We’ve had my ‘04 RX330 in the family for about 9.5 years and 164,000 miles. This has been more than enough time for me to rack up a ridiculous knowledge of these cars; it’s even been enough time for the family to pick up a second RX350. So I figured I might as well put this info to use in a guide here.

In case you aren’t a fan of reading, here’s a video outlining most of the differences between the pre-refresh and refreshed RX:

Now that that’s out of the way, there are a few things to look out for with these cars.

  • Power steering- The power steering racks on these cars tend to go bad and cost about $800 to replace with OEM parts. My RX330 had a leak, but they were able to replace a rusty line for $200. Most don’t seem to be as lucky.
  • Cracking dashboards- There was an extended warranty to replace cracking dashboards in these cars, and many other Lexuses, but it ended over a year ago. Unfortunately, my RX33o’s dash has just started cracking. The ‘08 RX350 we have has avoided this fate so far.
  • Trim Adhesive- The adhesive fails on the rear quarter window trim. The entire trim piece fell off of my car, but broke in half on my dad’s RX350. This is just cosmetic, though.
  • Rust- The rust proofing on these cars is really good, but as with any car that is 15 years old, like my RX330, there is some rust present.

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The top half of the trim can be seen missing here.

These next things mostly apply to only the RX330.

  • Timing Belts- The RX330 uses a timing belt, which needs to be replaced every 90,000 miles and about the cheapest you can have this done for is $600.
  • Catalytic Converters- These tend to go bad somewhat early on these cars, but the one in my RX330 made it to 244,000 miles before calling it quits.
  • Radiators- There was a TSB out for the radiators early on, and my RX330 has had its radiator replaced twice so they seem to be a bit of a problem area.
  • Wheel Bearings- The rear wheel bearings needed to be replaced right when we got the car with 82,000 miles. However, these would’ve most likely been replaced at this point.

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The 3.3 Liter V6 in the RX330.

Now, these cars had some really nice standard features for all model years. They include:

  • Sliding center console
  • Reclining 40/20/40 split folding rear seats
  • Full size spare tire under car with underfloor storage in rear cargo area
  • Genuine wood trim, though wood trim varies per year
  • Standard dual zone automatic climate control
  • Standard Homelink
  • Extra cup holder to left of steering wheel in front of an air vent so it keeps drinks either hot or cold
  • Knee airbag
  • All windows automatic up/down
  • Auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors
  • 5 speed “smart” automatic transmission, gearing adjusted in 2007 for lower highway cruising RPMS
  • Brake assist. This applies extra braking pressure in situations the car deems an emergency. This is based on brake application speed and pressure.
  • Collapsible brake pedal in collision
  • 8 speaker Lexus premium audio system, which sounds great
  • Front seats recline all the way flat.
The front passenger seat is reclined flat here.

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These cars could also be had with some interesting packages:

  • AWD system with a constant 50/50 torque split, improved for 2007
  • Heated seats, headlight washers, and rain sensing wipers
  • Leather. Ivory cloth trim is standard for all years, but they’re essentially nonexistent. Almost all come with the premium package even though the premium package is not standard.
  • Premium package: leather seats, power tilt-telescopic steering wheel, memory seats, steering wheel, and mirrors, illuminated entry system, sunroof, and roof racks.
  • Multi-panel panoramic moonroof
  • Performance package which gets you air suspension and a sequential shiftable automatic transmission. This also removes the wood from the dashboard above the shift lever.

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These last two options are also basically nonexistent. Like the cloth interior, they were special order only, apart from the initial production run in 2004.

An interior view of the multi-panel moonroof.
Photo: MB Motorsports

Onto the model year changes.

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2004

  • Used the 3.3-liter V6 with 230 hp and 242 ft-lbs of torque
  • 10-way power driver’s seat, 4-way passenger seat
  • Optional power liftgate
  • Optional wood and leather steering wheel, wood shift knob
  • AWD system uses open center differential and the VSC system to brake slipping wheels and redirect power. TCS cannot be disabled without pulling a fuse in AWD models; FWD models have a button to disable TCS.
  • Third generation of Lexus’ navigation
  • TPMS uses wheel speed sensors to indirectly sense a flat, meaning you have to drive a bit before a flat is detected. This works by sensing the speed of one wheel changing because the diameter of the tire is changing; the tire will get smaller as it loses air.

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2005

  • Added roll sensing curtain airbags
  • Added Bluetooth handsfree calling to navigation equipped models, navigation upgraded to the fourth generation of Lexus’ system
  • Made power liftgate standard
  • Different surround on passenger airbag and seatbelt state light
  • Flipped the direction the stalks turn to turn on the lights, rear wiper, and adjust the sensitivity of the auto-wipers
  • Created Thundercloud edition, which gave the RX a different grille with horizontal slats, black wood trim with the gray interior, and special wheels. It also had the option of an exclusive silver—Thunder Cloud Metallic.

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The Thundercloud Edition of the RX330 in Thundercloud Metallic.
Photo: IFCAR

2006

  • Standard wood and leather trimmed steering wheel
  • 10-way driver’s seat and 8-way passenger seat, adding height and lumbar adjustment to passenger seat
  • RX400h added to lineup

2007

  • Switched to the 3.5-liter V6 with 270 hp, and 251 ft-lbs of torque. The name was updated to RX350. The timing belt was ditched for a chain, too.
  • Added an acoustic windshield and more sound insulation
  • Shape of interior mirror updated
  • Removed cassette player from models without navigation, no aux input added
  • Satellite radio added
  • Fifth generation navigation system implemented, voice recognition for navigation added
  • Center limited slip differential added to AWD system, so system redirects power to wheels with most traction mechanically and not with the VCS and TCS systems
  • Direct wheel mounted sensors for TPMS added
The refreshed 2008 RX350.

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2008

  • The first and only refresh for the second gen RX— new pointier grille with less slats, chrome door handles, and a new 18-inch wheel option
  • Black trim available with gray interior
  • AWD models are now able to disable TCS via a button under the dashboard like the FWD models
  • Both front seats become 10-way power adjustable

2009

  • Pebble Beach Edition added— has unique wheels, chrome grille, and painted rear spoiler instead of the usual gloss black. Also, can be bought in a unique brown called Truffle Mica.
  • No big changes. However, production was scaling back for the upcoming 3rd generation RX in the form of the 2010 RX350.
  • RX400h discontinued
The Pebble Beach Edition in Truffle Mica.
Photo: Top Speed

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These truly are fantastic cars. They do everything well, and we clearly love them since we’ve got two of them. At this point, I would recommend going for the RX350 since they’re newer and they avoid the timing belt replacement costs. And the extra power from the 3.5 V6 is very much appreciated.

As long as you’re not expecting a sporty drive, you’ll love the comfort and solidity of these cars. They’re just so enjoyable to drive and ride in. And as my RX330 has 246,000 miles on it now, you’ll love the reliability, too.