Recently, I had the opportunity to drive Lexus’s new F Sport package on the RX 350. While there isn’t a lot of differentiation between it and the base RX, it is an interesting choice for those that want to go faster and have more driving control.
When Toyota told me to take the RX 350 F Sport for a week, I was curious if the “sport” was really worth it. I have driven in several previous models and found them to be very plush and comfortable SUVs. The Sport distinction seems more at home in their other products and not in a SUV. Naturally, I was surprised by what I found.
During the week, I drove the RX 350 F Sport around Denver, CO including up into the mountains. I also drove it with my family of four, with our two boys under four, for a drive to see how roomy the cabin really is with all their gear.
For the record, the F Sport distinction speaks to the eight-speed automatic transmission (made by Aisin) complete with paddle shifters and an optional manual mode. It also has a “unique lateral performance damper system” which is really just a fancy cross-dampening suspension system. These new additions work in conjunction with the carry over V-6 and slightly larger tires (19-inch aluminum wheels with 235/55 all season tires). Plus, all wheel drive is standard.
The F Sport is rated as being 18/26/21 mpg. For reference, the base model is 18/25/21 mpg. I thought the 1 mpg highway bump was a bit low with the eight-speed transmission – the same number of speeds used in trucks for better fuel economy.
One of the things that first strikes you about the F Sport is how similar it is to the base model. In fact, Lexus only gave it subtle highlights that distinguish it. Also, adding to the F Sport model are two small emblems along the side and a new “aggressive grille.” Lastly, there is a bit more chrome and the wheels have a dark graphite finish. That is about it, and it looks basically identical in all other ways. This is a bit surprising since the F Sport is a package upgrade.
While it isn’t that much different than other RX models, it does have the Lexus superior fit and finish. Frankly, parking it on the street or in a parking lot, it really stands out as a superior product.
As one would expect from a luxury SUV, the interior is very plush and comfortable. This includes everything from the seats, steering wheel to the covers on the storage compartments is built to a high quality. It is really quite comfortable driving it as well with all the controls were easy to reach. Plus, Lexus’s remote touch system (quasi-mouse like device) for controlling the Lexus Enform system is pretty handy. I found that it limits your distraction and is really fast to learn how to use. Overall, it is quite unobtrusive and is a great innovation.
Make no mistake though, this is a smaller SUV. While it is perfect for a couple or older customer (no kids), having a family of four in the vehicle can be a challenge. This isn’t a knock on it, this vehicle isn’t made for my young family. However, when driving to the golf course or errands, it has a great amount of space.
it is tough to describe in words what a Lexus drive like. It quite literally takes harsh roads and makes them feel smoother. Cornering, accelerating and braking are all top notch. It is fun and a pleasure to drive compared to non-luxury vehicles.
One of the items I was eager to test was the eight-speed transmission. It seems like a lot of gears for the small SUV with only a V-6. I had some real mixed results on it. One of the things I would do while driving is put the RX into manual mode to see what gear the computer had decided to shift into. At times, I was shocked to discover what gear I was in. For example, one time driving around town at 40 mph, 14oo rpms, I was in 8th gear. Another, I was driving 77 mph on the interstate in 5th gear when I added fuel, then quickly dropped back to 8th gear when I let off. This shifting pattern is nothing like I would have thought to use, if I drove it in manual mode. I can completely see why it is electronically controlled since the shifting seems a bit abnormal.
Also of interest with manual mode is that the computer will override your gear selection to protect the transmission. This is a great idea, especially with the growing lack of manual transmission driving knowledge. I tried several times to stall it out or rev up the engine only to discover the car would shift for me.
A big benefit to having the eight-speed transmission has to be the smoothness at acceleration. Punching the pedal, it effortlessly shifted through gears without having any hesitation. While this was great, it does make me wonder if the eight-speed transmission is really necessary.
The handling and ride comfort was simply spectacular. I drove it over bumpy roads, deep into on ramp corners and across roads under repair. It performed admirably in all circumstances. The V-6 engine’s output really surprised me and got the SUV where I wanted to go really quick.
While there is ongoing debate as to the value you receive in $7,690 up charge over the base model, it is clear that either model is a good choice. If you are looking for more “punch” opt for the F Sport. It isn’t a substantial performance upgrade, but it is the more FUN choice.
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