I just couldn't get excited about Lexus. Sure, the quality is impeccable and dealer customer service is beyond reproach. But, there was nothing exciting about the vehicles. Styling was pleasant enough, but didn't get my engine revving. And they drive like quiet Toyotas. At the recent Detroit auto show, company scion Akio Toyoda promised no more boring Lexus. One look at the 2016 RX350 F Sport might convince you he's not kidding.
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 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 dashbaord, 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 diving. Another knob adjusts the chassis and throttle for Eco, Normal, and Sport that provides 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 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 controls, but they're a bit 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 drivenn 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 I could really learn to love.
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.
Watch Casey's video review of the RX350 F sport; follow him on Youtube and Twitter: @AutoCasey.
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