2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport First Test
Eight Isn't Enough: Two Added Cogs and a Testosterone Patch Don't a Guy's Ride Make
You'll excuse us if the Lexus RX 350 crossover has never blipped on our radar. It is what it is: a well-made, soft-riding, comforts-filled faux SUV that fulfills its mission profile to bean-counter perfection (it's far and away the best-selling model in the Lexus lineup), but exudes the personality and zest of a saltine. The average Motor Trend reader -- that is, dudes -- would derive infinitely more gratification driving a nail.
But now comes a new, buffed-up RX, the 2013 F Sport. Yes, part of the "muscle" is pure appearance-package theatrics, but there are bona fide hardware upgrades, including a new eight-speed automatic with shift paddles, a tauter suspension with 19-inch Dark Graphite wheels, and a standard electronic Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system. (Rumors of a built-in atomizer of Sex Panther cologne are, alas, entirely untrue.)
The revised suspension rates as the most significant departure from the time-tested (and buyer-approved) RX formula. Politically incorrect translation: Mom won't like driving this rig to Scooter's soccer games. There's real firmness to the ride -- you might even call it "harshness." Clearly, Lexus believes the F Sport's bite will lure a new contingent of (male) buyers previously put off by the RX's insistence on doubling-down on the Calgon Bath Beads. But, geez, this thing rides hard, even on relatively smooth SoCal roads. Does a suspension really need to swat at your spleen to garner approving comments in the locker room? We think not. Our test gear thinks not, too: Compared with the last RX we tested, the F Sport delivers only fractionally better grip and figure-eight swiftness. Admittedly, though, a new "lateral performance damping system" does deliver some upside. Using tuned dampers instead of traditional fixed suspension-mounting pieces at the front shock towers and in the rear subframe, the system helps absorb body flex and vibrations. Our fingertips say the steering feel is conspicuously improved.
The VDIM system essentially aggregates all the on-board chassis electronics (ABS, brake assist, traction and stability control, drive-by-wire throttle) and puts them under the simultaneous command of a single computer czar, which, Lexus says, improves performance and control. We didn't notice the VDIM on dry, Southern California roads -- even driving hard -- but, again, our test gear did measure some slight objective improvements.
More noticeable was the presence of the new eight-speed automatic, exclusive to the F Sport (other RX models continue with a six-speed). It's a nice box, smooth and responsive. And you're aware of additional dicing and slicing as it moves up and down through its broad array of ratios, so, you know, obviously this is an advanced transmission. But you have to wonder: Does the eight-speed really improve the driving experience? The engine across the lineup remains a twin-cam 3.5-liter six rated at 270 hp, but with the "better" tranny, our F Sport sample was actually a tenth slower to 60 mph than the last RX we tested. As for efficiency, city EPA numbers are the same (18 mpg), while the F Sport has a 2-mpg advantage on the highway over the six-speed, all-wheel-drive RX. (All F Sports are AWD.)
The shift paddles work well, and you don't need to shift into Sport mode to start using them -- just click a paddle anytime and the tranny obeys. Again, though, this is mostly macho posturing, another added feature that gooses up the sales brochure more than the driving experience: "Enjoy unprecedented precision and control on every treacherous expedition to the farmer's market." For sure, the F Sport looks the part. The 19-inch wheels are impressively tall, dark, and handsome, while the bodywork flares and swells with aggressive pieces (including a "sport" bumper and a revised grille) that add genuine swagger to this longtime staple of the elementary school parking lot. The cockpit is equally racy, showcasing perforated leather seats and steering wheel, aluminum pedals, and ebony bird's-eye maple trim. The F Sport also includes a number of normally optional goodies as standard, among them, heated and ventilated front seats, HID headlamps, and rain-sensing wipers.
The premium over an all-wheel-drive RX 350 amounts to $6290. For that roughly 15 percent surcharge, buyers receive moderately better steering and handling, a significantly degraded ride, a slight increase in highway economy, and a "yeah, you and what army?" body that talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk. Mom doesn't understand what they've done to her beloved RX. And Mom, as you know, is always right.
|2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport|
|PRICE AS TESTED||N/A|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.5L/270-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4411 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||187.8 x 74.2 x 66.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.2 sec @ 92.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||120 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.77 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.9 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||18/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||187/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.93 lb/mile|