Fifteen years into a segment that it helped define, the Lexus RX350 was beginning to grow whiskers. Despite its lock on the high-end, luxo-crossover market, it still managed to carry a stigma that kept natural testosterone carriers at bay.
In other words, the vehicle was not attractive to men.
That was until Lexus' F-Sport stylists massaged and butched it up a bit. Have they been successful? Let’s give the 2013 Lexus RX 350
F-Sport a go.
What is it?
Derived from what is unquestionably the Lexus brand’s key flagship in terms of sales, the RX350 F-Sport is by and large, a standard, garden variety five-passenger RX 350, one that has managed to push itself away from the dessert table a few times and it has the brawny appearances to show for it. Appearances
are key here, because at the heart of the matter beats the very same 3.5-liter twin-cam V6 that cranks out 270 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque in the regular RX 350. Unlike its more pedestrian sibling, however, the F-Sport features an eight-speed shiftable automatic transmission over the standard six-speed. In addition, the F-Sport sends grip to all four wheels instead of just the front two, as it does on the standard model.
This RX 350 F-Sport features a sport-tuned suspension with firmer springs and shocks as well as a lateral damping system that Lexus says is good for a more engaging driving experience. Some have called it harsh but we were not bothered by its inherent firmness. Sensible minds will manage to avoid thinking that it’s capable of the severe corner-cutting abilities of the LF-A halo car or even the IS-F sport sedan, but it did feel tighter than the base model from which it is derived.
The extra pair of cogs boost highway fuel economy to 26 mpg (from 24 mpg), but the city figure remains 18 mpg for the nearly 4,500 lbs. crossover.
What's it up against?
Competitively, the luxury crossover field is a stout one, although few rivals serve up the availability of a genuinely sporty flavor aside from the BMW X3
, the Audi Q5
and the Volvo XC60
How does it look?
Now that every Lexus has the firm’s new spindle grille, the F-Sport goes a few steps further with a black mesh variation on the theme and a new front fascia with a more aggressive under bumper appearance.
Dark alloy 19-inch wheels help to complete the transformation for a more sinister look but they are still the same size and makeup as seen on every other version of the RX.
From the side, darker rocker panels help to cut down the visual mass, while rear window tint keep prying eyes at bay. LED accent lights continue the sinister look all the way to the F-Sport’s rear flanks.
And on the inside?
The interior of the F-Sport is a sea of blackness with some white contrast stitching. It's got all the sporting pretensions you would find on any other hot ride, as well as titanium-colored paddle shift levers. Alloy pedals occupy the foot well, while the shift lever takes up a high position on the center console.
Titanium colored metal dashboard trim panels help to maintain the reputation of the Lexus brand’s typically beautiful interior design reputation. The seats are carryover from the standard RX with ventilated and heated perforated seats. Although they are comfortable, they did lack for bolstering.
Also making a return appearance is that less-than-fabulous joystick/mouse thing
(officially, Lexus calls it Remote Touch) to control the infotainment system. Less touchy than before, it resulted in the best experience we've ever had with this setup, but that doesn't mean we're fans of it.
Lexus' infotainment menus are clear and easy enough to sort through, but the input device leaves a lot to be desired.
Materials are generally luxury-level with the exception of a particularly cheap plastic used to adorn the center console that was entirely incongruous with the rest of the RX.
But looking at the overall design of the dashboard, it’s clear there is a lot going on. From a design standpoint, it appears that the process has the RX F-Sport trying too hard
to be everything to everyone.
But does it go?
Behind the wheel of the Lexus RX 350 F-Sport, we get the impression that this must be what it’s like when a luxury dealership takes a base vehicle, slaps some of the brand’s high performance wheels and tires on it, along with the requisite badging and charges an extra $8,000 for it.
The F-Sport’s 3.5 liter V6 is an extremely capable engine that will do what its driver wants, when they want it. Extremely quiet in normal driving, the V6 wakes up a little when throttled hard. Squeezing the accelerator gives way to a husky and pleasing sound that shows this ride wants to skedaddle. A pair of steering wheel-mounted paddles made driving more engaging and, notably, they could be used at any time, not just when the shifter was in the manual mode gate.
The ride quality offers an unexpected firmness versus the softness seen in the more common RX 350. Too harsh for some more traditional passengers, we, like Goldie Locks, found it just right. The tuned dampers improved overall stiffness and absorbed vibrations in the ride and helped to give the impression the engineers from Lexus had really done a nice job in calibrating the steering system over the normally smooth-as-butter standard setup found in the garden variety RX350.
The eight-speed gearbox offered a smooth transition through the range but other than the extra pair of cogs offered little in the way of visceral improvements to the overall picture. We did measure fuel economy about spot on with the 21 mpg combined rating, which is about par for the class
At the end of the day, it’s still about selling cars. Lexus has tweaked the RX to make it a sportier being, and while it isn't a corner carver, there are signs of life here that could impress even the hardest of anti-SUV and crossover types.
Why you would buy it:
You hope some of the F-Sport sheen rubs off on this darling of the soccer mom/pop set.
Why you wouldn't:
Your favorite letters in the alphabet are AMG, S and, uh, M.
Leftlane's bottom line
With a minimal amount of effort and expense to the corporate coffers, which in turn adds greatly to the firm’s bottom line, Lexus has managed to expand the life cycle of the current RX350.
Is it a sports car? No. But is it just a bit more interesting? Absolutely. Things are looking up for Lexus – as long as the brand doesn't lose sight of its ravenous base.
2013 Lexus RX350 F-Sport
base price, $47,000. As tested, $53,924.
Blind spot monitor, $500; Heads up display, $1,200; Mark Levinson audio, $995; navigation, $2,775; intuitive parking assist, $500; cargo net, $59; Destination, $895.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.