Test Drive: 2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

With a recent and total do-over of the Lexus RX, Lexus’s hot-selling crossover now boasts styling, manners and trimmings that pull their weight harder than ever towards its price tag.

The use of chrome and glitz is restrained and tasteful, and the RX 350 F Sport isn’t as aggressively blinged-out as the front row of a Wiz Khalifa concert.

When dropping sixty-plus on a luxury crossover, shoppers want to feel like they’ve just dropped sixty-plus on a luxury crossover: approaching the vehicle in a parking lot, hopping on board, in the look of the cabin, in the way it drives, in the way it impresses visiting and regular passengers, and through numerous little details that surprise and delight. On the basis of these criteria, the new RX hits hard.

The tested RX 350 F Sport flaunts a sportier and more dynamic look than standard RX models, features up-sized wheels, a more aggressive fascia and numerous cosmetic tweaks applied across a meticulously chiseled body that looks like a concept ute. Following the latest in Lexus styling, complete with a unique floating-roof look, artful use of LED lighting and swoopy accent lines, the RX’s new form is one of a kind, and light-years ahead of previous models where uniqueness and distinctiveness are concerned. Best of all, the use of chrome and glitz is restrained and tasteful, and the RX 350 F Sport isn’t as aggressively blinged-out as the front row of a Wiz Khalifa concert.

On board, drivers are treated to a similarly rich and distinguished appearance. The RX 350 F Sport intends to give sports car fans a worthy crossover option, with highly-bolstered sports seats, a digital-ring instrument cluster, a unique colour scheme, and more. For those who really wanted a sports coupe but need extra space and clearance and capability, a machine like this one might fill the gap.

With a central tachometer, unique burgundy leather sport seats, one of the best head-up display units in the business, and a massive central display screen that makes an iPad look like a postage stamp, the cabin is at once athletic, sophisticated and techy. It’s less formal and traditional than a comparable Benz or BMW, more youthful and modern, and features a more daring combination of textures, shapes, colours and trims than is characteristic in the segment. Typical Lexus craftsmanship and attention to detail is perceptible throughout, and in all, here’s a cabin that’ll satisfy even the most refined tastes where colour, texture and detail are concerned.

Delightful little details further contribute to the high-end feel. Ambient lighting, colour-contrasting and embroidered floor mats, windows that automatically slow at the top and bottom of their range of motion for a softer action, and even a beautifully finished cargo hold with carpeting nearly covering the inner liftgate for a more complete look, are just a few examples.

End of the day, here’s a $70,000 tester that feels like $70,000.

Shoppers getting up to some family adventures or golfers heading to the links will appreciate the big, flat and wide cargo hold, power folding second-row seats that fold all but flat, and the humpless rear-seat floor, which facilitates full accommodation for the feet of three occupants. Seating wise, your writer noted no issues for space with two full-sized adults in back, and up front, the space is much the same – though drivers not set on absolute sportiness may want to skip the highly bolstered seats, which are a little more cumbersome to enter and exit, thanks to the need to ride the bolster with your thigh if you aren’t particularly leggy.

The RX’s powertrain now sees a 3.5L V6 with 24 variable valves and two types of fuel injection spinning up 295 hp, up from last year’s 270. The new engine is strong at low revs, eager at higher revs, and buttery smooth all the while. A notable ramping-up of output occurs as revs climb, endowing the power curve with a stimulating shape. The intake sound resonator projects the (real, not simulated) throttle-down intake howl from under the hood towards the cabin through a special duct, generating a deep, reedy tone familiar to drivers who previously owned a custom compact car with an aftermarket cold-air intake.

There’s a new eight-speed automatic, the extra gears simultaneously improving fuel economy and performance. Called upon, it shifts smoothly and quickly enough to warrant occasional manual gear browsing via the paddles. At full throttle, the transmission calls for an upshift before redline, so although the engine seems pleased and eager to spin away, the transmission tends to cut things short. Driven gently, there’s a lot of shifting through the eight gears, though once the gearbox gets used to your driving habits after a few hundred kilometres, it’s all silky smooth, and you’d hardly notice without looking at the tachometer.

An improved All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) system is mechanically similar to last year’s model, though updated electronic controls enhance the system’s relationship with its rear wheels, which get more power, more of the time. There’s a low-traction LOCK function on offer for deep snow and extra-slippery stuff, too. The difference, from the driver’s seat, is less of a ‘slip-then-grip’ feel, and more confidence when getting moving from low speeds in deep snow.

Virtually none of the torque steer and vigorous front wheelspin noted in older units during sudden, heavy throttle events is present, and the AWD system now fully supports drivers in boot-down, high-speed browsing of their favourite snowy backroad with confidence to spare. With the adaptive suspension, (and even adaptive sway bars) working away to neutralize unwanted body motions, the RX doesn’t send its weight flying around like an obese redneck love triangle in a Jerry Springer stage brawl.

The SPORT+ setting is the most urgent available from the Lexus Drive Mode Selector, which allows drivers to call up normal, sporty or extra-sporty settings on the fly, configure and engage their own custom drive program, and more. The selector dial recalibrates steering, throttle mapping, suspension system and active stabilizer calibration, as well as transmission mapping and the tolerance of the traction control system to slips and slides. There’s a distinctive personality imparted in each mode.

Other notables? The HUD is gorgeous, sharp and colorful, and the LED headlights are among the best I’ve yet seen for even saturation, great lighting colour and reduced after-dark eye strain on long trips. One four-hour drive in total darkness was completed with your writer’s eyes as fresh and alert as when I left, largely thanks to the lighting system, and virtually no need to strain to see detail up the road.

As expected, the up-level Mark Levinson stereo system is bright and vivid, offering crystal-clear audio quality and plenty of bass kick, too.

With Sport+ engaged, the potent LED lights handling illumination, and the potent stereo dispatching a little Rise Against into your noggin, the tester felt notably sharp, stable, lively, inspiring and predictable: a good recipe for a thrilling drive indeed. Note that the tester wore a quality set of winter tires, and yours should too, if you’ll use it in the winter.

Ride quality is decidedly sporty, even with the dampers set in the RX F Sport’s Normal mode, and more so in Sport or Sport+. On smooth roads and highways, a layer of softness around the edges eliminates nervous twitchiness and helps smooth things out, though with the stiff shocks and big wheels, ride quality in town is largely at the mercy of the surface passing beneath.

Complaints include the aforementioned sports seats, which are comfortable and supportive once entered, though perhaps a bit too heavily bolstered for easy entry and exit. The wireless charging tray for your smartphone is a must-have feature, though it sits in a narrow opening that makes positioning the phone a little awkward. The start button is awkward to reach, and blocked by the steering wheel. Finally, the Remote Touch Interface (RTI) track pad gizmo is slick once learned, though precise manipulation of the teensy little cursor on such an enormous and action-packed display screen takes some practice.

Ultimately, where a one-of-a-kind take on style, technology and key Lexus traits like a highly-detailed cabin and generous use of the latest in high-tech are concerned, this one deserves your immediate attention.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 6 years/110,000 km powertrain; 6 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Competitors:
Acura MDX
Audi Q5
BMW X5
Cadillac XT5
Infiniti QX60
Mercedes-Benz GLE
Volvo XC60

2016 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport
2016 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport
Base Price $53,950
Optional Equipment F SPORT Series 3 Package ($14,050)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,045
Price as Tested $69,785
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.4
8 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
10 Interior
8 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy