Car reviews - Lexus - RX - RS350 F Sport
Smoothness, interior comfort, practicality, ride and handling blend, pedal feel, audio system, F-Sport styling
Room for improvement
No lane-change indicator, weird traffic-dodging sat-nav feature, some low-rent switchgear
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10 Apr 2013
Price and equipment
THE facelifted RX five-seat luxury SUV with the new Lexus ‘spindle grille’ corporate face and other updates hit Australian showrooms last June.
New to the range were F-Sport variants with Yamaha-developed suspension upgrades, more aggressive styling, dark-chrome 19-inch alloy wheels with low-profile tyres and sporty interior trim with dark silver highlights.
The $85,400 (plus on-road costs) RX350 F-Sport tested here also got paddle-shifters for manually swapping cogs on the six-speed automatic transmission.
The equipment list includes sat-nav with SUNA traffic updates, a 12-speaker sound system with voice control, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth streaming and USB/auxiliary inputs for iPod integration.
The self-levelling adaptive HID headlights activate automatically, as do the wipers, and there is climate-control, a reversing camera, eight-way electric seats, a powered tailgate, rear privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels and metallic paint.
Courtesy lighting with puddle lamps and self-dimming, heated mirrors are also included.
BEING an F Sport, our test car had a predominantly black interior with black headlining that felt a bit gloomy and oppressive on a cloudy day and became a bit of an oven after being parked in the sun.
Other than that, we and our passengers found the RX to be a fantastically pleasant place to be, long journeys included, making this a great car to live with.
Having travelled at both ends of the cabin, we found the rear seats to be extremely comfortable, even better than in the front.
In fact a couple we took for a camping trip in Victoria’s Grampians region joked that they were so comfortable in the back of the RX that they would rather spend the night in there than in a tent.
The amount of room back there was great too, and the bench slides and reclines to reach a balanced luggage and passenger space.
Having crammed the RX full of camping gear we were also impressed by its carrying capacity, and found the automatic tailgate to be handy.
Extra interior storage is well thought-out too, especially the extendible door pockets that can take drinks bottles, massive central armrest bin and airline-style map pockets in the seat-backs.
Up front there are two cup-holders in the middle and another handily on the driver’s side, while rear passengers get a further pair and a storage cubby in the fold-down arm-rest.
Only the small glove box disappoints – but space can be liberated by dispensing of the tome-like owner’s manual.
Disappointingly for a car of this price, anyone who has been in a Toyota Corolla will recognise some of the switchgear and the central stack design is still dated.
Nevertheless everything is clear and easy to use, with perhaps the exception of the sat-nav’s traffic jam avoidance feature as the diagram it uses to suggest an alternative routes is almost undecipherable, especially when trying to read it on the move and make a decision at the same time.
We loved listening to DAB+ digital radio through the Mark Levinson audio system, which delivers great sound quality, but is not all that loud and sometimes refused to pair our phone using Bluetooth.
Engine and transmission
THE RX350’s engine is creamy smooth and brilliantly refined, as is the well-matched, six-speed automatic transmission that blends seamlessly into the background.
Perfect pedal weight and travel combine with a beautiful step-off feel to make this a delightfully easy car to drive smoothly and a real pleasure with it.
There is plenty of performance on tap too, and while we like the V6 engine note, it is not as sonorous in the RX as in the GS350 F Sport.
Exclusive to this variant is the paddle shift for manual cog-swaps but we found the response is a bit tardy for spirited driving.
In the end we had to accept that the F-Sport is still an RX, not a BMW X5, and cannot expect to fling it around in the same way – but this is not necessarily the point of these cars and it did not spoil the overall experience for us.
It was a bit thirsty, on a long run we got 9.5 litres per 100km and averaged 11.6L/100km in mixed driving.
That said, we were not far off the official figure of 10.8L/100km and we achieved better economy in this supposedly gas-guzzling SUV than we did in the GS350 F Sport sedan that shares a drivetrain and is theoretically more economical.
The RX has the classic Toyota cruise control system, although it is better than some Toyota/Lexus products we have recently tried in that it would not run away with itself down hills.
Its radar-based adaptive system keeps a safe gap from the car in front and automatically adjusts the car’s speed to the flow of traffic, but it disengages below 40km/h to follow, which is bad for school zones.
Ride and handling
THIS is the pick of the RX range.
Without being too firm, the RX350 F Sport has sporty but compliant and supple suspension, meaning that compared with other variants it rides and handles more like its German competitors – and more in tune with Australian tastes.
The steering has a perfect weight to it, and while we are used to most cars – especially SUVs – having uncommunicative steering these days, the Lexus is not the worst culprit.
It lacks the heavy feeling of the RX450h hybrid and benefits greatly from the F-Sport handling package.
As we said earlier, it is still not the kind of car to be flung about like an X5 but body roll is well contained and the tyres hang on valiantly during hard cornering, with predictable and gentle understeer to indicate the driver is pushing things too far.
Best of all, it is a smooth, comfortable competent cruiser with an ideal balance of comfort and a bit of spirit about it that we find very appealing indeed.
Safety and servicing
STANDARD safety kit includes 10 airbags (including knee bags for both front occupants), active head restraints and seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters.
The F Sport comes with adaptive cruise control, including a pre-collision safety system.
Crash-prevention tech includes ESC, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, brake and hill-start assist and speed-sensitive electric power steering that automatically assists the driver when vehicle stability is compromised.
Crash-test authority ANCAP has not rated the RX range.
Lexus provides a four year, 100,000km warranty and roadside assistance pack.
WE DROVE the RX350 F Sport a lot during our week with it and were reluctant to give it back, as it was such a pleasure to drive and to live with.
For many it is hard to justify spending $85,000 on a car but for those who can, here is one we are sure you will enjoy driving every day – we definitely did.
Compared with rivals from BMW and Benz the Lexus comes comprehensively equipped, with a longer warranty and a reputation for reliability.
It also looks great in black with the F-Sport body kit, privacy glass and dark alloys that really bring out the new spindle grille styling and make it equally appealing to blokey blokes as the traditional SUV-buying school-run mum.
Finally the Lexus ticks boxes for both head and heart decisions, while the overall quality of the F-Sport driving experience makes it a real contender and one of our favourites of the genre.
, From $82,900 plus on-roads. Softer looks than before, well-equipped and the newest kid on the block with a staggeringly frugal yet respectably potent four-cylinder diesel engine at entry level.
, From $92,600 plus on-roads. The dynamic benchmark-setter with strong drivetrains but it will soon be replaced and it is expensive, as are the options.
3. Volvo XC90
From $69,990 plus on-roads. Showing its age now but once set the standard for practicality and is keenly priced.
MAKE/MODEL: Lexus RX350 F Sport
, ENGINE: 3456cc V6 DOHC petrol
, LAYOUT: AWD, transverse
, POWER: 204kW @ 6000rpm
, TORQUE: 346Nm @ 4200rpm
, TRANSMISSION: Six-speed auto
, 0-100km: 8.0s
, TOP SPEED: 200km/h
, FUEL: 10.8L/100km
, CO2: 254g/km
, L/W/H/W’BASE: 4770/1885/1720/2740mm
, WEIGHT: 2085kg
, SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/double wishbones with trailing arms
, STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
, BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
, PRICE: $85,400 plus on-roads
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