2016 Lexus RX 350AWD F Sport Review
By Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman
Sixteen years ago Lexus introduced us to the RX – a midsize luxury SUV that seated 5 people, had a very usable rear cargo area, and was based on a car chassis, so it drove more like a car than a truck. It had a pleasant ovoid or jelly bean shape, and was reasonably priced. It struck a chord with the buying public, and quickly became Lexus’ best-selling vehicle, and it has remains their top selling vehicle as it now launches the fourth generation for 2016. The RX has gotten taller, wider, longer, heavier, more luxurious, and more powerful over the years . . . and a lot more expensive, too. It also has taken a bold leap in this redesign year with the exterior styling.
Lexus has never been known for bold ground breaking styling, but lately that’s been changing. And this new RX might be their boldest styling statement yet. I think this design is one of the sleekest and most adventurous looking SUV’s on the market. And I fully enjoy looking at it from every direction, save one.
Viewing the profile, with its “floating roof” that seems to be suspended over the flared, angular rear haunches is particularly appealing. It is enhanced by the creased and flowing beltline, and upswept character lines from the lower front fender to the rear wheel wells. It gives off a rugged and athletic look.
And the view from the rear is interesting as well, with the roof spoiler overhang and the sculpted tail lights that wrap around into the rear fenders. Also, the trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips give the lower fascia some eye candy.
Moving around to the front corners, you will notice the “triple-L” headlamps, along with LED fog lamps cut into the lower fascia, and the swoosh-like LED daytime running lamps. All visually exciting and interesting, and even a bit menacing. But then you have the grotesquely oversized black plastic gaping hole of the new “Spindle Grill”, which is even larger (and therefore uglier) on our F-Sport model. The size of the grill makes it look like it was taken off of a semi-trailer truck and stuck on this otherwise beautiful SUV. It is just a vast expanse of a black hole. And if one lives in a state that mandates a front license plate to be affixed, it will make it look like a buck tooth on a beaver. It is a look that usually is love it or leave it, and from many of my fellow journalists comments that I solicited at recent press events, most do not like it either.
Inside the cabin is a very different story. The new model is five inches longer, and has a two inch longer wheelbase, so the interior is roomier than ever, and the huge Panoramic moonroof bathes the entire interior in light. Covered in rich soft touch materials, the dash and door trims are very similar to those found on the sporty GS and IS sedans. They have a horizontal, stacked layered look, which is very neat and well sorted, with the right amount of bright trim for highlights and accents. Our test vehicle was finished in deep red leather seats and trim which was very striking and befitting of the sporty F-Sport designation.
It’s a tall step in, but there is plenty of head and leg room for front and rear passengers. And those rear seats recline for comfort, and can slide fore and aft. Even the middle seat is comfortable for long trips. The cargo area is very large, and nicely appointed with lush carpet and lots of tie down points. And the 60/40 split bench seats are lowered with two latches inside the cargo area. The front heated and cooled leather seats are handsome, well bolstered and work well, although the F-Sport seats are narrower, which could cramp those drivers with larger frames. The cabin is very quiet and well insulated, and the only noise you’ll hear comes from the new 20” Ever-Grip tires when traveling on roads with rain grooves . . . that and some piped-in intake sounds under hard acceleration, which I object to on principal. I prefer to use the Mark Levinson sound system, to make the music of Carlos Santana or Led Zeppelin come alive. It is a superb system, and phony engine noises are beneath its dignity.
The center stack is dominated by a new 12.3” infotainment screen that can be split with 2/3 showing the navigation map, (which would be full sized compared to other display screens), and 1/3 left to bring up radio information, HVAC settings, phonebook entries, or other information the driver would like to view. Connectivity will satisfy the geekiest tech junkies, most of which we think will be the children of the driver, rather than the driver himself. With the Navigation Package you get an expanded app suite with which you can also take advantage of Bing search, Pandora, iHeart Radio, or Pandora streaming audio, or Yelp, and others. And you’ll have to be a tech fanatic, (or 12 years old) to learn how to work all of it. The Owner’s Manuals stack up to about 4” thick, and weigh close to four pounds! Seriously. And they are about as easy to get through as War and Peace.
And while all the Navigation and connectivity options can be exciting to many people, that feeling should quickly wear off when they discover that to access all that tech, they’ll have to use the dreaded Lexus Mouse controller. I have experienced trying to use that controller on many Lexus models and it is just awful. And I thought that maybe it’s just this old grumpy non-techie guy bitching about these new-fangled gadgets. However, even my young, computer engineer son-in-law had a hard time using it when we were parked, and admitted it was almost useless when driving. It is so difficult to place the cursor where you want it without having it fly from one end of the screen to the other. All I can say is that it’s a good thing that the car came with Lane Departure Warning, because I’d have either wound up in a ditch, or crossing a double yellow line into an oncoming car. It’s way too distracting to use safely.
The 3.5 Liter V-6 makes 295 hp, and 268 ft. lbs. of torque. That is good enough to move this 4,387 lb. SUV from Zero to 60 in 7.9 seconds. The power is fed through a smooth shifting 8-speed transmission, with the paddle shifters, or lever shifting. And I was pleasantly surprised to find the manual shifts to be very quick, like German sedans. There are push button settings for Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ designed to change the shift points in the rev range for increased performance, depending upon the driver’s mood.
All F-Sport models are All-Wheel-Drive, and the RX uses MacPherson struts up front, and a double-wishbone setup in back, which has been tuned for better responsiveness, with no penalty in ride comfort. The Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) system now offered on the RX, and standard on the F-Sport, will adapt damper firmness on all four wheels, and steering behavior for improved responsiveness or comfort. In Sport and Sport+ mode, the suspension system is firmed up a bit more. But don’t be fooled by the brochure copy, even the F-Sport models in Sport+ mode don’t pretend to be challengers to the Porsche Cayenne, or BMW X5 for engine performance or handling. Lexus is biased for comfort, and there’s no shame in that. Yet is still can handle tight turns without feeling tippy, or throwing passengers around in the cabin.
There are several models to choose from. Front wheel drive cars start at $41,900, AWD models at $43,300, and AWD F-Sport models starts at $49,125. But, like all Lexus models, the price spools up faster than a tachometer when you start checking the option packages. Our test vehicle came to $56,845, which included $6,780 of additional equipment. The F-Sport is about $6,000 more than a regular All-Wheel-Drive model. For most drivers, I’d recommend saving that six grand, and spending it on the electronic option packages.
Read Ken’s other drive reviews over here!
Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman has been a motor journalist for over 30 years, reviewing automobile, as well as motorcycle ride reviews and accessory reviews.
His car articles have appeared in Robb Report Magazine, Autoguide.com, Car-Revs-Daily.com and other media. His work has also appeared in Road Bike Magazine, Motorcycle Tour and Cruiser, SpeedTV.com, MotorcycleUSA.com and others.
As motorcycle columnist for The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, the paper became the only major circulation newspaper in the country to have a separate weekly section devoted to motorcycles. Later he wrote a weekly column for Cyclefocus Magazine.