The RX350 F-SPORT makes the fourth Lexus and the third F-SPORT model we’ve had the opportunity to test recently. And being the only SUV of the crowd so far, we got to spend two weeks with it instead of the single week we got with all its siblings. Initial reaction:
WTF? Where the GS F-SPORT probably left ze Germans at BMW’s M division saying, “What the…?!?”, and the big LS460 F-SPORT had the athletic ability to leave your passengers saying the same once you fooled them into thinking it was a docile pussycat, the RX350 F-SPORT initially left me saying the self-same phrase, and not exactly in a good way.
Perhaps that was because I failed to understand the machine’s tweaks at first. The RX350 F-SPORT carries the same number of horses in its engine bay as all lesser-priced RX350s– 270– and upon my first opportunity to lay into the throttle, I wasn’t blown away in the same way I had been when testing the GS and LS F-SPORTs. But as our first week got underway, I kept reminding myself the RX was still a tall, heavy crossover utility vehicle.
Then, I got an opportunity to kick the shift lever over into manumatic mode so I could play around with the F-SPORT-specific flappy paddles behind the steering wheel. This baby’s got eight speeds, just like our LS460 F-SPORT had. That’s one tuning tweak I admittedly didn’t realize Lexus had made to the car during my first couple of days driving it, because I had been throwing it in “D” and taking off.
It makes perfect sense, though. The eight-speed was smooth as silk when left in Drive, just as we experienced in the LS460 with its eight-speed gearbox. Shifts were imperceptible under normal driving conditions unless you happened to glance at the tachometer as a shift was being executed. This silky smoothness allowed the RX350 F-SPORT to be a very smooth operator during 95% of my daily driving tasks, and helped it snap to the appropriate gear more quickly during my rare summoning of the RX’s passing capabilities. The eight speeds also made sure I could dial in just the amount of revs I wanted when playing with the shift paddles in manual mode, thanks to the smaller rev spacing between gears.
It’s worth noting that smooth eight-speed transmission also helps the RX350 F-SPORT, which features all-wheel drive, beat the other RX350 models with all-wheel drive when it comes to fuel efficiency. The F-SPORT knocked down an EPA rating of 26 MPG highway and a combined score of 21 MPG, while the AWD RX350 was rated at 24 MPG highway and received a combined score of 20 MPG. Both AWD models are rated at 18 MPG city. During my test week, I saw as high as 24 MPG average indicated on the trip computer, but was firmly in the 21 MPG range near the end of the two-week test period.
The smooth trans couldn’t hide the other tweak I didn’t immediately notice, however: The RX350 F-SPORT gets a stiffened suspension with performance dampers and stabilizer bars. While this made the tall CUV surprisingly adept at taking 90-degree merge ramps at speed and helped it feel more planted than something this tall and bulky has any right to feel when hustled down a narrow country backroad, the price was a slightly harsher ride than many other crossovers we’ve tested in recent memory.
The stiffness became apparent after I ferried my folks on a 200-mile roadtrip. The Chevy Equinox LTZ we tested is a pretty far stretch downmarket compared to the RX350 in any form, let alone F-SPORT trim, but did a better job isolating passengers from the harshest pavement imperfections, according to my parents, who rode in both vehicles. Then again, the Equinox would likely be trounced by the RX350 F-SPORT in terms of pure handling, if we had the opportunity to put both of them on a slalom and skidpad course back-to-back. Using that ubiquitous piece of in-car technology known as the “butt dyno,” I can say the RX felt appreciably faster than the Equinox despite its 31-horsepower disadvantage. There again, perhaps much of the credit is due to the eight-speed gearbox helping the RX put its power to the ground more effectively. The ‘Nox had only six gears.
Of course, no Equinox– not even the nicest LTZ trim, which we tested– gets you the interior refinement and infotainment features of the RX350. That includes the Lexus Remote Touch controller interface. More about the interior appointments in a later post.
Disclosure: Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.