2016 Lexus RX350 F Sport Review

Rating: 7.5
$92,000 Mrlp
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The Lexus RX350 now no longer straddles two segments thanks to the introduction of the NX beneath it in the Lexus range. The large luxury SUV segment isn't getting any less competitive though.
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Affordable luxury is a term synonymous with the Lexus brand, and it’s one that is definitely applicable to the new 2016 RX350 F Sport.

In fact, this version of the RX350 might be the pick of the range. And with the smaller NX now opening the Lexus SUV range, the RX can concentrate solely on the incredibly competitive large luxury SUV class. The question is whether it has what it takes to fight the popular European offerings.

You can read our Lexus RX launch review here.

You can read our full pricing and specification guide here.

With a price rise of just over eight grand from its predecessor, the new RX350 F Sport rings the till from a starting price of $92,000 plus the usual on-road costs. It sits between the RX200t and RX450h in the RX range and is available in three trim grades.

F Sport, which we have in the CarAdvice garage, is the mid-point of the grade options between Luxury and Sports Luxury. All up, RX buyers can choose from three models and seven variants across a broad range – with prices ranging from $73,000 to $106,000.

The F Sport styling package means you get a sharp and attractive SUV that now goes head to head with much more expensive European opposition. Give our long-term NX200t impressed the team, from the outset we were anticipating a quality driving experience from the RX350 F Sport.

Some of the added equipment highlights include a 12.3-inch central display, 15-speaker audio system, adaptive suspension, head-up display, panoramic sunroof, adaptive high beam, smart key entry and the F Sport interior enhancements.

Under the bonnet, there’s a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and AWD. The engine generates 221kW and 370Nm in quiet and refined fashion, and works seamlessly with the eight-speed auto. The RX350 weighs in at 1980kg and never feels heavy or slovenly despite that slightly portly heft.

Around town especially, at speeds from 0-80km/h, the RX350 gets up to speed smartly. One factor continued to impress during our time behind the wheel. No matter how enthusiastically you work the throttle or how rapidly you ask the RX350 to get up to speed, the sense of calm and refinement in the cabin is never disturbed. It’s a Lexus signature and it’s one that needs to remain present in every vehicle wearing a Lexus badge.

Lexus claims fuel consumption of 9.6L/100km on the combined cycle and we managed a return of 13.1L/100km with only a short highway run thrown into the mix. Around town, where the RX350 will ply most of its trade, it’s a little thirstier than expected, and certainly no match for the turbo diesel Euro brigade in the segment.

If fuel efficiency is absolutely critical in your purchasing decision, Lexus’ disregard for diesel engines might prove to be a stumbling block. But you might also consider the RX450h hybrid or the RX200t turbo, due in F Sport guise in Q2 this year.

Around town, the RX350 feels nimble and manoeuvrable. The steering is light at low speeds, meaning parking is a cinch, and visibility is also excellent from behind the wheel. The RX350 will spend much of its time in the city confines and it does that job extremely well. We loved its ability to carve through congested streets and the ease with which you can park it in congested underground carparks. It’s an SUV that actually feels smaller than it is from behind the wheel.

Head out of the city and the ‘Sport’ in the title don’t make a whole lot of sense. The RX350 isn’t the kind of vehicle that potential buyers will be throwing into corners with gusto, so it doesn’t really matter but still, it’s not really a sporty SUV in the modern sense. As such, it doesn’t respond to vigorous inputs the way a properly sporting SUV will, and it can’t be hustled along with any semblance of genuine speed.

However, and here’s the rub, at ‘normal’ city speeds, the RX350 rides and soaks up rutted roads beautifully. It’s supremely comfortable at all times thanks partly to the adaptive suspension system.

Part of that comes down to the comfortable seats, but kudos must also go to the suspension tune. Where it can feel unsettled at speed, it feels beautifully balanced at more sedate family-friendly speeds. It would be even more comfortable with smaller wheels and tyres in play too, although it’s hard to argue with the visual appeal of the 20-inch rims fitted as standard to our test model.

The interior, as we’ve come to expect from Lexus of late, is a work of art without the high-end pricetag and fragility. Beautifully designed and executed, trimmed to a high standard and comfortable, the cabin is a genuinely enjoyable place to be. The driver’s seat affords exceptional visibility and it’s easy for drivers of all heights to get comfortable behind the wheel.

The leather trim is supple and comfortable and, like our NX long termer, the seats both up front and in the second row are among the very best in the business. They are supportive but never hard and the make longer drives a pleasure. The kids won’t be whining about being uncomfortable on family trips, that’s for sure.

It's in the second row where the 120mm that’s been added to the RX platform is most evident. It adds to the knee room on offer for taller drivers, but the expansive sunroof does eat into headroom a little.

Where there is plastic trim in the cabin, it’s soft touch and never feels harsh or tacky. Some of the interior theme could be criticised for being a little bland and a little too ‘Toyota’ in its execution, but it manages to straddle the line between luxury and possessing a hardwearing, long-life feel.

The infotainment system is, for this tester, a mixed bag. I loved the crystal clear 12.3-inch screen that sits proudly atop the sculpted dash. It displays everything you need to see clearly and sensibly, so it’s a big tick there. What grates is the Lexus remote touch joystick system. It’s an improvement on the old model and you become more attuned to it the more you use it, but it’s nowhere near as easy to use as other systems in other vehicles. Something as simple as changing the radio station on the move for example, isn’t an easy task, although you can adjust the sensitivity of the cursor movement.

It’s not a deal breaker, and some CarAdvice testers love it, but I didn’t enjoy it more the longer I used it. It seems needlessly complex. The actual infotainment system itself, though, is excellent – the audio equipment is crystal clear, the sat-nav mapping accurate and easy to follow, and the menu systems simple to understand.

As Tim mentioned in his launch review, the other area that potentially lets the RX down is boot space – or lack thereof. With 453 litres on offer when the second row is being used, it trails the BMW X5 by nearly 200 litres – a whopping difference in such a competitive segment. It has a high floor, which will make heavier items more difficult to load and unload, although with the 40:20:40 split seats folded down, the RX easily carted my mountain bike.

The 2016 Lexus RX350 is covered by Lexus’ four-year/100,000km warranty and roadside assistance for the same period. While the brand doesn’t offer capped-price servicing, the RX does benefit from free servicing over the first 12 months or 15,000km.

The Lexus RX350 is a sold all-rounder and the traditional Lexus buyer will almost certainly love it. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the RX either, and we reckon this model is the pick of the range in terms of inclusions and value. While the smaller 2.0-litre engine might be more efficient, the V6 as fitted to this model is a refined and impressive performer – if a little thirsty.

The problem for Lexus though is that European competitors offer seven seats, efficient turbo-diesel engines and more dynamic road holding ability. While Lexus loyalists might not care, the brand needs to win the hearts and minds of buyers who might not otherwise buy a Lexus. The RX350 F Sport isn’t quite the vehicle to do that, although it does come close.

Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Lexus RX350 F Sport images by Mitchell Oke.