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Weidel on Wheels: Lexus offers fun and versatility with this pair

IS 350 offers a unique convertible while the RX 450 sport utility vehicle features a hybrid model
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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A longtime fan of this upscale auto manufacturer, it always ranks as an enjoyable week when a Lexus is presented for test driving purposes. So getting back-to-back weeks with Toyota’s luxury division was naturally a rare treat. The experience certainly provided two totally different perspectives. One week was spent hustling around town in an attractive convertible, the Lexus IS 350. Next up was the RX 450 Hybrid, the original standard bearer for the crossover division that keeps getting better with every incarnation. Here’s a glance at these 2010 models: Lexus IS 350 Lexus decided to expand on the acclaimed IS 250 by adding a big brother this year that can go topless, making it only the second convertible in company history. The IS 350 hardtop is certainly not hard to operate -- a mere push of a button has it smoothly folding up in the trunk in 20 seconds. Besides the easy transformation into convertible mode, the other major selling point with this flashy compact luxury sedan is performance. The IS 350 can eat up pavement rather quickly, which is not unexpected considering the engine is a 3.5-liter, V-6 with 295 horsepower. It accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds, and possesses all the passing speed one would desire. Some other figures — price and gas mileage — are not as flattering. Gas mileage ranges from 18 to 25 miles per gallon and the price tag runs $40,110 for the IS 350 with automatic transmission. Although not test driven here, the lower priced ($38,940) six-speed manual transmission might have been more fun to drive. The IS 350 interior has the stylish elements that Lexus owners demand. The upholstery has a rich quality and the interior as a whole has many soft-to-touch features. Front seat passengers will have solid leg and headroom, and even the backseat is modestly comfortable, which is more than one can say about most convertibles. The IS 350 handles with an agile, athletic feel, grips the road with assurance and offers confident braking power. RX 450 Hybrid This attractive, high performing sport utility vehicle has always been very popular among women, which might explain why the 2010 model has room for a purse under the center console. The RX 300 was unveiled in 1998 and billed as an alternative to the popular minivan and station wagon. It rose to prominence quickly, becoming the top-selling Lexus and setting off a long line of copycat vehicles ever since. The RX keeps adding a little more performance with each remodel. The hybrid version wasn’t as dynamic as other trims, but still produced a lot of power with a playful 3.5-liter, V-6 that had 295 horsepower. The trade off with the hybrid is it gets 28 to 30 mpg. Expect a very smooth, efficient ride from the RX 450, which has a long line of standard features. One feature that’s not standard is an advanced navigation system that will respond to verbal requests like, “find an Italian restaurant.” Some other niceties include a sliding center console, stowage space under the back cargo floor, pull handles to release the rear seats and mouse-like controls on the center console that do away with reaching forward to interact with any and all control panel selections. The RX 450 offers ample comfort for all five passengers, and when folded up the cargo area can hold a fairly decent size load. __________ 2010 Lexus IS 350 Price: Starting at $40,110 Mileage estimate: 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway Power: 3.5-liter, V6 engine with 306 horsepower Standard features include: Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; electronic stability system with traction control; 10-way power driver seat; dual climate control; mirror with compass; power retractable convertible top; eight-speaker audio system with CD player, MP3, satellite radio 2010 Lexus RX 450 Hybrid Price: Starting at $43,250 Mileage estimate: 28 mpg city; 30 mpg highway Power: 3.5-liter, V6 engine with 295 horsepower Standard features include: Traction control; antilock disc brakes; brake assist; antiskid system; daytime running lights; 10-way power front seats; center console; wood interior trim; rear privacy glass; nine-speaker premium audio system, CD auto changer, Bluetooth technology, satellite radio