INTERIOR

The interior of the RX 350 is surprisingly understated and simple. The wood trim looks nice, but the black- and silver-colored plastic surfaces could have appeared more upscale.

After testing a few cars whose center stacks resembled those of airplane cockpits, the simplicity of the RX 350's center stack was unique. While some have complained about the joystick-operated multimedia system, I found it intuitive and easy to use. That's not to say it was the fastest or most efficient system Ч at times searching for a song on my iPod was like using an antiquated PC mouse to scroll through a document Ч but overall, it got passing marks.

Everything else was easy to find and use, as well. The SmartAccess passive entry system anticipated my approach and unlocked the RX for me. Delightful. The RX also offers the opportunity to be organized. The center console, glove box, rear pull-down armrest and side pockets in the front doors all had a variety of tiers, shelving or convenient compartments. Another bonus was the extra cupholder to the left of the steering wheel. This enabled me to keep my water in the center-console cupholder and my tea in the extra one.

Most of the luxury features on this car came as part of optional packages. It seems to me that some of these options Ч leather seats, heated seats, USB input Ч would be standard on a luxury car. The $4,900 Luxury Package added the leather seats and leather-and-wood steering wheel, one-touch moonroof, USB input, power liftgate, driver's seat and steering-wheel memory, and passenger-side-mirror-mounted wide-view camera. For a few more thousand dollars, the interior was spruced up with heated and ventilated front seats, a Mark Levinson stereo and navigation system with voice activation, and a backup camera.

With or without the optional packages, road noise in the RX 350 is quite high. It was loud enough to hinder conversations my children tried to have with me and caused them to yell. Between the yelling toddlers and the road noise, it was never exactly a peaceful ride inside the cabin.

The good news, in this case, is only two of my children fit in the RX 350 at a time, so I never had all three of them screaming at me at once. Additionally, should you ever decide to leave the kids at home and bring a few adults along for a ride, three can fit in that second row. The person on the middle "hump" won't even complain about being crowded.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

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