Lexus knows its audiences, and while the cars have not been the most exciting in the past, that’s about to change. And, it’s getting the message out. A round of new television spots includes one targeting LGBT drivers called “Ahead of the Curve” in which a stylish male couple in a modern house have a quick embrace between morning exercise and leaving for work. The RX350’s dynamic styling and performance are highlighted. If this doesn’t sound like Lexus, you need to drive the RX350 F Sport.
Gaze into the front and you’re confronted with a giant black mesh version of Lexus’ trademark spindle grille flanked by angry LED headlamps and running lights. At first, I didn’t care for the grille, but it’s grown on me and looks good on everything from cars to crossovers. Move around to the side and you see a connection to the smaller NX200t crossover in its origami body creases, but they complement the steeply raked backlight, 20” alloys, and floating rear roof design. It’s more dynamic, sportier, while maintaining connection to previous RXs.
Just the thickly-bolstered red leather seats and thick leather-wrapped steering wheel are enough reasons to go F Sport. They’re paired with a restyled interior that gets, in F Sport trim, curved striated aluminum on the console and doors – classy and modern merged. Being a Lexus, the interior is well-made with precision stitching on the dashboard, subtle use of satin silver trim, and thickly-padded armrests. Rear passengers stretch their legs out. The cargo hold, with split/fold rear seats deployed, can swallow a bicycle, stroller, or luggage for four.
The technology suite centers on a joy-stick controlled 12.3-inch high-definition screen in the center dash. Use it to access navigation, radio, climate control, and iThings connected via Bluetooth or USBs. Bring your best music because the 15-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system is divine. Another knob adjusts the chassis and throttle for Eco, Normal, and Sport for a range of fuel economy and performance personalities.
Drivers sit behind an 8” LCD instrument cluster and command safety technology including radar-based adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist with steering correction, and forward collision alert with pedestrian detection and auto stop.
But, it’s the going that’s fun. The RX is available as a hybrid, but we went for the 3.5-liter V6 that sends 295 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque to the all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed paddle-shifted automatic transmission. The exhaust is tuned so you hear more engine noise as you tromp the throttle (in a Lexus!). Still, nearly 300 ponies are enough to kick the RX350 smartly down the road while returning 19/26-MPG city/hwy.
It’s not all perfection. To be truly competitive, the engine needs about another 50 horsepower. And, 26-MPG is at least 5-MPG below what should be expected in a mid-size crossover today. I happen to like the joystick infotainment control, but they’re a little distracting. Plant those big wheels over rough pavement and you’ll feel every bump – but quietly, because it is still a Lexus.
In the past, it was rare for a Lexus to make me tingle. But, every Lexus I’ve driven lately has melted my resistance. Combine exciting styling and performance with Lexus’ reputation for quality and service. That’s a crossover – a crossover like the RX350 F Sport – that my husband and I could really embrace.
A base price of $41,900, and $56,935 as tested, puts the RX350 against the Audi Q5, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX70, and upcoming Cadillac XT5.
2016 Lexus RX350 F Sport
Five-passenger, AWD Crossover
Powertrain: 295hp 3.5-liter V6, 8-spd auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 20”/20” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Design, Comfort
Fuel economy: 19/26 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Cambridge, ON
Base/as-tested price: $41,900/56,935