2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport Review
Lexus attempts to spice up its sedate crossover.
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: March 5th, 2013
Lexus has been trying to court performance buyers recently by adding its F Sport performance trim to six of its models. Market-watchers won't be shocked by this move, as Lexus has long been accused of being soft, at least relative to competitors like BMW and Audi. Those automakers have reputations for turning out performance cars to go along with their luxury models, while Lexus has been more associated with capable, quiet cars that are luxurious but not fun. Cars meant more for the country club than the racetrack.
The Lexus IS F, the hot-rod version of Lexus' smallest sports sedan, commands a dear price at more than $60K. The F Sport trim exists to give certain models a bit more flair without Lexus having to go all-in on dedicated performance models that won't sell in large volume.
That strategy makes sense when applied to sport sedans, and it's even understandable that Lexus would produce an F Sport version of its LS flagship luxury sedan and its CT 200h compact hybrid. What seems a bit odd is the brand's decision to give its RX 350 SUV the F Sport treatment.
On the surface, the idea of giving the original luxury soft-roader some edgy attitude doesn't sound like a bad thing. Yet we're not sure if the RX's target audience will care much about an eight-speed automatic transmission, 19-inch wheels, a sport suspension, and minor exterior and interior trim changes over the base model, even if the F Sport comes standard with some luxury features that are optional on base trims.
We also weren't sure that the F Sport treatment would actually improve the RX's on-road performance.
On the Road
Adding a sport-tuned suspension is supposed to improve the driving experience, but to us, there is little difference in handling feel or ride between the F Sport and the previous RX. That also applied to acceleration.
That could be because the RX is sized exactly the same as the 2012 model and has the same 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 under hood. The eight-speed automatic (available on F Sports only) could be expected to change the RX's performance, but if it did, the evidence is subtle. We think the eight-speed is probably a concession to fuel economy, even if it only adds one mpg (two mpg are added over the base all-wheel-drive RX) to the highway rating. Sure, the paddle shifters give off a performance vibe, but we can't imagine too many RX drivers pretending that they're at Le Mans during a Costco run.
Even though the F Sport trim doesn't turn the RX into some bad-ass performance SUV, it doesn't mean the news is all bad. While the steering feel is typical of Lexus--somewhat light and distant--it's not as vague as it once was. Handling is hampered by typical tall crossover traits like body roll, but it's acceptable enough for this class. All F Sports are all-wheel-drive.
Where the RX shines is ride--it's neither too harsh or too soft, and it seems about right for long highway drives or short trips to the strip mall.
We already noted that 3.5-liter gives the RX solid punch off the line, and it's worth remarking that the engine remains quiet when not being pushed. This may be a sporty RX, but it's still an RX.
For 2013, Lexus updated all RXs with a new front fascia, but the overall shape and dimensions remain the same. That means the look is familiar, with gentle curves at the front and rear.
The new grille and fascia do add some aggression, and the F Sport gets a mesh grille and some special "F Sport" exterior badging.
Interior changes are minor, centering mainly on a redesigned center console. F Sports get aluminum pedals and black leather seats with contrasting white stitching, along with a few features that are optional on base trims, such as a sunroof and heated and cooled front seats.
We liked the curvy center stack and the mouse-like controller for the multimedia suite (even if it did take some getting used to), and we found materials to be class appropriate. Headroom and legroom up front are ample.
Lexus may be intending to build a sportier crossover with the F Sport, but what F Sport buyers will really get is a bunch of standard features that would be optional on the base RX and a bit more attitude in the styling. There may be a performance boost here, but it's minimal.
We think that may be the goal here. Lexus isn't worried about creating an RX that can compete with the BMW X5 M, but rather, the company wants to snag buyers who previously disdained the RX 350 as too effete.
If it can get buyers to fork over an extra $8K or so for the F Sport, then it's mission accomplished.
Specs, Features, and Prices
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Drive Wheels: All-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway
Base Price: $47,350
Available Features: leather seats, air conditioning, heated and cooled seats, sunroof, navigation, rearview camera, blind-spot alert, hands-free parallel parking, remote start, heads-up display.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2013 Lexus RX 350, click here: 2013 Lexus RX 350.