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Roseville, CA- Although enamored with this Lexus model in previous years, the thinking here was the Lexus RX was a luxury, midsize crossover sport utility vehicle that was designed for women. It featured an elegant appearance that drew the attention of women like a huge sale at the local mall.


So it was extremely surprising when the completely redesigned 2016 RX 350 arrived with its shocking exterior. The oversized, black, spindle-shaped front grille seems like something that was designed more for Darth Vader than one of the Kardashians.


If losing that “chick car” tag was the goal – it could be mission accomplished Lexus.


When Lexus unveiled the RX in 1998, it was quite the innovative SUV. It was visually appealing with its sleek, well rounded lines and rather low-profile design. Yet more importantly from an historic standpoint, the RX helped usher in the new crossover SUVs that were being built on a car platform and combined the driving capability of a sedan with the versatility of an SUV.


Now in its fourth generation, the 2016 Lexus RX 350 is no longer sleek or elegant. It will be interesting to see if its new bold, masculine design becomes a favorite of men and no longer appeals to women. That won’t be good news for Toyota’s luxury division, which has grown accustomed to selling more than 100,000 models a year in the U.S.


The exterior look is not the only major change for the RX 350. Other significant changes include:


* Increased the wheelbase and overall length that improves interior passenger space
* Raised the ride height and altered the roof line
* Dashboard lowered and center control stack angled more toward the infotainment features
* Added 25 more horsepower to 295


Increasing the horsepower gives the front-wheel drive RX 350 a bit more performance, a facet that was never its calling card. However, this midsize SUV is no slug when it comes to power, thanks to a 3.5-liter, V6 engine that generates 267 pound-feet of torque. It goes 0-60 mph in 7.4 seconds, a higher number than some of its competitors. The 8-speed automatic transmission now comes standard.


The standard RX model is not nearly as athletic as some rivals, yet handles well and remains extremely quiet. For a better driving experience, the F Sport model is recommended because it possesses the Sport S-plus setting that stiffens the steering and livens up the driving experience, especially on challenging curvy roads. Note that the RX still has a hybrid (450h) version as well.


Even the interior offers a different feel with the new design. The driver now has a lower seating position, but still retains comfortable leg and head room. Backseat occupants (there is no third row) are also comfortable with the sliding and reclining seats providing good leg room for even taller folks. Cargo room is modest at 18.4 cubic feet and expands to 56.3 when the second row folds down (note that it doesn’t fold flat).


Not all is perfect with the interior configuration. The RX has a mini-joystick-like controller that is distracting for the driver and requires good dexterity to operate effectively. Improvement did come with a large high-definition display screen and redesigned center stack.


The RX 350 remains an upscale crossover SUV. The lingering question is whether its controversial new exterior will keep sales at its previously brisk pace.


2016 Lexus RX 350


* Performance: 3.5-liter, V6, 295 horsepower
* Mileage estimate: 19-28 mpg   
* Estimated price: $41,900 to $49,125
* Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles; drivetrain: 6 years/70,000 miles; roadside assistance: 4 years/ unlimited; corrosion: 6 years/ unlimited