The Lexus RX350 F Sport does all the things you'd expect from the brand, but wraps the experience up in an edgy design language that will polarise.
The new-generation Lexus RX took a few of us by surprise during our recent luxury SUV comparison, managing a commendable fourth out of eight reputable contenders.
It may look as though it were designed by Pablo Picasso, but the polarising aspects largely end there. A better-value and plusher premium crossover is hard to find, and if you want to eschew the Germans and have a point of difference, the Lexus is an enticing bet.
But first, that design. Lexus wants to shed its dowdy image, and has been rolling out edgier products in each generation, but the RX is a new high (or low, depending on your aesthetic viewpoint) watermark. Make of it what you will, but it’s not lacking carpark presence.
From the huge hourglass-shaped spindle grille, angry headlights, wildly scalloped side panels, prominent wheel arches and rear-side window that forgoes any hint of practicality in favour of making a style statement, it burns into your retinas and memory.
Here we test the most popular spec level, the F Sport, in RX350 petrol form, priced at $94,010 or about $104,000 drive-away depending on what State you’re in. This is more than $10,000 pricier than the previous-generation car, alarmingly.
That said, in true Lexus style, it’s still good value against its premium rivals. Consider that on our comparison test it was the only car with no options, and amongst the cheapest, yet it offered a comparable level of equipment. That’s what Lexus does well.
Front and centre is the 12.3-inch high definition multimedia display matched to a thumping 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system, with Bluetooth and DAB+. Cabin tech also includes a nifty wireless phone charging pad.
Other standard features include adaptive high-beam LED headlights with sequential LED indicators, keyless entry/start, adaptive suspension, panoramic glass roof, a head-up display, 20-inch wheels, 10-way electric heated and cooled front seats (in gorgeous red leather, no less), power-adjustable steering column, privacy glass and a rear-view camera.
Active safety comprises blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, lane-keeping assists and adaptive cruise control. There are also 10 airbags.
Read our full Lexus RX range pricing and specifications story here.
The high-riding cabin is a mixed bag. The material quality — plush carpets, cold steel and soft leather — is fantastic, and the build is typically flawless. Most buttons are either metallic or made of damped plastic, and the manner in which the glovebox closes is approaching art.
The overall design is quite modern, the big screen is top of class, the alloy pedals and the LFA-inspired dials are a race-y touch befitting the badge, and the centre stack, though a touch cluttered, is well crafted and ergonomic.
Letting the side down, however, is the presence of Toyota switchgear which continues to creep into Lexus cabins (such as that infamous Corolla cruise control stalk), some iffy stitching atop the dash, a grab-bag of button fonts (we’re being persnickety now) and the polarising mouse-like toggle to control all your main screen functions.
BMW iDrive this is not, and though you can add/remove resistance, it remains a fiddly experience that requires excessive menu hopping. Some of the graphics on various pages aren’t up to scratch either, such as the album art display function.
But if it’s plushness you want, then the RX delivers. And based on our experience with older Lexus models, it’ll be squeak-free and as good as new a decade on.
The back seats were middle of the pack in our comparison test. It offers a superior experience to the Porsche Cayenne or Jaguar F-Pace in terms of space, while the seats are well bolstered and soft. Additionally, the floor is flat, the seats offer ample movement, and there are pull-up sun blinds, a set of rear air conditioning controls and a 12V input.
That small side window and fat, floating C-pillar does make the environment a little oppressive at times, though the excellent entry/egress aperture helps make up for it. Unlike many rivals, the RX can’t be had with a pair of special-occasion third-row seats for kids.
From a practicality perspective, the cargo area is a relatively small 453 litres, expanding when you fold the back seats flat (via clever levers in the cargo area). Under the floor there’s only a space-saver temporary spare wheel. This isn’t the SUV for the person who wants maximum space.
What about from behind that lovely thick-rimmed wheel? Under the bonnet (as denoted by the badge) is a 3.5-litre petrol V6 that’s got some years under its belt in terms of development cycle, but which remains smooth, musical and crisp.
In this application it produces 221kW at 6300rpm and 370Nm at 4600rpm, is matched to a syrupy new eight-speed automatic gearbox. The standard front-biased all-wheel-drive system uses an electronic rear differential coupling for the torque transfer rearward.
Towing capacity is a 1500kg braked trailer, the 0-100km/h time is 9.2 seconds, and the claimed fuel economy is a greatly reduced 9.6 litres of 95 RON per 100km (1.2L/100km down on the old model). Our combined loop returned 12.2L/100km, which is actually quite decent, and was only 15 to 20 per cent worse than the diesel competitors.
Those engine outputs look okay, but then the RX has a kerb weight of almost 2.1-tonnes (and a GVM of sub-2.6t), which places demands on every kW and Nm. Ultimately the engine lacks a little low-down torque, though it sings under heavy throttle. And that Sport mode? It just makes the car undignified and raspy by holding lower ratios.
If you want to be bolder, you can get the 230kW petrol-electric hybrid RX450h version (with superior fuel use of 5.6L/100km claimed) for about $8000 more. Frankly, the nickel-metal hydride battery is a little old hat, and the price hike is steep. Meh.
Ultimately, the Euro competition still thrives with refined, muscular and frugal modern turbo-diesel engine engine choices, though if you do low-mileage in urban conditions, you’ll dig the refinement of the hushed Lexus. And the lack of dirty hands at the bowser.
Under the edgy body is MacPherson strut front suspension with an adaptive variable system, and rear double wishbones plus independent trailing arm. Behind the 20-inch wheels (shod in 55-series Dunlop tyres) are 328mm/338mm ventilated brake discs.
The steering system is a speed-sensitive electric power-assisted system with 2.7 turns lock-to-lock that provides a vehicle turning circle of 11.8m. It’s light on centre and a little wooly, but it proved easy to twirly about in town.
Over a mixed array of surfaces, we found the Lexus’ ride and handling to be about what you’d expect from the brand. The cabin is well isolated from tyre and wind roar — a Lexus trademark — and smaller amplitude bump isolation is fairly good, but the body control mid-corner and over undulations is less disciplined than sportier rivals.
But we don’t really care about this, because the RX is intended for urban use — school runs, weekend road trips and the like — and here it does nicely enough. It’s hushed, plush and boat-like, which is about what you’d expect.
From an ownership perspective, the Lexus RX comes with a four-year/100,000km warranty, plus Lexus will pick up your car for each service, or give you a loaner. They’ll also clean your car at each visit, and cover you with Lexus DriveCare roadside assist.
So that’s the Lexus RX350 F Sport. It’s the pick of the line-up, given its aggressive design cues and middle-of-the-range positioning. It’s a pretty easy car to like, and a sensationally simple one to live with, though it’s not as cutting-edge as the Euros.
On the downside, the engine’s inherent refinement is undermined by the lack of low-end torque and the SUV bulk, while the cargo storage is sub-par and the proprietary dial system by which you operate the infotainment is… an acquired taste. To be diplomatic.
Furthermore, don’t believe that the F Sport is actually sporty, despite the badge and the various drive modes on offer. The RX is no Jaguar-rivalling corner carver (or even as slick as the brilliant and class-topping Audi Q7 barge).
What the Lexus RX does do is stick to the brand hallmarks — it’s refined, beautifully made, supremely well equipped and promises years of painless ownership. The edgy styling and more modern cabin only further its cause.
‘New’ Lexus is very much like old Lexus beneath the fancy clothes, but that’s okay. Cars like this have a place in the market.
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