By William Maley
Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com
May 2, 2013
In 1999, Lexus introduced the first luxury car-based crossover named the RX. It became a huge success for the company and defined the compact luxury crossover class we know of today. But since that time, the competition has been improving. Vehicles such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz, and even the Cadillac SRX have been making inroads and slowly cutting away the RX’s sales lead. Lexus has been on the attack to stop the advance of competitors by introducing a refreshed 2013 RX, which includes a new F-Sport model that promises a more capable and sporty RX. Does the new F-Sport model help or hurt the RX?
Aggressive is the key word in describing the RX350 F-Sport exterior looks. Lexus did a excellent job of making the F-Sport really stand out. The front features Lexus’ spindle grille with a mesh insert, more aggressive front bumper, and a set of new headlights with LED daytime running lights running along the inner edge. Other F-Sport appointments include nineteen-inch alloy wheels with a graphite finish that help set off the very unique and optional Claret Mica (deep red) paint.
The interior of RX350 F-Sport is much like the standard RX with some touches to it give some sport. There are set of alloy pedals, leather seats with F-Sport logo embroidered into them, a sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, and metal trim pieces. I feel like Lexus is trying a bit too hard to convince everyone that is their sporty model with all of these touches. Just tone it down somewhat.
Comfort is a big plus in the RX. Front seat passengers get power adjustments, heat, and ventilated seats. In the back, passengers will find a good amount of head and legroom. Plus, passengers can recline and adjust their seats to make themselves more comfortable. Cargo space is very impressive, with RX having the best in class of 40 cubic feet. That grows to 80 cubic feet with the rear seats down.
The main point of contention in the RX’s interior is the center stack. Controls seem somewhat cramped thanks to the odd placement of the transmission selector. Also, the screen for the infotainment seems a bit too far in the center stack. I will give Lexus kudos though for putting the screen at just the right height.
The 2013 RX comes equipped with Lexus’ Remote Touch which is this joystick/mouse controller you use to move around the infotainment system. Previously, I have complained about the Remote Touch system being a bit slow to perform a function where I could have done it a bit faster with a touchscreen. Since spending a week with the remote touch system, I got the hang of it and found it to be just as quick if I was using a touchscreen thanks to the layout of the infotainment system. That said, Remote Touch can be sometimes a bit touchy. If you’re trying to make a selection and your hand moves ever so slightly on the remote touch joystick/mouse thing, the selection is cancelled and you’re left yelling at the system. Its not bad, but it isn’t good either.
Powering the RX 350 F-Sport is the same engine you’ll find under the standard RX; a 3.5L V6 making 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. F-Sport models get an eight-speed transmission with all-wheel drive, while base RX 350s stick with a six-speed automatic and the choice between front or all-wheel drive.
The 3.5L’s performance can be classified as adequate. It's not the most powerful engine in the class, but it's also not sluggish. The 3.5L can get you moving at a decent rate, but be prepared to push the pedal a bit more if you need to get moving quicker. The eight-speed automatic is very smooth and responsive. You won’t notice the transmission working its way through the gears unless one of your eyes is glued to the tachometer. The paddles do make the F-Sport a bit more engaging to drive and can be activated when the transmission is in either drive or the manual mode. However, I wished the paddles were on the steering column and not the the steering wheel.
In the fuel economy department, the RX 350 F-Sport sees a minor increase when compared to the normal RX 350 mostly thanks to the eight-speed transmission. EPA rates the RX 350 F-Sport at 18 City/26 Highway/21 Combined, compared to the RX 350’s 18 City/24 Highway/20 Combined. During my week, I saw an average of 21 MPG.
F-Sport models get firmer suspension and steering tuning, and new a lateral damping system that Lexus claims brings the a more engaging driving experience to the RX. The improvements are there... somewhat. The RX 350 F-Sport does roll less when in turns, but that’s really about it. The changes seem to bring more problems than improvements. An example is the steering. I found it to be heavy and wanting to fight me every time I turned the wheel. Lumbering was the word I would use to describe it. Oddly when I was driving around in the RX F-Sport, I kept thinking how much more I liked driving the Cadillac SRX I had a few weeks before.
The ride does suffer a bit as well as the firmer suspension does let more road imperfections into the cabin. It's not to the point of where your kidneys are getting repeatedly punched, but it's very un-Lexus like. The good news is the quietness that Lexus is known for remains very well and true in the F-Sport model.
Sadly there is one more problem with the RX 350 F-Sport, the value for money argument. For the $51,729 as-tested price, you get such items as navigation, twelve-speaker sound system, blind-spot monitoring, and parking assist. But, the Cadillac SRX I had couple weeks before comes with most of these items and a more powerful V6 for about $4,000 less. If you decide to equip an SRX for the same asking price as the F-Sport and you can get such features as a panoramic sunroof, lane departure warning, and number of other features.
The RX 350 F-Sport might look better and have a much better transmission than the standard RX 350, but I feel the normal RX is the much better vehicle all around. The F-Sport just adds more problems and hurts the RX more. If it was just an appearance package, I would be more ok with it. The F in the RX 350 F-Sport must be short for frustrated because that how I’ll felt at the end of my time with it.
Disclaimer: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gasoline.
Year - 2013
Make – Lexus
Model – RX 350
Trim – F-Sport
Engine – 3.5L DOHC 24-valve with Dual VVT-i V6
Driveline – All-Wheel Drive, Eight-Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM – 270 @ 6,200 RPM
Torque @ RPM – 248 @ 4,700 RPM
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 18/26/21
Curb Weight – 4,510 lbs
Location of Manufacture – Cambridge, Ontario; Canada
Base Price - $47,000.00
As Tested Price - $51,729.00* (Includes $895.00 destination charge)
Navigation with Voice Command, Lexus Enform - $2,775.00
Blind Spot Monitor - $500.00
Intuitive Parking Assist - $500.00
Cargo Net - $59.00