVs like the RX/Harrier is that they’re generally pretty clearly differentiated from the sedans on which they’re based. As much as the first Harrier shared with the U.S.-market Camry, the relationship is not at all obvious, to the degree that if you pointed it out to non-car people, they might actually argue with you about it.
Love it or hate it – Lexus sure knew what its target market wanted. The RX was never intended to appeal to enthusiasts, but rather those seeking a smooth ride, soft seats, a luxurious interior, and excellent reliability.
“Gee, I couldn’t find any REAL classic cars around Eugene today… so, let’s do an article on the Lexus RX300! Think anybody will notice that it’s NOT a classic car? Nah…”
If you only knew…I have many hundreds of vintage cars shot, awaiting their day here. But I’m interested in the whole spectrum, and like it or not, the RX 300 is one of the most influential designs ever. As I’ve said from day one: CC is not just about vintage cars. I like to mix them up.
I really appreciate the CC philosophy; it encourages different generations of the car crazed to share their perspectives about cars that may or may not have been around when they were growing up (or may be regarded differently today than back when – my friend and I both considered his 57 Chevy convertible pretty much just another used car in 1970).
I drive this daily, mine is 2000 model FWD bought used for $3400 with 163k miles and babied by two prior owners. Bought it early in 2020 and drove a 2001 accord previously. The V6 in this is all I need, it’s even got decent off-road capability tho granted it’s no jeep. I bought this on specs and analysis only. It was a $40k when it came out and mine has a good deal of life left in it yet. I only realized people like to paint it feminine after I signed but it’s nice, I can’t tell you how many times I was sure I had too much cargo to fit and was wrong all the way. A good wax keeps my year looking great
crossovers are better cars than cars are, now days. A little more cargo, a little more ground clearance, and some moderate towing make it a better car, like cars used to be before they were three inches off the ground and could not hold more then three suit cases. Bring on the CUV.
Wholeheartedly agree! Like Syke though I’m not 100% on-board with the definition criteria – surely the Eagle, Subaru Outback & Volvo XC70 are crossovers despite not having unique bodies? Maybe a sub-category?
The fun-to-drive factor is a function of proper design & engineering – when a Camry drives like ‘blah’ who can be surprised when a CUV variant is no better? I had a Ford Territory rental and took it on a renowned drivers road near Sydney (Bells Line of Road over the Blue Mountains) and it was excellent. It actually out-handled several conventional passenger cars in an active safety test a local magazine did a few years ago.
Great piece of road a fast trip on that convinced me to keep the cheap VH Commodore I bought in Windsor with gas struts and shocks it ate the road to Lithgow and back.
Better? Well, they’re slower, handle worse, and get around 18 mpg. (http://www.fuelly.com/car/lexus/rx300) Also more likely to flip over in an accident than a four door sedan. But you can sit up high and block everyone else’s view! I guess it just depends on your priorities.
I’ll be the outlier here and take a silver 450h with black interior.
Bought a 5 yr old RX300 7 yrs ago. It is near-perfect for what I wanted – 700 miles between breakfast and bed without arriving completely fried. Smooth, comfortable, and quiet.
The later model RXs have a much jouncier ride. When I take mine in for service and get a day-loaner, it feels like I’m driving a leather clad Jeep. I imagine the “entry-level Lexus” was stealing too much market from the more expensive models, so they deliberately made it less comfortable.
The problem I have with these is that they have eliminated choice. To cater to the off-road fantasies of the buying public, the automakers have eliminated the choice of a car that is safer, can carry more and would get better mileage on-road.
Subaru, is the most egregious example. The only difference between an Outback and a Legacy Wagon is the tires, struts, springs and maybe lower control arms. They still build Legacy Wagons for other markets. If they kept selling them here, every one sold would be an incremental sale above and beyond the Outback market.
I’m sure their marketing department says, offer only the Outback and every Legacy buyer will buy one, but I don’t think that is true for 100% of them. I believe a significant share of that group will shop another brand.
Today, that is hard because few automakers are offering real station wagons, but I’ll never buy an SUV or CUV because they cannot fit my needs.
I own a Subaru 2.5 GT wagon, the one that’s slammed to the ground with the fat tires that corners amazingly, amazingly well (I used to drive Honda Preludes).
The Lexus RX is what Buick was when Buick was relevant outside of China: it’s the doctors’ car. I went to a party at a doctor’s house. Lexus RXs outnumbered all the other cars parked outside combined. They’re the perfect cars for people that have to get to work every time and want to do so in luxury.
I live in a reasonably affluent area, and the CUV has become the defacto mid-size (Toyota Highlander) to large car (Buick Enclave). In many parking lots, or just waiting at a busy intersection, the number of “cars” Camry, Fusion, etc., is probably as low as 20%.
CUVs are simply more comfortable for the average person and offer sufficient space for average person activities – a run to Costco or a weekend get away, without being ridiculously big for daily commuting. Many play second fiddle in a household that also has a Suburban or F-150 (the modern Country Squire / Olds Custom Cruiser and LTD / Olds Ninety-Eight sedan) that gets used for the big family excursions or towing duties.
The architecture of the CUV is probably similar to cars of the 1930’s to early 1950’s, where vehicle height made for upright seating positions and better space utilization. Today’s cars such as the Camry (although this is changing a bit with each successive generation) are still miniaturized versions of the “longer, lower, wider” car architecture of the late 1950’s through the mid 1970’s. While the Camry, Fusion, Impala, Passat, etc. are just roomy enough to be passible for commuting and light family use, going down one size in a car leaves you pretty cramped and possibly with a useless backseat.
The CUV is a return to architecture that fits the human body pretty well without resorting to the bus like proportions of a large minivan or the brutal size of a Suburban.
If Paul called it in the fall of 1997, he nailed it early before the SUV took its massive sales fall in the mid / late 2000’s.
It depends on the specific vehicle of course, but I don’t those generalizations are all that true anymore. CUVs have higher seating positions but they are not necessarily more upright or roomier. I recently had a Kia Sorento as a loaner, supposedly a mid-size, and I couldn’t get my 3 car seats strapped in across the back. Also, many have such droopy back ends they have no more usable cargo space than a sedan.
CUVs do give you a more commanding view and are also a lot easier to get kids in and out their car seats since you don’t have to bend over as far. But for less money a minivan gives you even easier access, similar economy, and about double the space.
From what I see people who buy these usually have one or two kids, making third-row seating and lots of cargo space occasional nice-to-haves even when the crossover’s the family prime mover alongside a subcompact or older, paid-for sedan (in contrast to Dave’s, my observation is that’s usually the case).
People with 3 or more kids go to a minivan, unless the kids are so spaced out that #1 is driving by the time #3 brings a return to lugging baby gear.
I don’t know if you’ve owned a minivan, but I wish I had a dollar for every person that has said a minivan would be better for space, price, etc., but has never actually owned one! Considering the small market share for vans, my guess is that there are a lot of inexperienced commenters out there!
I owned a ’99 Town & Country LX from ’99 through ’02, and I’ve rented the Toyota Sienna a few times in recent years. Both were very roomy.
My Town & Country ownership was one of my shortest ever, especially for a brand new car. The T&C was the luxury van to own at the time, and it had some charms. But, it was also noisy inside, the second and third row seats were very heavy and difficult to lift out (only did so twice)*, the thing was a huge rattle prone box that we didn’t fully utilize all that often, backing it up was a chore. The 3.8 sucked gas at near full-size SUV levels. Less money? Maybe compared to a Suburban. The three biggest names in mini-vans, Mopar, Sienna, and Odyssey are all quite pricy.
Our fully loaded 2005 Ford Freestyle Limited was the most direct replacement to our Town & County in terms of function. This three row 7 passenger CUV** sits on a Volvo car chassis, is noted for good handling and a fairly taught suspension, the three rows of seats are easily configured in many ways and my wife can do it without my help. It is fairly easy to back and park. It remains tight and mostly rattle free at nearly 100,000 miles. For many uses, the three across second row is preferable to the second row captains chairs in most mini vans. Real experience city gas mileage is 17 and highway is 23-24, vs. the 17 and 24 EPA rating on the Town and Country – which it never came close to. With THREE kids it has been a great little wagon / CUV, whatever you want to call it. With a small adjustment for inflation, our loaded CUV stickered for the same money as our mid trim mini-van, arguably was a bit less expensive. Basically $30 vs. $32.
Like so many laments for the lack of manual shift cars, (which are rare in the U.S. because no one buys them) there are lots of laments for low sales of mini-vans. There are reasons beyond “soccer mom stigma.” I know a lot of soccer moms and most are piloting CUVs and SUVs.
*I am aware of Stow-and-Go. My business partner has one and it went rattle prone in two years. I don’t believe any of the other brands have ever done second row fold away seats. The seats are not the most comfortable due to their folding design.
**Ford and the EPA declared this a mini-van. It’s the station wagon version of the 2005-2008 Ford 500 sedan – I’m not the person that makes these decisions! Ford’s large mini-van back then was the Windstar, later renamed Freestar.
I own a 2005 Grand Caravan with the 3.3 bought in 2007. Other than a leaking rear AC line that required disassembling much of the interior, it’s been a great vehicle, stow n go and all. It has no more squeaks and rattles than the 2001 Civic it replaced and has always gotten the EPA numbers or slightly better. My parents owned 4 minivans with similar experiences. Are they a Lexus? Well, no. But that doesn’t mean they’re junk.
This fall I considered replacing it. I priced a brand new nicely optioned Dodge with heated leather and U-Connect/DVD entertainment system for under $27K. Nobody pays list price for a Mopar. The only mid-size CUVs in that price range with similar options were used.
No, on the contrary, YMMV, but I believe most people who diss minivans have never owned one and are scared off by the stigma. But that’s just my opinion.
I much appreciate that you actually own a van and are not just saying it would be “better” for most people, the endless carping on wagon bodied CUVs and SUVs is silly – they work for a lot of people for numerous reasons.
I could never shake the feeling that driving my mini-van, even in well equipped luxury trim, was a very commercial feeling experience. It was the same feeling when I rented the Sienna a few times several years later – a big white box on wheels.
The vehicles following our van were a 2002 Durango and the 2005 Freestyle – both of which are still around with my kids using them now. The Durango offered towing and a brutally effective winter driving experience, and the Freestyle is a much better handler and feels much smaller than a minivan, making my wife much more comfortable – so there are our reasons for moving on. Logical for us.
I always figure a 20% discount on sticker when buying a domestic brand.
As you say, YMMV, and I’m glad you are enjoying your van.
I bought this in 2007
This is almost eerie. I had a very similar experience in around 1999 at the Safeway (now Lowe’s) on West 11th. Saw the same model in the parking lot and stared at it a few moments and had a hunch this was going to be a game-changer. Weird.
Wow, that long now!
I’m getting old apparently!
I of course, was very young when these came out. I didn’t think much of them, other than that they were “that Lexus SUV” (Lexus LXs weren’t ever all that common). Looking back however, I agree that this vehicle has had a profound influence on the automobile industry in the largest respect possible. As others have stated, CUVs are the new mid-sized sedans. Just look at the parking lots for evidence.
I know they are stigmatized quite a bit in the way that minivans are as being a “mommy mobile”, but I personally have no problem with CUVs and in all honesty, Suburbans are more common with that demographic from my experience.
Crossovers are really the perfect vehicle in terms of striking a balance of most peoples’ various needs. There’s also a lot more designers can do in terms of making them stylish and distinctive compared to traditional body-on-frame SUVs. My first car was a crossover, and although I’m happy in a sedan now, I would never rule out buying another crossover for a future car. That being said, there is something sad about the sedan’s fading popularity.
I should also add that as popular as the RX is on the road, I can’t think of anyone I know personally who has ever owned one. My only experience riding in one was an Uber black car I took in NYC a few months ago. I actually was under-impressed with the interior. Besides leather and a few woodgrain accents, the rest was very plain and low-rent looking. The brushed aluminum Prius-like center stack looked especially dated.
Agreed with all points. I’m very happy with our CUV, but I have three kids. We are considering a sedan as they start going off to college.
“Suburbans are more common with that demographic from my experience.”
There is a better platform in my mind for that type of vehicle.
One word: Handling.
I think that the line between wagons and CUVs is starting to blur. Look at the new Audi Q7. I personally love that!
Too bad it didn’t have a “unique and taller body”.
Too bad it didn’t have AWD.
One of the things that made the RX300 so popular was that it was fresh. An RX250 would be just another round CUV. How many of you knew that BMW has a new crossover, the X4?
Lexus had the right idea with the NX F Sport, it’s different. Range Rovers stand-out too and are selling like crazy. Contrast that to the sales performance of Jaguar sedans where the commonplace styling has really hurt.
“Jaguar sedans where the commonplace styling has really hurt.”
No doubt. The styling and interior appointments were the reason to buy them, even if many years were suspect as far as quality.
I’m not sure how competent the current Jaguar is, but even if it is an excellent car, it is fighting for sales in a crowded and possibly still shrinking market. I’d take an E-Class any day over any Jaguar, partly because it isn’t so anonymous and it is proven.
An older Jaguar ( mid ’80s and back) is probably the one four door sedan I would buy for it’s looks. They just exuded class. Far more than any BMW, MB, Lincoln, Cadillac, or any other high dollar luxury car. But IMO anyway, the car was not about money, or saying “look what kind of an automobile I can afford to buy” (Jerry Reed) There were far more expensive cars available, the Jag exudes class because it has class.
These hideous things have nothing. I would love to watch (or better yet participate in) a demolition derby with these things.
I had a boss who had one of these. It was very smooth, looked the business and I found the interior to be quite luxurious at the time. What struck me about it was just how un-Toyota-like it wound up being, cooking out a transmission at about 80K kilometers, and the engine shortly thereafter (the sludge got it, I believe). Strangely, she used it normally and had it only dealer serviced, and regularly, so the problems cannot really be blamed on deferred maintenance or abuse.
One thing that strikes me about the RX (and this is a very narrow observation, I used to work in marketing research) was that nearly every focus group moderator I know/knew has or has had one of these at one point or another. I don’t know why.
Auto jounalist Dan Neil summed it up perfectly when he observed there are so many of these locally that it appears to be a “Los Angeles fleet car” for well heeled mommies.
I can only image how this platform, which undergirds Camry/Avalon/RX series/Highlander, has filled Toyota coffers. Been running 15 years now. What a great way to amortize RD investments!
–I am also struck by how pitch-perfect this vehicle was built and marketed. It provided those mommies with the precise combination of faux-rich prestige, adequate versatility, image of reliability, and un-minivan-ness they craved. Like Prius, RX series is an unqualitifed grand slam. Though I have no interest in owning or driving one, hats off to Toyota for this enormous success.
I have a blue one
I would rather have that Eagle wagon.
I’d rather walk
I cannot get over some of the things some people post on here with regard to status a vehicle projects; using phrases like “faux-rich”. What in the hell is going on with people? Are there really people on here who buy vehicles to project some sort of image?? I would expect that on FaceBook, but goddamn, I thought the majority of us were car enthusiasts and appreciate cars for more mature reasons.
If I ever reach a point that I am concerned with projecting an image of being “rich” my family should consider me mentally incapable and put me under a doctor’s care around the clock. Of all the things I would hope I project or will be remembered for being “rich” isn’t one of them. And for anyone who thinks being able to buy a new Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls, etc., makes you rich you better think again. I could buy one and I am a long way from rich. I am even further away from needing to be known for being “rich”.
Automobiles are a passion for me and I am just made sick by such childish comments as this thread has brought. Again, I would never expect that mindset from a true automobile enthusiast.
I believe “image” is a factor in all automobile purchases. Call me “childish” or a realist, but this is how I view the car manufacturing/marketing businesses, the car hobby, and to a certain extent, even the automotive aftermarket.
As illuminated here on CC countless times, Alfred Sloan structured GM brand positioning specifically to create brand images for consumers at various economic and taste levels. A young man would start with a Chevy, move to Pontiac, then, an Olds, then, if sufficiently prosperous, to a Buick or even a Cadillac. Many a Buick was sold to wealthy men who didn’t wish to project wealth by driving a Cadillac. This is the “childishness” you appear to slander, but it is a primary factor in virtually all automotive purchase decisions—regardless of your approval. –This is also why the featured vehicle is branded as a Lexus, and not a Toyota. Lexus marketed to discerning, affluent buyers. Yet it is mechanically identical to Highlander, heck, even V6 Camries…which are even more practical and lower cost. Image is really the only element that can justify existence of the Lexus brand.
As a test, would you consider purchasing a $52000 KIA K900, or would you only consider a similarly equipped BMW 5 series for $70000?
I would consider purchasing any car based on my needs, NOT image projection. If my “image” needs work I would not expect to find help on a car lot but instead under the care of a doctor. I usually have to buy the more higher end brands to get the things I want in a car. Your calling Toyota the same as Lexus makes no sense.
You quoting Mr. Sloan makes my point. Sloan was not a car guy, he was a pencil pusher.
As for your test: I do not own a KIA or a BMW because neither car meets my needs.
You don’t get the real passion of cars.
Not everybody puts style over function, but a lot of people do. That’s just reality.
Another group will put style over function while telling themselves they are not.
And pretty much everybody will choose better style if functionality and value still meets their personal requirements.
It’s the lack of style, or maybe poor taste in style, that makes replacing my current minivan more or a chore than the fun experience car shopping has typically been for me.
IMO the mark of a TRUE enthusiast is definately NOT someone who bases their purchases purely on need alone. Those people typically read Consumer Reports and buy automotive appliances like Corollas that have no soul. A true enthusiast buys what they want and enjoys it.
A true enthusiast knows more than how to put gas in a car and buys a car for reasons than what other people think of what they are buying. If not they might as well be buying a new suit.
You can buy what you want AND need in many cases. I can’t believe anyone would buy one of these for looks. I’d go back to a horse and buggy before I would drive one of these things. A true station wagon is my favorite family vehicle. Or a road based SUV. I actually liked the Ford Flex. To bad it was front wheel drive. Then there were the PT Cruiser and HHR. And the Dodge Magnum, if you had a relative in the oil business. The Crown Vic and Grand Marquis also made nice family cars. you could put 6 people in them, and the Grand Canyon in the trunk. I’m hoping with all this “crossover” crap, the real station wagon will someday return, hopefully with a woodgrain option.
Which brings up another point. I love woodgrain wagons, but the woodgrain serves absolutely no purpose other than style. So why was it so popular for so long? What about landau roofs, long hoods with a lot of wasted space, whitewall tires, and hood ornaments? All 100% style. Style is a big part of what cars are all about. Not “look at me I’m rich” style, but style that suits you. Do you buy clothes just because they serve a purpose? Does everybody in the world wear battleship gray clothes? To an enthusiast, a car is a very emotional thing. And from what I see on the streets, they are a fast dying breed. There are very few cars out there that an enthusiast could relate to, and I don’t hear hoards of enthusiasts crying for something better.
Don’t forget about the group buying function over style telling themselves they are not as well.
I think we live in a time where jumping through the hoops is so engrained in the average persons psyche that major purchasing decisions must be as broadly thought out as the life plans that are decided and planned out to a tee by the time a child hits in middle school now a days.
You raise a bunch of robots and they’re going to drive cars fit for a robot.
Even in the fleeting moment of character everyone has buried deep down inside does come out, and they look into something exciting, the seeds of “I have student loan payments to think about” or ” I might have umpteen kids someday”, “how would I be judged by my peers if I showed up in this?”, or “how will this drive in seasonal climates I might get a job at” ultimately squelches it.
That right there is the success story of the CUV in a nutshell.
I too thought the Ford Flex was handsome when it came out. I did not expect it to be 48,000! I am sure I could have found one a year old for at least half that but the sticker shock damage was done. I lost interest.
The Crown Vic, Grand Marquis and Town Cars were always appealing cars to me and I owned several Town Cars, but Ford let them die on the vine never keeping their options and safety features up to date. They never had curtain airbags and to my memory side impact airbags were only an option at best. Go figure.
I have never seen an SUV that I thought was pretty, but in the case of the RX it has been so damn functional and comfortable for my parents they would not even consider anything else. With the customer service we get my Dad says we will get what we deserve if we ever go anywhere else. We have made all the rounds when it comes to vehicles and have not left Lexus for the past ten years. I do not miss the days of sitting in waiting rooms while my car is trying to be fixed. Any effort I put into owning a car will be in a special interest car. I want my daily driver to be a non issue.
Yeah pretty much every brand above Ford, Chevy, Toyota, Nissan and Honda wouldn’t exist without some sort of projection of a rich image. That’s not to say everyone buying those brands are doing so because of it, but those tend to be the enthusiasts, whether full blown car obsessed/fascinated with the tech types, or the types who just desire to have something more interesting than an appliance.
I think too that the ongoing survival of the automotive industry as an entity is fully dependent on image, and not just for the luxury brands. You hear and read it everywhere today about the reliability of modern cars- the engines last forever, they don’t rust like they used to, materials don’t disintegrate, and whatever, yet any given company is selling millions of cars each year. How can this be if any given car made in the last several years theoretically lasts forever? Why trade in an 06 Camry with a barely broken in trouble free 60k miles? Is it the “march of technology” that swayed the decision, or is it the fact that that 06 Camry is 4 styling cycles behind everything else on the road?
I just would not pay the premium between a Toyota and a Lexus if I did not have to buy into Lexus to get some of the things I need. I would rather spend less for a new car as a daily driver because I know I am going to see that money melt like ice. Know what I mean?
What, praytell, do you need out of a Lexus that you can’t get out of a Toyota besides the extra status that their luxury (and note well, they consider it the “luxury” marque for a reason) brand carries?
Honestly, who cares who buys what for what reason and “enthusiast” comes in many different shapes and sizes. I consider myself a car enthusiast and I have little interest in performance besides, “Can the powertrain in question push whatever chrome bedecked sled I choose at a reasonable pace?” How much stuff I can haul is irrelevant because if I really need to haul something I can rent/borrow a pickup or a cube van.
For my next car, its going to be a big near luxury/luxury sedan and part of that is for image projection in my chosen professional field. If you don’t think I make the cut for “car enthusiast”, well, I don’t remember asking you or recognizing your authority in this matter so there. 😛
Nor have I asked you anything. Besides a better quieter ride and more comfort my Lexus dealership drives an hour and a half to pick up my car for service and leaves me a new one at now charge. Now for whatever else you want to know go pick up a Lexus brochure and a Toyota brochure and figure out the question you asked me.
Yes, obviously there are different degrees of enthusiast. I just don’t see someone who concerns themselves with image as passionate about cars. They could get the same image from anything else in life, probably would never read anything significant about automotive history or cross the threshold of an automobile museum.
LeBaron, don’t you find it rather ironic how you are stereotyping types of enthusiasts after complaining about how others are stereotyping?
Tell me, why is a ’65 Mustang worth so much more than a ’65 Falcon? It certainly isn’t because it ever met the needs of consumers better. By your logic no Mustang fan could possibly be an automotive enthusiast.
Do you see our point now?
That was a nice attempt to justify a Lexus as a “need”. But the fact remains that it is a luxury that nobody truly needs. All of my local dealers supply a loaner and/or a ride free of charge for service work. I wouldn’t consider it a hardship. Then again, I wouldn’t buy any car I needed to have serviced 90 minutes away from me. Most people have local dealers available.
Well, you may think you aren’t concerned with image and maybe you aren’t, but you got it once you bought a Lexus. People are and have been making snap judgments about you based on that slant L badge on your car like it or not. I would also guess, based on your writing, that you are probably an American citizen and so you are not oblivious to the image or cachet the Lexus brand has in America.
I’m sure plenty of people who are concerned about image, whatever that image may be, read up on some automotive history or have gone to automotive museums. I know I have. I’m sure there are folks who like to drive 50s cars as part of their rockabilly image that are up on automotive history. Same with some of the guys who like to drive their beat up and rusty 80s Ford or Chevy trucks even though they could afford quite a bit more to keep up his blue collar image does.
As Phil correctly points out, your Lexus fulfills your wants, not your needs. All one “needs” (if even) in a car is something to get you from point a to point b. You WANT a Lexus because of the comfort and quiet ride as well as the service from the dealer. Great, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that but there is still image tied up in it. I know its hard to admit it in a society largely still trying to think its egalitarian, but anything you wear, drive, eat, drink gives you an “image”. The words you choose, the hobbies you enjoy, the company you keep-all of it gives you an “image”. One can play the “Aww shucks…” game all they want, but no one buys a car from a luxury marque on purely utilitarian grounds.
I have bought/built many cars to project an image. All vintage (before computers) I currently own 3 “image” cars. They certainly do not project a “rich” image. They are blue collar cars from the good old days. Even my daily driver/computer car projects an image, by being all dinged, scratched, paint burned off, and dirty. It’s the one I use for things I would not subject my vintage cars to.
I am not a hipster, so that Rambler American with the bamboo framed back glass from a few weeks ago is not my style, but I would be happy to drive it stock, without the artwork, no hubcaps, and some patina.
To me, the words “car enthusiast” mean someone who appreciates cars for some other reason besides than basic transportation. Some want performance, some want style, some just want to avoid the “computer car generation” . But most of them are involved with their cars in some way, whether building engines, doing bodywork, or just washing, waxing, and detailing. A car enthusiast does more than just “own” a car, like most everybody out there does. Cars play an important part in their lives.
I agree with everything you post other than as a hardcore enthusiast I have never considered image in the purchase of any daily driver or special interest automobile I own. I hope the image I project is based more on my deeds. I don’t want to be remember for being “rich”. I had rather be remembered as someone who cared about others more than things, but who had interests in many things.
Being rich is the very last sort of image I would like to project. I did buy a ’77 Corvette (in 1990) because I had always wanted one. I thought, and still think, that they are the most beautiful cars ever built. But it turned into a money pit when I couldn’t afford one. I definitely think about buying another someday. Mainly because they look like something I want to drive. They fit my personality. And they don’t proclaim “rich” a ’74-’77 in really nice condition can be had for the cost of a new Chevy Cruze. I drive the Fairlane out of “reverse snobbery” and because it is so much more fun than new cars. I drive the V8 truck because I have always been a hot rodder, I sometimes like to build my own cars instead of buy them. And the woodgrain Pinto wagon? Well, I see it as just being plain cool, in a VW bus sort of way. It has a peace sign in the back window, and I have thought about putting a couple of surfboards on top, but this is AZ…..
Our kids will covet these like some of you covet malaise-era broughams. Kudos to Paul for recognizing the importance of a car that today’s enthusiasts love to hate, just as some of us hated slant-six Darts and AMC Marlins 40 years ago. By the way, the first RX that I rode in, maybe 15 years ago, belonged to a colleague who normally drove a Suburban. As I settled into the passenger seat, he looked over and said “This is my wife’s car”. I hadn’t said anything.
I’m not so sure, Broughams were a relatively fleeting fad that rose and fell to complete extinction within a fairly short timespan, and at the very least were a damn site more distinctive(details aside, coupe or sedan bodysyles vs. the lone 2-box 5 door), whereas these RX type CUVs have been at the forefront as long as Brougham, if not longer than brougham at this point, with no signs of slowing down and they all look exactly the same now as they did in 1997.
CUVs might be a little too saturated to be looked back upon fondly in my opinion, unless a change happens that will end the segment as we know it(as Euro/Aero/Jellybean/SUV happened to put the nail in the coffin of Broughams) I just don’t see the enthusiasm. But I’m super biased, I make no bones about my hate of the segment, but keep in mind if they did go down, as I’d be happy about, then my theory would come to fruition – future people eople will look back fondly and say “I miss those”, so it’s a double edged sword from my position lol
I’m willing to bet that many Millenials will hate these CUV’s with the same passion that GenX’ers despise minivans.
And then there are those like me (age 56) that do not come from a generation with a letter, who hate all this modern stuff, but this type of vehicle more than any other by far. The main reason I hate these is the styling. The Pontiac Aztek would do the same job, yet I just see it as being a bit quirky, not downright ugly. It has nice well defined square lines, it doesn’t look like a spaceship design gone horribly wrong. These things look like something Apple might have designed.
As far as the venerable station wagon, which was nothing but a sedan with the roof extended instead of a trunk, it has been around for a very long time. I remember when MB came out with their first station wagon. If ever there was a “traditional” looking vehicle, the station wagon was it. Unfortunately, it’s looks may be what killed it. It is still just as functional as ever. Many people went from station wagons to minivans. But these “CUVs” don’t seem to be a replacement for the mini van. They don’t have the utility of a mini van. They are basically 4 door sedans with a hatchback. Not long enough to be a good people mover, and the space behind the rear seat isn’t much if any bigger than a trunk.
So it would seem that the only thing these abominations have going for them is being as ugly as possible. Every single manufacturer makes at least one. And they, like the jelly bean sedan, all seem to look alike. So it seems that super ugly is now “in” and that’s why people are buying these (expletive deleted) things. In fact, many owners try to ugly them up even more by installing 22″ chrome wheels.
The tension is that tall, two-box CUVs are “more rational” in terms of their use of space (and directly contradict the lower-longer-wider styling maxim). They are called utilities because whatever the Lexus guff, people buy them for utility.
Meanwhile, there was very little “rationality” about broughams, with their useless opera windows and empty hobbit apartments under the hood. They were the 1970s versions of tail-fins, a styling motif that collapsed on itself.
Utility is pretty much the same as 0-60 ratings. A statistic in a brochure to ooh and ahh about like it matters but it all boils down to potential energy. Potential utility in this case. I seriously doubt, and I have some pretty good personal observations on this in my area, I seriously doubt any RX driver is hauling around oil drums on a daily basis with their tall heavy hatchback. Nor do I ever see them bringing home their home appliances rather than having them delivered for that matter. For the most part I see a purse to put on the passenger seat and at the max a few bags of groceries that would fit neatly in the trunk of an MGB. Rationality is merely rationalization. It’s all in our heads.
Sure, but you could make the same argument that most people didn’t really need station wagons either. People with kids do end up hauling around a lot of stuff.
Ah of course, the “rational” car that allows the irrational decisions of life.
I understand your point, but I still think you’re rustled that these convey an image counter to the one traditionally pushed by the automotive industry.
No I understand that, in fact that was what I was kind of alluding to. The notion of the CUV or the Station wagon or anything being the ultimate rational choice is where I take exception.
A car has one core duty, and that’s A-B transportation. Anything else, whether speed, utility, ruggedness or style are decisions the buyer has the choice to decide on. Unfortunately “rationality” has taken the guise of “correct” and to many people that seed of thought quells the purchase of something they would otherwise find more desirable to own, even though 95% of the time the maximum benefits of the “rational” purchase go unused or at most are hardly utilized to the max of the vehicles capabilities.
My overall point is in the defense of the longer/lower/wider idiom. It may very well be that was a passing fad in car design, but to say it was abandoned in the name of rationality because people need more utility now than they did in the late 50s to early 70s just doesn’t hold much water.
Well, the facts are that some people prefer the higher seating position (even if they incorrectly believe it to be safer), and the smaller footprint relative to a similar sedan/wagon, and the hatchback. You do have a good point about social signaling and herd mentality, but to simply dismiss people’s stated preferences would be wrong — crossover sales are increasing every year because they do hit the spot for people. If we want to talk about about faux-functionality which exists purely for image reasons, a better target might be the modern full-sized pickup truck.
Plus, lower/longer/wider was taken about as far as it logically could go — my parents have a story about almost buying a Buick until they realized it wouldn’t fit into their garage. And, for them, it’s been taller/shorter ever since.
Come to think of it, the Lexus RX probably has similar demographics to the old Farrah Faucet Mercury Cougar…
I’m not trying to dismiss people’s stated preferences, I’m simply hung up on the word ‘rationality’. I think we’re on the same page for the most part but the point of contention I have is those preferences should simply be regarded as personal preferences, losing the guise of superiority over other segments and designs. CUVs appeal to a huge number of people, I accept the fact, even if I don’t particularly like it, but they have their drawbacks – The footprint is really about the same as sedans, most CUVs are directly based on sedans afterall, so the real functional benefit is utility and seating position as you mentioned. Utility I already covered and seating position, if that’s their particular selling point, more power to them, but being raised sedans does mean they weigh a considerable amount more, not to mention add a substantial amount of frontal area. So in other words, an efficient footprint doesn’t necessarily translate into efficiency over a sedan, performance is inherently worse(straight line or otherwise) and they have a marginally higher chance of rollover due to the higher center of gravity. So if one buys it for seating position and hip style, I’m really not bothered by it, but do think the herd mentality might be having a hard time admitting the emperor is wearing no clothes. The Farah Cougar comparison is spot on, key reason being both segments were/are red hot fashionable, but we all know what happened to the largish personal luxury coupe segment…
My family days are over, my kids are grown, and I am divorced. So I don’t need 100% utility from a vehicle. Both tail fins and broughams gave a vehicle style, which once meant something to car buyers/owners. Automotive style is now a thing of the past, and will likely remain so.
I never liked these CUV’s. They supposed to have off road capabilities and do nothing but plug up the suburbs. A minivan has purpose: people mover. A Jeep has purpose: Off road capability.
Paul: “phenomenon” is singular and “phenomena” is plural. I checked the pedia of wiki on that
The only “off road” 96% of these up market CUVs probably encounter are gravel paved driveways in Suburbia.
Some CUVs are more capable than others. But yes, most have the ground clearance and approach angles of a Grand Caravan, their exhaust hanging down below the rear suspension, and fair weather tires. They do typically have some advantages like seating position and visibility, but the utility aspect is almost all image and little to no substance.
My SRX (pictured below) had more ground clearance than my 2002 Seville. The Seville would drag its nose on the pavement on city streets with a big dip. I never ran across a driveway angled steep enough that would make the SRX’s nose touch pavement and I did try. However, the SRX had 255/50 20 inch tires that were designed for sports car handling, not off road use. The SRX actually handled better than the FWD Seville did. The SRX was good in snow, at least when the tires were new. click on the picture for a larger veiw
My sister bought one of these when they came out to replace her Jeep Cherokee – the only American car she ever owned. After some surprising quality and dealer problems, she traded it in on an X5 and later added an X3 – both of which suffered from the same reliabilty problems that doomed my 2000 323Ti wagon. Now they have a Q7 and a Q5.
She gets annoyed when I point out that my Jetta Sportwagon – which her partner really likes – shares the same paltform as her Q5, and I can’t understand why she wants to drive around on stilts.
At least here in the NYC area, the Rx300 seemed to be the replacement of choice for a lot of Volvo wagons. I lived in Fairfield County for a couple of years in the late 80s, and the place was awash with Volvo wagons and Grand Wagoneers, driven my people who would only use the cars-only Merritt Parkway, because they were afraid of the trucks on the Turnpike. That’s not my opinion, people actually told me this.
I took the Turnpike whenever I could, because I was afraid of them. And for the same reason, I always take the car and truck lanes on the Jersey Turnpike…
I will bow out of this one, as I can’t think of any more new bad things to say about these awful vehicles. Everything I ever said about modern FWD jelly bean 4 door sedans needs to go to about the 20th power for these things. They are true abominations, and are the deadliest sin of every company that makes one.
For a while I was kicking around the idea (in my head) of an app where you could crowdsource what vehicles are fastest or slowest on average.
Basically, you’d come up to a stoplight, and while you wait, you would enter the makes and models of the cars at the front of the line. And, once you were off, you would confirm the car that “won”, and gradually you could build an enormous database of fast and slow, for extremely mild information purposes only (and maybe insurance companies would want a slice, somehow).
Now, obviously this idea is fraught with phone/driving issues, privacy issues, mean-spiritedness, and plain old unprofitability, but worst of all, I had already decided which car was the slowest before even sharing the idea with anyone!
The new 2021 Harrier/Venza is the Harrier/RX300’s direct descendant.
AWD derived from transverse FWD is the defining characteristic. After decades of reluctance, even MB and BMW have come around.
Some cars were revolutionary because of their engineering; think Citroen DS, Toyota Prius, or Tesla Model S. The RX is not one of these cars. It’s more like the Ford Mustang, revolutionary because it created a whole new market segment because of its shape. Mechanically, the RX is little more than a new body over a Camry V6 drivetrain and platform (with newly optional AWD), but it sold to people who never would have bought a Camry, just as the Mustang sold to people who’d have never bought a Falcon. Apparently there was some hesitation within Toyota to sell this as a Lexus – luxury brands don’t sell even slightly trucky-looking vehicles like this, or at least didn’t before Lexus tried it, and eventually, everyone from Rolls-Royce to Ferrari had to take their best shot at the genre, and indeed it is now the main business for brands like Porsche.
We recently acquired a 2011 CR-V from a family member for my son to drive. It is our first CUV and as it turns out I love the thing. It is the perfect size for my wife and I to run errands. It has larger wheels and higher ground clearance than our Odyssey minivan, which makes potholes and parking blocks less of an issue. The all wheel drive gives extra confidence in rain and snow.
I sort of disliked CUV’s for years, but now that we have one I can see why they are so popular. CUV’s are an easy choice, especially for people who don’t really care about cars, which is probably most people.
An enjoyable re-read, Paul. Not much has changed, eh? Only accelerated and solidified. A few months ago my wife decided to trade in her ’16 Ford Edge. We’re empty-nesters and she thought maybe she no longer needed the passenger and cargo space of a SUV/CUV, so she thought about downsizing to a sedan. We drove several, but what did she end up with? A Lexus RX450h. The combination of car-like handling, comfort, roominess, utility and decent fuel economy was too much to resist. Can’t say that I fault her decision.
When it came time to replace Stephanie’s Forester 6 years ago, we bought an Acura TSX wagon. Nice car, but it’s too low. I’m so over crawling into it; feel like I’m getting into a sports car. She’s pretty over it too, despite being short. It’ll get replaced by a CUV, undoubtedly.
I’ve been saying for decades that CUVs are just back to the forma cars were until the 1950s, when they got too low, long and wide. Not a positive development, unless you want maximum sportiness.
What amazes me after all this time is how “real” SUV like the OG RX300 looks, with its high ground clearance, tall tires and big open wheelwells. From today’s perspective it looks barely any less rugged as 4Runner of the time compared to the much softer and sleeker forms of crossovers popular now, including the current RX
How odd; I have the exact opposite impression.
Your eyes are deceiving you: the 2000 had 7.7″ ground clearance; the 2020 has 8.2″
Huh, I would have never thought. Perhaps it’s the bigger wheels or the flatter sides(less rocker tumblehome) that gives me the impression it looks more road bound than the old one. The old one certainly still looks prettier though, woof!
As this generation ages, it gets more and more attractive to me. I think I’m drawn to the “Japanese”-ness of it. The size is handy, not too large, not too small, the details aren’t garish, and everything has a bit of a delicate feel/look to it. They seem to last as well, there’re still a bunch running around out here but of course even more of the newer ones. Can’t really go wrong with what are basically Highlander mechanicals. Good choice of reruns!
Agreed. If I could find a creampuff, I’d swap it for the TSX, which is wearing on us on account of its lowness. I think Stephanie would like it.
The post on the new Venza is what suggested this rerun to me. I see the Venza as the spiritual successor to this, which given that both are Harriers, only makes sense.