Classic CARmentary: 1999 Lexus RX300 4WD

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

My wife and I made friends with a couple who had a newborn baby, so the “fifth” person I reference below was actually an infant in a car seat that was latched in the middle of the back seat with our friends on either side.  To still be comfortable in that setup really says something.  Like I mention below, I also appreciated the additional ground clearance while I navigated the well-worn dirt road in the apple orchard that was littered with tons of little peaks and valleys.  I distinctly remember seeing a Panther-bodied Country Squire going in the other direction constantly bottoming out.

This was a big orchard, and we had to drive to the different sections, so while I drove, my wife and one of our friends sat in the trunk with the hatch open.  We quickly learned what a terrible idea it is to drive on red Virginia dirt on a dry day with the hatch open.  The entire inside of the RX300 was soon covered in fine Virginia soil, and it took us hours to (unsuccessfully) clean it out before the car was picked up the following Monday.  Let that be a warning.

The following review ran on November 16, 1998.  

While most luxury makers have only a token SUV, Lexus has taken a two-pronged attack: the Toyota Land Cruiser-based LX470 (formerly LX450) has been joined by the new for 1999 RX300.

Unlike its big brother, the RX300 is a hybrid whose underpinnings come primarily from Toyota’s Camry. With its bold grille and squat stance, the RX300 looks like it’s ready for business. But overall, the design isn’t as tough as most SUVs, with traces of the cute little RAV4 and Sienna minivan throughout. With the five-spoke alloy wheels and projector-beam style head and tail lamps, it did turn many heads.

All of the accouterments that Lexus buyers would expect are inside, including leather and wood trim, a glove compartment six CD changer, and a screen that displays climate control, radio, and trip information. Lexus customers prefer a console mounted shifter, so designers molded it into the bottom center of the dash, allowing plenty of room for bins and cupholders.

Its car roots make the RX300 easier to live with on a daily basis than its truck-based competitors such as the Infiniti QX4 and Acura SLX. The driver has a commanding view without a huge step-up to climb inside. The 220-horsepower V6 is smooth and powerful, and gas mileage is excellent for an SUV.

The RX300 lacks a low-range setting and therefore can’t conquer the Rubicon. However, my wife and I took some friends apple picking in central Virginia, which is about as far off road as most SUV owners will ever go. All five of us were quite comfortable on the paved portions; inside the orchard, the increased ground clearance and all-wheel drive gave the RX300 a significant edge in negotiating the trails. All of our apples fit quite nicely in the 39.8 cubic-foot trunk, and the rear seat slides forward as well as folds for even more cargo space. In the other extreme, downtown Washington, DC, the RX300 took the rough pavement and potholes in stride.

While people are bad-mouthing SUVs as unnecessary, gas guzzling road hogs, the comfort and practicality of the RX300 could make the staunchest SUV-hater a convert.

For more information contact 1-800-872-5398


Type:4-Door Sport-Utility Vehicle
Engine:220-horsepower, 3.0 liter V6
Transmission:four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage:19 city/22 highway
Tested Price:$38,603

If you recall, the early car-based SUVs were called hybrids, which caused some confusion with the powertrain hybrids, Prius and Insight.  Fortunately, within a few years, the term “crossover” replaced it as the preferred term for these types of vehicles.  In addition, there was less of a distinction between “4WD” and “AWD” back then, as we all know that the RX was, and still is, AWD.  Finally, for our younger readers, the Infiniti QX4 was a rebadged Nissan Pathfinder (before it became a crossover), and the Acura SLX was a rebadged Isuzu Trooper.