‘X’ MARKS THE SPOT AS A NEW ERA OF LEXUS SUVS IS UPON US – STARTING WITH THE NX AND NOW JOINED BY THE RX.
Stylistically, both NX and RX are on the same page, but the RX is larger and most models have V6 engines (only the entry-grade RX200T shares the turbocharged four-cylinder engine with the smaller LX line-up).
We took the keys to the extensively-equipped RX 350F Sport for a week. At $92,000 it sits below the F Sport Luxury ($98,000), but you won’t see change out of ‘one hundred big ones’ to get it on the road.
At that price, it’s not for everybody, but it certainly pampers with an attention to detail and a luxury feel that is typical Lexus.
Vehicle Style: Large Prestige SUV
Price: $92,000 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 221KW/370Nm 3.5 litre V6 petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.6 l/100km | tested: 12.2 l/100km
A five-seat luxury SUV, the Lexus RX 350 F Sport is powered by an updated version of the naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine. It pounds out a healthy 221kW and 370Nm – that’s 15kW and 24Nm more than the previous generation.
Drive is to the front wheels, or all four wheels on demand, via a slick eight-speed automatic transmission.
You’re never short-changed for luxuries in any Lexus and some of the standard features in the RX are gorgeous leather F-Sport heated and ventilated seats.
The F Sport also ups the ante with additions such as unique 20-inch alloy wheels, moonroof, a 12.3-inch HD multimedia display, 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio, head-up display, a unique exterior styling package, sharper steering calibration and VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management). The full feature list follows.
A 1000kgs towing capacity may limit the number of grey nomads shopping for the Lexus RX 350 F Sport, but this is a car for bureaucrats and company directors inhabiting the inner ‘burbs of our big cities, not for the trek through ‘The Centre’.
- Standard Features: F Sport steering wheel and F Sport fine-grained leather seats (heating/ventilation and 10-way power adjustment for the fronts), head-up display, satellite navigation, DRLs, wireless telephone charger, reversing camera, clearance and back parking sonar, cruise control, power-operated rear hatch, alloy pedals, panoramic sliding moonroof, LED lights (dynamic levelling) and sequential LED turning indicators as well as sports features such as adaptive variable suspension, five-mode drive select.
- Infotainment: 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, 12.3-inch HD multimedia display, DAB+ digital radio,Bluetooth, voice recognition, aux-in USB socket, CD/MP3/AM/FM
Extra space inside is never a bad thing and, thanks to 50mm more in the wheelbase, the all-new Lexus RX is both more generous in the rear seat than its predecessor, and longer in the luggage area.
Our test car was trimmed in a beautiful white leather with contrasting black carpets – offset that luxury with brushed aluminium trim highlights and aluminium sports pedals and the overall look is very nice, very appealing.
We like the lateral support of the F Sport’s sports seats and with plenty of adjustment plus electronic rake/reach adjustment for the leather-wrapped F Sport steering wheel (with memory settings), there is no trouble finding a handy driving position.
At the wheel, and for all passengers really, this is a beautifully comfortable carriage. It is serenely quiet, the attention to detail with the trim and stitching is of the highest grade, and the doors close snugly, sealing out the rude intrusions of the world.
Once you’ve settled inside, the RX 350 imparts a tangible sense of travelling ‘first class’.
And the instrumentation also appeals – the F Sport providing a large central tachometer with digital speedo display inside (the latter replicated in the Head Up Display.) Atop the centre console is a 12.3-inch multifunction screen which enables multiple display options for satellite navigation, audio and climate control information.
The rear seat provides a 40/20/40 split-fold function for carrying larger items, and the electric tailgate (although not ‘swipe’ activated) exposes a large flat and functional boot. One made larger because there is no third row of seats to accommodate.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine/transmission: 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6 petrol/eight-speed automatic
- Power/torque 221kW at 6300rpm/370Nm between 4600-4700rpm
- Suspension: Independent McPherson strut front/Independent trailing arm rear
- Brakes: 328mm ventilated discs front/338mm ventilated discs rear
- Towing capacity: 1.0 tonne (braked trailer)
The upgrades to the 3.5-litre V6 engine deliver seven percent more power, four percent more torque and an 11 percent improvement in fuel consumption over the previous model. That’s a commendable combination, although our ‘real world’ results of 12.2 l/100kms are on the high-side.
The eight-speed U881F transmission with steering wheel paddle-shifters impressed with its smoothness plus rapid manual cog-swaps in ‘M’ mode (including throttle-blipping downchanges).
The Lexus Drive Mode select function allows you to choose ‘Eco’, ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’ but the F Sport variant gains the worthwhile addition of ‘Sport S’ and ‘Sport S+’ settings.
In normal driving the Lexus RX 350 F Sport drives the front wheels, but, when conditions dictate, torque front/rear is adjusted (up to 50:50) via the new generation Dynamic Torque Control system which considers input from speed, steering and throttle angles and yaw rate.
Also, if you do happen to be dragging yourself out of a boggy wet paddock, below 40km/h you can achieve maximum 4WD grip by overriding the Dynamic Torque Control system and pushing the ‘AWD Lock’ button.
Compared to the previous generation, the all-new Lexus RX 350 F Sport runs a 50mm longer wheelbase and 10mm wider track – these extra dimensions combine with a re-do of anti-roll bars and spring rates, a stiffer bodyshell, and the Adaptive Variable Suspension, to deliver a flatter ride and better steering response.
Naturally this is not the kind of SUV in which you’d tackle the upper end of Cape York, but in its natural urban environment the Lexus RX 350 F Sport excels.
It rides easily over the bumps of Melbourne’s cobblestone inner-city laneways and soaks speed humps more like a limousine – bumps which are certainly felt more in an X5 or Mercedes Benz GLE.
Noise isolation on the highway is also impressive and there is plenty of steering lock and visibility for CBD parking. And it can get up and boogie if those 221kW are given a shoe-full off the line, or when overtaking – zero to 100km/h in 8.0 seconds isn’t bad for a 2.0 tonne luxo bus.
(Although the engine can sound a bit thrashy when revving hard; we’d much prefer the sporting note of the BMW.)
However, while the ride is refined and comfortable, in the twisty stuff – notwithstanding the variable dampers – we found both steering response and body roll a tad outside our expected parameters.
It’s not a deal-breaker, and certainly things improve in ‘Sport S+’ mode, but it falls quite a bit short of the dynamic feel and the flat, controlled attitude and cornering ability of the Audi Q7 or BMW X5.
Of course, that said, there is nothing wrong with a feather bed if you prefer your drive ‘comfy’.
ANCAP rating: This model scored 5-stars when tested by Euro NCAP last year.
Safety Features: 10 airbags, reversing camera clearance and back parking sonar, rear cross-traffic alert, active cruise control, ABS anti-lock brakes with EBD and brake assist, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, traction control, stability control, blind-spot monitor,
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Lexus RX 350 F Sport’s price of $92,000 (plus on-road costs) sees it slipping in under the pricing of the nearest-matched Germans.
BMW’s X5 xDrive25d is closest in price to the RX350 F Sport, and, though diesel, is a close match in performance (7.7 seconds to 100km/h). But, though quite a bit sharper on road, its feature list is not nearly as packed as the Lexus.
We’ve not yet driven Jaguar’s history-making first SUV - the F-Pace - but it’s coming very soon and we do know the F-Pace 35t R-Sport model is to carry a sticker-price of $89,790, so it must be on your shopping list.
And Audi’s Q7 160; it’s a V6 turbo-diesel and features a truly beautiful interior, but at $96,300 plus on-roads – before you start ticking the options boxes to match the feature list of the RX 350 – the Lexus holds something of a price advantage.
The Mercedes Benz GLE 250d is slightly cheaper than the Lexus, but is certainly less well-featured. It packs a 2.1 litre diesel, and is a little slower (at 9.0 seconds) to 100km/h. It does have a handy 500Nm on tap though and is compelling buying.
There is also the Porsche Macan 3.0S. While conceding some interior space to the Lexus, it’s handily priced at $93,100.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Lexus only knows one way and, predictably, the all-new RX350 F Sport is a leap forward from the outgoing generation.
Yes, this is a car for the North American market so in the category of driving dynamics it favours soft and compliant over the German’s hard and edgy. If that’s your leaning, then do consider the Lexus if shopping for a premium SUV.
On a straight feature-for-feature comparison, the $92,000 RX 350 Sport comes generously and sumptuously appointed. You will also find a silky V6 and eight-speed auto doing the business, and an interior that oozes up-market quality and class.
We go along with Lexus’ thinking on the five seats – in this sub-segment, a good five-seater with abundant passenger and luggage space makes more sense than a seven-seater with ridiculously tight legroom in the third row and compromised cargo capacity.
And, on the value-for-money front, the Lexus RX350 F Sport has most rivals covered. We’ll take on board the views of some regarding the styling – ok, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we don’t mind it.
All things considered, we’d choose the Audi Q7 as the best all-rounder, but the pampering Lexus RX350 F Sport is one we’d happily have in the TMR garage (there is just that little hurdle of the ‘one hundred big ones’).
And sure as eggs, it will last longer than Stonehenge.
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