The Lexus RX has long been the strongest seller in the premium brand's stable, providing mid-size crossover shoppers with a family option that is both luxurious and stylish. The 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport represents a new chapter for the sport-utility vehicle, one that goes after buyers who are interested in a more aggressive look and a driving experience to match. We had the chance to sample the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport this past week and put it through its paces to see how it compares to other performance-oriented crossovers in its segment.
Don't expect the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport to announce its presence at the country cloud with a loud assemblage of spoilers, air dams, and dub-style rims. Although the F Sport rides on standard 19-inch rims, and features deep air intakes set into its front bumper, most of the changes that have been made to the crossover's exterior appearance are difficult to spot if one is not intimately familiar with the standard RX. The spindle grille has been blacked out top and bottom, and lines up differently with the vehicle's headlights, and if you look very closely you will notice that the front and rear fenders appear to be more butch than the non-F Sport model. The restraint of Lexus' design team in creating a unique personality for the RX F Sport without going overboard is to be commended, and reflects an in-depth understanding of the automobile's customer base.
The interior of the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport tells a similar tale, with special perforated leather seats, contrasting white stitching, maple wood trim, and an F Sport steering wheel rounding out the main upgrades over the base RX.
Instead of infusing the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport with gobs of additional power, both the engine and the transmission have been left alone and the focus has instead been shifted to improving the crossover's handling. This means that the 3.5-liter V-6 offered with the base RX 350 continues to generate 270 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque, and its automatic gearbox provides the same eight forward gears.
The biggest changes made to the RX 350 F Sport's chassis include the installation of a 'lateral performance damper system,' which is intended to reduce harshness while allowing the vehicle to corner flat at higher speeds. Combined with the crossover's stiffer springs and tuned shock absorbers, we found that the F Sport was capable of remaining calm and collected even as we hustled it along twisty country roads. The steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters initiated a relatively swift response from the transmission when moving from one cog to another, and the vehicle's standard all-wheel drive system ensured that torque was deliver to the pavement without any hint of drama. The latter features the ability to split engine output evenly between the front and rear axles, although the default is to dump it all onto the front wheels during normal driving.
Is the RX 350 F Sport at the same level as competitors like the BMW X5 when it comes to delivering sedan-like handling? The short answer is no, but that doesn't mean that the F Sport edition of the crossover doesn't make substantial improvements to the vehicle's ride. The RX 350 F Sport is definitely more fun to drive than the vanilla RX, and while it's not going to win any races through the slalom course, that's fine because it wasn't designed to - this version of the luxury is simply intended to sharpen an already competent platform's driving experience, without sacrificing comfort.
As we noted above, Lexus hasn't changed much about the RX in the development of the F Sport model - but that's because they really don't have to. Customers absolutely love this luxury suv, and the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport gives the brand a chance to broaden its mandate and attract buyers who are more than a little concerned with how their crossover handles when it's not being asked to serve as a daily commuter.
There is a definite premium to be paid when opting for the F Sport model, however, as it retails for an MSRP of $47,000. This represents a $7,000 bump over the all-wheel drive RX 350, which is not exactly a chasm but definitely something that would make one want to test drive the F Sport model prior to ordering, just to make sure that the upgraded SUV offers enough of a handling difference to justify the extra expense.