Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos | November 09, 2016 07:40
Leveling up the premium crossover
The Lexus RX has always been the brand's most commercially successful crossover, consistently topping its class in overall sales in its primary market: the United States. It makes sense; offering the usability and versatility of a mid-size SUV, the luxury and comfort of a premium automobile, as well as the sensibility, reliability, and advanced technology (i.e. hybrid drive) of a Japanese brand, especially the luxury arm of the number one automaker in the world in 2015.
But Lexus, like Toyota, isn't one to sit still and bask in their success. No, this company knows how to push the goalposts even further so that just when the competition thinks they have a contender to challenge them, the rules have already been changed.
Such is the case with this new generation Lexus RX 350... and in F Sport trim.
For starters, look at it. There is no doubt that the RX looks so incredibly futuristic; a leap forward in terms of design over its predecessor. The spindle grill, a recent Lexus hallmark, has been made incredibly prominent amidst a very aggressive F Sport bumper. The headlights sit high up on the fascia, and each of them have three L-shaped LEDs for primary illumination.
The silhouette is very sleek and the beltline is high and sweeps up towards the back. Lexus gave the RX the impression that the roof is actually floating thanks to a near-seamless glass area that flows from the A-pillar and wraps around the back. Being an F Sport variant means this gets details like the F Sport badging and the larger, more stylish gunmetal gray 20-inch wheels. If anything, this RX looks properly sporty, and will definitely be a head turner in the many gated communities they frequent.
And then there's the interior. Perhaps the most prominent is the application of red leather all over the cabin from the seats, the door inserts, and the center console; a definite nod to the LFA. The dashboard is modern and more straightforward; Lexus made the RX more driver centric by framing the primary controls and displays (gauges, radio, climate control, etc.) from the door to the console.
The dashboard is dominated by a central display that is manipulated via the controller positioned ergonomically just aft of the shifter. Everything looks more sleek and polished; no more faux-looking wood that looks a bit too bright for this day and age. But perhaps the most notable change over the predecessor is the migration of the shifter from the dashboard's center stack to the center console rising up from the floor.
Despite being a mid-size crossover, the RX is still a 5-seater. That's all well and good, as it's better to seat 5 people comfortably with its supple leather and with leg, hip, and headroom to spare than seven people rather snugly; this is a premium crossover after all. What that affords you is a rather large cargo space, and the middle row folds down after pressing a few switches on either side of the seats.
And then there's the way it drives. On a daily commute from home to the office and back, amidst a mix of concrete roads, smoother tarmac, and with a heavy sprinkling of potholes in between (new ones from the rainy season), the RX drives as as Lexus should; it drives smooth, it rides comfortably (thanks to adaptive damping), and it runs silent. The sound insulation even makes other cars seem silent, though it still can't fully suppress the open mufflers commonly found in motorcycles.
The RX 350 is easily maneuverable around town, despite the length of the hood and the width of the body. The steering is precise; a good thing to have when maneuvering around tight city streets, and you've got ground clearance to spare should you misjudge the curb on the corner. Cameras and sensors make quick work of tough-to-get-into parking slots, though you do need to leave room for your door to open as the doors seem to be quite thick. Fuel economy isn't too bad: 6.5 km/l (21 km/h average) if driven sensibly in traffic and 10.0 km/l (86 km/h average) on the highway.
When you do take it to the highway, what's most enjoyable is the engine. The new RX 350 F Sport gets an improved version of the 2GR 3.5L V6; this is the FKS variant, not the previous FE version. What that results in is more power at 292 PS at 6200 rpm and 360 Newton meters of torque at 4700 rpm. And its matched with an 8-speed auto with on-demand all-wheel drive should the road surface get slippery; the standard RX gets front-wheel drive only.
On the expressway, the RX 350 proves to be a very capable and very comfortable long distance cruiser... for the family. It almost feels like a grand tourer instead of a crossover, as the seating position lends the feeling that you're settled into it and not on it much like you would on a more conventional crossover with a more upright seating position. As such, the RX 350 F Sport feels inviting to drive fast, and when you toggle the knob to activate Sport (or Sport+) mode, it really can be quick. As it stands, Lexus says the RX can hit 100 km/h from a standstill in 8 seconds, and head up to a top speed of 200 km/h.
On the faster corners, the RX 350 F Sport doesn't disappoint. The steering is definitely not analog (hydraulic), and so don't expect a great amount of “feel”. What it is is accurate: intuitively, where you point is where it goes. The suspension on this F Sport model actually has a stiffer setting for handling that's activated when you put the drive selector to Sport+, and there's also a sound generator to let you hear more of the engine.
Overall, the 2016 RX 350 F Sport has it where it counts; rides like a Lexus when you want it to, and almost delivers the drive of a GT car if you so wish. It does come at a price: PhP 4,938,000 for this F Sport. It sounds steep especially since the standard RX 350 is almost a million less at PhP 4,068,000, but I think Lexus justified it well, and its still less than many similarly-sized German rivals. This version delivers significantly more than the standard version, meaning that this F Sport is more than just badging and marketing; it's definitely a better model overall.