In 1998 when Lexus took the Camry/ES platform, jacked the ride height to 8 inches and put an SUVish topper on it they hit on an instant success. The RX was the first successful crossover to hit the market and its dominance can be immediately be felt in any Whole Foods parking lot. While the sales were successful the RX drive quality was not. With the introduction of the RX 350 F-Sport, Lexus looks to be interested in finally bring driveability to the RX line.
Mechanically speaking, the current RX dates back to 2009 when the platform saw its third redesign. Cosmetically, the 2012 model saw a bit of nip/tuck, especially in the grille. The 2013 F-Sport continues the 2012 refresh retains the signature grille and adds the F-Sport grille insert. I know the new Lexus F-Sport nose can be a bit controversial, but I’m loving it. I like the extreme lines, I like the chrome bowtie, I like the squinty eyes. It’s aggressive and elegant.
Aside from the new infotainment software and a new steering wheel, the only change to the interior from 2012 are some color changes. The shifter still juts horizontally out of the dash and there is still a pretty good smattering of plastic. The front seats are very comfortable and supportive and the drivers seat has a great range of electronic adjustments. The rear seats are capable of full-sized adult transportation in full comfort, something that cannot be said for all crossovers. Cargo hauling is definitely the RX’s strong-suit with the largest hold among its competition.
Base RX models get a standard 7-inch screen in the dash. Standard on F-Sport and included on most option packages is the display audio system which bumps you up to an 8-inch LCD with a backup cam, HD Radio, rotary controller in the center console and the 12-speaker Lexus branded audio system. Of Course, there is also an option with Lexus’ “remote touch” system. The system certainly enjoys a lot of harsh critisicm. I actually enjoy it quite a bit, my only gripe being that it’s awkward and nearly impossible to use from the passenger seat, but I don’t like people messing with my music anyway so that might be a good thing.
If you require SMS text-to-speech and smartphone app integration you will have to shell out $2,775 for the navigation system. Three grand is a lot of dough, even in a luxury segment, but the system is feature rich with full voice commands for your connected devices, XM radio with XM data services, and a 12-speaker sound system. My RX 350 F-Sport also included a $995 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system with 330-watts and a subwoofer.
Under the hood, is a 270 horsepower 3.5L V6 engine. Ni power bump here, this is the same smooth “2GR-FE” engine used in everything from the Lexus ES 350 to the Rav4. It would be nice to get direct-injection like that which is used to increase power and torque in the IS and GS. To compensate for the power deficit, Lexus has included the World’s first 8-speed automatic transaxle. The U880F transaxle features a low first gear ratio at 17.31:1 vs 14.48 for the non-F-Sport model (gear x final drive) and a taller final gear at 2.28:1 vs 2.66:1. The ratios make the F-Sport quick off the line, quicker to 60 by 0.4 seconds and even improves fuel economy by 2MPG on the highway — 18/26 MPG (city/highway).
What I was really looking for out the F-Sport was some major improvements in the corners. Lexus stiffened the dampers, played with the springs, made low-profile rubber standard and dropped in a cross damping system — two braces with integrated gas-shocks, connecting the left and right side of the chassis. While I wouldn’t call the F-Sport a corner carver I would say there is a palpable difference between this and a vanilla RX. Unfortunately, Lexus did not widen the rubber on this RX. Sure wider tires lead to more noise, lower fuel economy and a bumpier ride, but they would’ve also made a huge difference in road handling.
My tester F-Sport came with a $53,000 price tag. Steep, that’s a $7,000 premium over the Volvo XC60 T6, and $3,000 over Volvo’s performance trimmed and very quick XC60 R-Design. Lexus does, however, offer outstanding reliability, dealer reputation and resale value. If you’re willing to drop the cash, the RX 350 F-Sport is by and far the best RX. It looks better, gets going faster, has better fuel economy and handles a bit better.