2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Introduction
Lexus sold more than 95,000 examples of the RX last year, making it the second most popular luxury model in the United States and the best-selling Lexus in the land. The reasons for the RX’s popularity are plainly evident: it is a crossover suv, it is comfortable and luxurious, and it is essentially bulletproof. In the most recent Vehicle Dependability Study conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, the Lexus RX was ranked as the most dependable model of all vehicles included in the survey.
For 2013, Lexus has upgraded America’s favorite luxury crossover SUV, adding standard equipment, revising the styling, upgrading the interior, and introducing a new F Sport Package designed to give the RX 350 a more athletic feel and more aggressive appearance. To find out if the new F Sport treatment offers any substance behind the styling modifications, I borrowed a new 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport to use as a family-schlepper for a week.
Before reading further, you should know that I’ve never been a fan of the Lexus RX. I completely understand why this crossover is so popular, but that popularity has never translated to a personal affinity for the RX. With the new RX 350 F Sport, however, Lexus has created something that I find more compelling, in the process achieving exactly what it set out to accomplish by adding a sport suspension, bigger wheels and tires, paddle shifters, and modified styling to its best-selling model.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
The 2013 Lexus RX lineup includes the RX 350 and the gas-electric hybrid RX 450h models. Prices range from $40,555 for the RX 350 with no options to $64,925 for the RX 450h AWD with every factory option. Add all of the dealer accessories, and the price for the latter model rises to nearly $67,500. This review pertains only to the RX 350 models.
My RX 350 AWD test sample, painted Obsidian with Black leather, started at $41,955. Options included the F Sport Package, which in exchange for $5,900 includes styling modifications specific this model, a sport suspension, an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, 19-inch aluminum wheels with a dark graphite finish, Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), perforated leather upholstery, white contrast stitching, a black headliner, and aluminum pedals. Additionally, the F Sport Package adds elements from the Premium and Comfort Packages, such as a power sunroof, memory for the driver’s settings, roof rails, heated and ventilated front seats, and rain-sensing wipers.
In addition to the F Sport Package, my test vehicle had a Blind Spot Monitor ($500), Intuitive Parking Assist ($500), a premium Mark Levinson audio system ($995), a Heads Up Display ($1,200), and a Navigation System with Lexus Enform services ($2,775). The final tally for my test vehicle came to $53,865.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Design
- Redesigned front end with spindle-style grille and new headlights with LED running lights
- Updated taillights and license plate surround
- Available Saddle Tan leather and Ebony Bird’s Eye Maple trim
- Optional Sport Appearance Package with 19-inch Superchrome wheels and restyled bumper
- Optional F Sport Package with 19-inch Dark Graphite wheels, sport front bumper, sport grille with mesh insert, black interior, white contrast stitching, aluminum pedals
- Four new colors
Lexus is unifying its model lineup around what it calls a “spindle-style” grille design, and this new design, in combination with a redesigned front bumper, improves the RX 350’s appearance by ridding the vehicle of its chubby cheeks and massive overbite. The end result still isn’t necessarily pretty, but it is better. I particularly like the new F Sport front styling treatment, which tones down the RX’s bling factor while adding a sportier appearance.
Changes to the 2013 RX 350’s rear end are less obvious, and the SUV retains its hallmark fastback appearance and rakish greenhouse. New 19-inch split-spoke aluminum wheels are offered with the Sport Appearance Package and the F Sport Package, rendered in a Dark Graphite color on latter models.
Inside, a redesigned steering wheel and new center console are added for 2013, and buyers can choose new Saddle Tan leather and Ebony Bird’s Eye Maple wood trim. My test vehicle had the F Sport cabin treatment, rendered in black with a black headliner, white contrast stitching, aluminum dashboard and pedal trim, and the ebony-colored wood. So equipped, the Lexus RX takes on a serious, sporting, and technical appearance, one supported by sophisticated gauges and a stylish Lexus Enform launch screen.
Low-gloss, soft-touch materials rule within the Lexus RX, but there are hints that the automaker isn’t pursuing perfection with quite the same relentlessness as it has in the past. On a positive note, there is less evidence of the Toyota parts-bin component sharing that is sometimes too obvious in other Lexus models.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Redesigned center console for easier use
- New steering wheel offering greater comfort
- Standard power rear liftgate
Front seat comfort is excellent, and the 2013 Lexus RX 350 offers a standard power tilt/telescopic steering wheel and optional climate-controlled front seats. Lexus says the new steering wheel design provides “a more comfortable and relaxing grip.” My F Sport test model’s perforated leather was soft, smooth, and supple, and everywhere I rested an elbow proved comforting. Plus, it is easy to get into and out of the RX 350’s front seats, especially with the standard Easy Exit system.
The SUV’s back seat is not quite as pleasing. The bottom cushion sits too low to the ground, and rear seat legroom is not quite as generous as might be expected. It is, however, easy to slide into and out of the rear quarters, and there is plenty of space here for children riding in child safety seats.
Cargo room can be expanded by sliding the rear seat forward for extra space, or by folding the rear seatbacks down. The RX 350 provides 40 cu.-ft. of cargo volume behind the rear seatbacks and with the rear seat positioned as far back in its track as it will travel. That’s a substantial amount of space. Fold the rear seatbacks down, and the RX swallows up to 80.3 cu.-ft of your stuff, putting this 5-passenger luxury crossover solidly into midsize SUV territory.
Where Lexus could improve the RX 350, in addition to plumping up the rear seat cushion, is by installing more sound deadening material. This luxury crossover is surprisingly loud inside, letting too much wind and road noise filter into otherwise serene surroundings. Under hard acceleration, engine noise is also noticeable, but the V-6 produces a pleasing note and this is not bothersome.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Standard USB port and iPod connection
Earlier, I mentioned that the Lexus RX is outfitted with controls that are unique to this model or to Lexus, a different approach than some other Lexus models, which are obvious about sharing buttons and knobs with less expensive Scion and Toyota models. One reason for this approach is the RX’s unusual interior design.
Exhibiting the sensual swells and curves common to the Lexus brand’s L-Finesse design language, the RX’s cabin displays swirls and swoops that demand bespoke switchgear. The idea here is to make the driver feel special, like he or she is piloting a vehicle unlike those in adjacent lanes. It works, and likely contributes to robust RX sales.
What’s not so terrific is the Remote Touch center controller, which works like a computer mouse that has had grape juice spilled on it. Haptic feedback about selections made on the remote display screen atop the dashboard make the controller feel like it is sticking, and the sensation takes some getting used to. Lexus also needs to work on making its display screen graphics crisper, and more modern, like the “Enform” launch screen that kicks proceedings off each time the RX 350 is started.
My test car also had heated and ventilated seats, but we didn’t realize it until half a week had elapsed. The dials controlling heat and cooling are tucked into the center console under the armrest, hidden from view. Once you know they’re located there, you don’t forget, but they’re still a bit awkward to operate.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- No changes
In addition to the expected safety features that all luxury models should include, the 2013 Lexus RX 350 is equipped with Smart Stop technology that makes it impossible to accelerate if the brake pedal is pressed. Hill-start Assist Control is also included in this SUV’s base price, and the RX is equipped with a one-year subscription to Safety Connect service, which includes enhanced roadside assistance, an Emergency Assist Button, and Automatic Collision Notification. This latter feature automatically puts a live operator in touch with the RX following an airbag deployment, a person who check to see if everyone is OK and who can contact rescue personnel and send them directly to the SUV’s location.
Options include rain-sensing wipers, a reversing camera, a Blind Spot Monitor, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control with a Pre-Collision System, and Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM). The VDIM system, standard for the RX 350 F Sport, integrates and manages the SUV’s stability control, traction control, brake assist, and throttle systems while providing limited-slip differential and torque vectoring effects.
Note that the RX 350 is not offered with a rear cross-traffic alert or monitoring system, an increasingly common feature that is useful when backing out of blind parking spaces. Both my wife and I were surprised by its absence when maneuvering in a Target parking lot and encountering a youthful, exuberant driver who, based his rate of speed, was apparently unaware that parking lots contain pedestrians, some of them children.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Crash-Test Ratings:
In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2013 Lexus RX receives a “Top Safety Pick” rating. Check the NHTSA crash-test ratings for the Lexus RX, and you’ll discover that the all-wheel-drive models get a 5-star overall rating while the front-wheel-drive models get a 4-star overall rating. Dive deeper, and both versions receive identical individual test scores, with the only difference between models 170 pounds of curb weight. That weight difference vaults the RX 350 AWD above the 4,500-lb. mark, so perhaps the extra poundage factors into its superior crash-test rating.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- RX 350 F Sport models have new 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters
Every 2013 Lexus RX 350 is equipped with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that makes 270 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 248 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm. Front-wheel drive is standard, with Active Torque Control all-wheel drive optional. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard for all models except the RX 350 F Sport, which is equipped with a new 8-speed automatic transmission that includes paddle shifters.
According to the EPA, the RX 350 AWD that I drove should return 18 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 21 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 19.9 mpg, and that included a whole bunch of highway driving.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
One reason my observed fuel economy appears lackluster is because I regularly dipped into the RX 350 F Sport’s throttle to enjoy a surge of power that feels much stronger than the horsepower and torque ratings might suggest, especially in light of the 4,510-lb. curb weight. This V-6 is a strong engine, and delivers a thrill no matter which Lexus or Toyota product contains it.
The new 8-speed transmission operates unobtrusively the majority of the time. On one occasion, while merging onto a fast-moving freeway behind a slow-moving motorist who was, apparently, completely uninhibited by notions of self-preservation, I stabbed the RX 350’s accelerator to launch the SUV into the middle lane. The transmission hesitated just long enough for an approaching Ford F Series Super Duty driver to decide that the Lexus changing into his lane deserved a few flashes of bright lights. The transmission finally kicked down a couple of gears, and the RX gathered speed quickly enough to avoid becoming a mobile traffic cone.
The RX 350 F Sport is equipped with a sport-tuned suspension that delivers a markedly firmer ride combined with markedly improved handling. If you don’t care much about going around corners or curves faster than the other 95,000 Lexus RX owners on the road, but you like the F Sport’s tweaked styling and wheels, I strongly recommend sticking with the Sport Appearance Package and the standard suspension tuning, and skipping the F Sport Package.
As for me, I like the F Sport’s firmer ride and increased level of communication with the driver. Around town and on the freeway, the RX 350 F Sport is occasionally harsh and choppy, but the trade-off is a sport-utility vehicle that credibly delivers some of the former in addition to the latter. Activate the paddle shifters and keep the engine revs high, and the V-6 provides entertaining acceleration combined with quick upshifts.
Approach a corner, downshift, and the transmission matches revs, giving the RX 350 F Sport more personality than it has ever displayed. Bend the F Sport into the corner, get on the accelerator, and the AWD system’s torque vectoring effect can occasionally be felt in the steering, which provides a level of heft and response entirely appropriate for a vehicle designed to deliver a dose of extra fun.
The extra fun comes in small doses. That’s because the RX 350 F Sport’s standard VDIM system behaves much like Catholic nuns of yore, the ones who cracked their students’ knuckles with a ruler to keep them in line and focused on the task at hand. Gratefully, the F Sport’s VDIM calibration speaks softly while carrying its big stick, but it is clear that the goal on any twisty road is to keep the shiny side up.
I suspect that VDIM is also to blame for inconsistent brake pedal response. Sometimes the pedal feels firm and responsive under the driver’s foot, sometimes it doesn’t.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
According to a Forbes article published in 2011, 60% of Lexus RX buyers are women. The 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport is designed to give this model an official Man Card. Do the styling, suspension, and transmission changes work? Well, I like the RX much better than I used to. Perhaps more telling was the driver in a new MDX sitting next to me in a traffic jam. He seemed to take great interest in the RX F Sport. Certainly, Lexus is hoping for more of the same.
2013 Lexus RX 350 Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Comfortable front seats
- Roomy cargo area
- Quality interior materials (mostly)
- Powerful V-6 engine
- Improved handling with F Sport model
- Rear seat comfort
- No rear cross-traffic alert system
- Stiff ride quality with F Sport model
- Feel of the Remote Touch controller
- Wind and road noise
Lexus supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport photos provided by Lexus