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2004 Crossover Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

Lexus RX330
2004 Lexus RX330

For a company that claims it launched the luxury SUV market you'd expect a pretty substantial update in the face of growing competition.

Lexus, the luxury marque of Toyota, has done just that.

This is a roomier, more upmodel version of the crossover vehicle originally called the RX 300. It never was intended to do true off-road duty. (Toyota and now Lexus have other vehicles better suited to that purpose.) And there's nothing trucky about this unibody vehicle that values polish and poise more than gully crossing ability.

But performance is still part of RX 330's package. Lexus claims the responsive 3.3 liter V-6 overshadows its predecessor's unspecified engine. This version churns out 230 horsepower and 242 lb.-ft of peak torque. A five speed automatic is smoother and more responsive than the four-speed it replaces. Some good low-end acceleration capability is there for good measure, and front-wheel or all-wheel-drive systems are enhanced with stability control.

On the safety side, there's Brake Assist, that can undo a driver's panic attack reaction during an emergency stop. Also optional is air suspension for adjusting vehicle height depending on driving need, such as performance and handling, or adding clearance for a rough terrain ride. That is paired with an adaptive front headlamp system (AFS) that pours light into a curve as the vehicle steers toward it.

Inside are more toney amenities than before, including adjustable front passenger seat, dimable vanity mirror lights and even illuminated cup holders to avoid nasty spills while cruising in the dark. The Mark Levinson 11-speaker sound system, as always, is superb.

There's plenty of high tech in the RX 330. An optional nav system backup camera "sees" what's behind. Dynamic Laser Cruise Control measures distance from the vehicle ahead and adjusts speed. And plenty of quiet was built into the RX 330. In true Lexus fashion, this entry level lux utility -- in the high 30's range -- is among the quietest crossovers on the road.