It’s an oft-repeated theme if one worth revisiting each time the Lexus RX swings through the CarExpert garage: it’s an older-school approach to luxury motoring very much in its advanced years. Both in make-up and how it feels.
Worth reiterating each and every time is that that’s not necessarily a bad thing (or two). The big Lexus will pamper and pander to certain buyer tastes.
As a quick recap, the RX nameplate has been rolling around local roads for around two decades now and its current generation has six years or maturity under its bonnet, even if its rather imposing grille and some of its particularly edgy design motifs have been somewhat sharpened along the way, notably with 2019’s key facelift.
An all-new replacement is due in 2022 (so don’t say you haven’t been warned).
With age comes benefits. Its traditional spin on luxury motoring does, in many eyes, have its charm and makes for alternative to the glitz-filled modernisms favoured by the German marques that Lexus wishes to be measured against.
There’s also the Lexus mantra of continually honing and refining a model line throughout its lifecycle even if some of it is inconspicuous and somewhat hidden from plain sight, a sort of corporate ‘honour’ that its vehicles deserve a sense of innate solidity that lines such as RX have become renowned for.
Also, and quite importantly, buyers might be drawn to Lexus in search of value. Where Euro contemporaries like to charge extra and handsomely so for finery and frills, it’s something of Japanese hallmark to load in more kit for your coin as a measure of premiumness.
How does all of that shake out in the thoroughly middle-of-the-range and top-selling 2022 Lexus RX350 F Sport? Let’s find out.
The RX350 F Sport brings together the mid-tier petrol V6 AWD powertrain and middling F Sport fit-out in five-seater packaging for a list price of $92,130 plus on-road costs as advertised on the Lexus public website.
That works out to between $105,943 (Sydney) and $108,713 (Melbourne) drive-away – inclusive of over seven grand of LCT – using different State postcodes plugged into the brand’s configurator.
With 12 different variants currently on offer the range spreads from $83,234 for the RX300 Luxury base five-seater through to $107,590 for the stretched seven-seat petrol-electric RX450hL Sports Luxury flagship, which still undercuts the cheapest Mercedes-Benz GLE, the $118,700 GLE300d, by over ten grand.
The ‘cheap’ Benz is, therefore, $26,570 pricier than our mid-spec Lexus test subject. It’s a similar fiscal walk-up when cross-shopping against the Range Rover Sport D250 SE at $115,506 plus on-roads.
Speaking of oilers, Audi’s entry Q7 45 TDI, at $105,100, and BMW’s X5 xDrive25d, at $104,440, close the outlay gaps by fair wedges, though each German is still around $13k pricier that the Lexus. Petrol power, though, sends outlays north for both nameplates.
Need seven seats as offered by some rivals? The closet alternative in the Lexus stable for similar money is the RX450hL Luxury, bringing hybrid power and extra size if with a leaner feature set, for $94,360 plus on-roads.
To the uninitiated, the Lexus variant nomenclature can be a little confusing. Luxury means base spec, F Sport adds a number of higher-grade features together with version-specific sports augmentation, and Sports Luxury tops the tree if in a package that doesn’t ‘bundle’ the two lower grades together, per se.
Numerous F Sport features are unique. This includes front and rear body and 20-inch wheel styling, mirror design, steering wheel, 8.0-inch LFA-inspired semi-digital instrumentation and front sport bucket seats, to list a number of highlights.
Further, it fits triple-stack LED headlights with BladeScan adaptive high-beam rather than the bi-LED lighting of the Luxury, and it fits the adaptive suspension format of the flagship variant while adding specific sport dampers as well as different tuning to the power steering.
RX350 F Sport highlights (continued):
- LED daytime running and cornering lights
- Rear window sunshades (manual)
- Panoramic sunroof
- Heated/ventilated front seats
- 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
- Satellite navigation
- Four-camera surround camera system
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Keyless entry and start
- DAB digital radio
- 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium sound system
- Dual-zone climate control
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Heated side mirrors with memory
- Heated steering wheel
All versions of the RX range were included in ANCAP’s five-star safety rating from 2015 off the back of Euro NCAP testing.
The range received an adult occupant protection score of 83 per cent (despite a 0.0 from 3 result for AEB City), 82 per cent for child occupant protection, 79 per cent for pedestrian protection and 74 per cent for safety assist (with 0.0 out of 3 for speed assistance system).
Standard safety equipment includes:
- AEB with pedestrian/cyclist detection
- Forward collision warning
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Lane Tracing Assist
- Auto high beam
- Rear-cross traffic assist
- Parking Support Brake collision mitigation
- Traffic sign detection with Road Sign Assist
- 360-degree camera monitor
As outlined in prior RX reviews, the SUV features a neat Drive Start Control that reduces power output in the event of miss-shifting between transmission drive modes (Drive to Reverse or vice versa).
The ten-airbag fit-out encompasses front, driver’s knee, front passenger cushion, side and curtain coverage.
The RX cabin does, in 2021, feel like a model clinging to the end of a lifecycle, if only partly because of it.
The smaller UX offers many similar classicisms – particularly the button fetish – despite being a much more contemporary product, a clear indicator that the RX vibe is less a result of age and more a Lexus preference. Right down to the analogue in-dash clock, this SUV typifies Japanese luxury tastes, or perhaps equally, Japanese aims to pander strongly to North American tastes.
The term ‘craftsmanship’ crops up regularly in marketing spin and the RX cabin is underpinned with a strong sense of solidity and topped with a conspicuous array of nice materials in a variety of textures. The leather seat trim is wonderfully tactile, the waxy wheel rim pleasing, and the bank-vault build extends through to the lack of give in the plastics, the neat fit of the panels and the fine tolerances between surface components.
Our tester’s petrol grey with titanium look inlays mightn’t be the most adventurous of the three austere F Sport dual-colour schemes available – it can be had in Flare Red – but it fits the upmarket bill well as a theme.
Top marks, too, for the front seats. They’re very shapely, exceptionally comfortable and supportive, making them a fine place to spend long trips. Good ergonomics too, with controls falling neatly to hand with the distinct exception of the infotainment touchscreen, which requires a bit of a stretch to reach.
It’s just dated, both in general ambience and in much of the details. If you’re smitten by pin-sharp, high-def digital window dressing and slick modernity, this isn’t the SUV for you.
The large 12.3-inch touchscreen system is a fairly recent update (during the 2019 facelift) from the older 8.0-inch forebear in base grades, though it’s only a gradual improvement from what was a fairly low base.
In look, feel, response, user-friendliness and content design, it’s more than a little passe. And that touchpad console controller continues to be a frustrating and confounding feature that refuses to be relegated to history.
As least it offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring as a concession to contemporary infotainment, and allows you to bypass the fairly average Lexus Enform native interface.
Unlike the longer seven-seater, which demands some compromise in legroom across rows two and three, the five-seater RX feels more generous in rear accommodation. It’s not class leading, but short of skimpy toe room there’s ample knee clearance and it’s not cramped for shoulder or head room, though the latter might challenge taller rear passengers.
The rear seatback is fixed, if quite leisurely reclined for a bit of a lounge-like vibe, with pliant support and that lovely leather giving the F Sport’s rear occupancy a nice luxury feel.
Dual air vents and USB-A ports, as well as stowage and cupholders in the flip-down armrest, make for fine four-adult proposition and an easy five-seater if you’re shuffling kids around. The manual window blinds, too, are handy inclusions particularly for parents of babies and toddlers.
Boot space is quoted at 453L, which sounds small for a large-segment SUV though it’s measured to the top edge of the rear seat backs.
In practice, it’s functionally deep and wide, its volume hemmed in by the removable flexible parcel shelf plane.
The long-wheelbase L versions offer a larger 652L in a similar five-seat configuration with their third rows stowed. As a two-seater, the regular RX expands to 924L.
The RX350 F Sport is powered by a 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6 driving all four wheels via an eight-speed conventional automatic.
The engine is, at 221kW and 370Nm, the most powerful of three six-cylinder units in the RX line-up, as the seven-seat L versions make lower 216kW and 358Nm figures due to exhaust configuration as a consequence to vehicle packaging, while the hybrid versions fit an Atkinson-cycle version of the 2GR engine offering 193kW and 335Nm – though with the augmentation of electric assistance offers a 230kW system power output.
As the raciest RX guise, it’s fitting the RX350 F Sport adopts a ‘proper’ slushbox rather than a CVT (as fitted to the hybrids), though performance is decent rather than spirited. Its 0-100km/h sprint coming up at a claimed 8.0 seconds neat. This is, however, three-tenths slower than the RX450h’s 7.7-second claim.
Then there’s fuel consumption. Lexus advertises that RX350 versions return a combined claim of 9.6L/100km. On test, though, it rarely dropped below ravenous 12s. By comparison, the claim for the 450h hybrid is, at just 5.7L/100km, over twice as frugal – at least in theory.
The 350 F Sport, specifically, fits a plastic sound generator in the engine’s intake tract to give it sportier sonics. And as mentioned above, the sport-themed variants get retuned suspension dampers and steering calibration to match the warmed-over pitch.
Some of that conspicuous old-school charm found in the cabin seeps down beyond. The Toyota K platform and 2GR are – like fine wine and cheese perhaps – nicely aged, at least compared with the lion’s share of premium SUV competition favouring forced induction and (in the local climate) a whole lot of diesel options.
No matter. Because what the Lexus RX350 F Sport does with its core DNA, it does rather well where it matters.
The V6 is smooth and quiet. I’d wager that, in the penny-pinching end of luxury family movers, it’s about the most upmarket-feeling engine for anything like the money. On paper, peak torque doesn’t arrive until the engine is spinning quite hard but by the seat of the pants this one very dignified, smooth and impressively seamless powertrain.
The RX’s formidable heft is ever-present in the driving experience, though the V6 and eight-speed auto combination is keenly alert in responsive and seemingly unstressed right throughout the rev-range, if never quite mustering the sort of shove that makes it feel overly eager.
More luxury vibe than, erm, F Sport-iness, then. But the powertrain character is real highlight if the package, even if the sheer thirst of the thing suggests it works harder than its quiet and polite nature lets on. The main question is whether the F Sport is sporty enough.
For a good many tastes, perhaps so. The steering is light and pleasing and hardly the last word in detailed feedback and load-up, but the RX points cleanly and tracks obediently to the driver’s directions, and there’s a fair amount of grip provided you don’t dial up too much red mist or start treating like a sports car.
Just don’t go chasing BMW X5 Ms on twisty roads: it’s not a enthusiast firebrand, nor does it really pretend to be beyond some of the stylistic appointments.
You’d probably have to A-B the F Sport against the more leisurely damped Sport Luxury to really gauge differences, but the latter does quite a decent job of blending a reasonably taut and somewhat confident chassis character with a ride compliance and general manners befitting a luxury-leaning Lexus. The good news is that its maker has dialed out the sort of wooly aloofness that can plague some comfort-focused premium SUVs – including some Lexuses past.
Outright ride quality is good, particularly in Comfort mode, though not quite rave-worthy. There’s enough pliancy to filter out most road imperfections and, impressively, the suspension is very quiet with noise and vibration isolation through to the cabin is superbly suppressed. Those large 20-inch wheels do, however, thump a bit over speed humps where the sporty damping design does ruffle the otherwise evenly tempered ride.
All up, the RX350 F Sport makes for a very likeable cruiser, an excellent long-distance hauler, and it has a manner that’s nicely balanced for most real-world driving tasks. It feels rock solid and every bit as ‘luxury accomplished’ as Lexus spruiks, in many ways with superior execution – such as transmission calibration, for example – than pricier Euro contemporaries can muster.
The Japanese carmaker has done a much polishing of detailing throughout RX’s lifecycle and it’s paid dividends, even if a good many a subtly felt in the overall experience.
The only real area where the RX drive challenges a little is when parking. It’s a little hard to judge the bluff front end – more so for short drivers – and the 360-degree camera system isn’t a patch on German rivals for clarity, resolution or a sense of accuracy is displayed depth. You’ll have those parking sensors working overtime.
The biggest pain, though, remains the infotainment system. Its cursed nature and clunky action is, beyond anything, terrible distracting from behind the wheel. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for audio and navigation functionality have, more than anything else, helped make most journeys in the RX much less tasked and stressful than they once were.
At the time of writing, the RX is covered by a four-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. That’s longer than the three years offered by Audi and BMW, if not as good as the five-year surety of Genesis, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar Land Rover or Volvo.
Servicing intervals are a typical 12 months and 15,000km per visit, which comes first. Lexus’s servicing is capped at $595 per visit for the first three years/45,000km.
The RX range certainly makes a compelling case by combining good old-fashioned luxury vibe with a helluva lot of trimmings at a price that undercuts obvious European rivals by a long mark.
Its middling F Sport grade is quite attractive, too, bringing in key high-grade goodies, such as adaptive suspension and some tasty specific features such as those wonderful seats and fetching semi-digital instrumentation. But don’t be put off by the sporty façade if you’re after a predominantly luxury experience, because its combined effect perhaps shines the best as a comfort-focused cruiser.
It is getting long in the tooth though and feels as much in many areas, such as in cabin and in its various user interfaces. You’ll either warm to the button frenzy and clunky infotainment, or such things will be deal-breakers – areas to focus on specifically with initial test driving and tyre kicking.
Obviously, given the availability of the seven-seat L versions, you’re drawn to the ‘short’ version if you only need five pews and the F Sport package which is exclusive to the smaller body.
While it’s not the most spacious large SUV offering out there, it does a good job with what it presents.
Similarly, its powertrain is nicely satisfying, not in outright performance and particularly not in fuel economy, but it does shine brightly in refinement and polish for the requisite luxury experience.
A nice rig, then. If one that could well look and feel suddenly quite passe once an all-replacement arrives in 2022.
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