Road Review – Lexus RX 350 F Sport

In the same way as nano-seconds can determine the difference between winning and losing in motor sport, extremely small differences can decide whether a car makes it or breaks it in the race for public acceptance and market share.

In every automotive price category there is a level of expectation (and it keeps going up) of what safety and luxury features need to be standard so, in many cases, the actual ‘buy me’ impulse comes down to aesthetics and the emotive appeal of the design.

(Photo by Cornel van Heerden)

While auto designers can wax lyrical – at length – about how a belt-line curve makes the car look as if it going 120 km/h while standing still, it is a vision I have never quite seen in the same way as they describe it; but I do have an opinion about downright ugly and ‘WOW’.

Designers have a number of artistic tricks to achieve that ‘wow’ factor and, with Lexus, much of that has concentrated on the evolution of the grille that gives the marque its truly unique look and identifier on the road.

(Photo by Cornel van Heerden)

The Lexus front end is very much ‘in-your-face’ and evokes a love it or hate response and the new RX 350 F Sport features the latest iteration of the grille.

The changes involve new, evolutionary styling that maintains the RX’s sporty appearance, while introducing elements that are more elegant and creating a coherent flow from front to rear, giving the vehicle a stronger, more harmonious profile.

Details of the frontal treatment include a new rendition of the signature Lexus grille, with a mesh pattern of radiating three-dimensional ‘L’ shapes, slimmer sharper headlight units; more rounded edges to the re-sculpted front bumper and an extended line from the rocker panel (located on the sides of vehicle between front and rear wheel openings) that connects with the bottom of the grille.

On the F Sport there is more aggressive exterior styling comprising an exclusive front fascia, mesh grille insert, front-fender and rear valance along with polished black outside mirrors paired with 20-inch split 10-spoke alloy wheels in a dark granite finish.

On all models a revised side character line sweeps down from the floating roof to the rear, to slim the overall rear expression, creating a coupé-like silhouette.

(Photo by Cornel van Heerden)

At the rear, is a redesigned lower bumper that links to the rear wings. Elements such as the lights, reflectors, underguard and exhaust outlets are arranged on a horizontal axis, while new LED combination lights have been changed to a new mirrored L-motif design.

Inside, the F Sport gets race-inspired instrumentation and aluminium accents, bolstered sport seats, a black headliner, a perforated leather–trimmed sport steering wheel and shift knob and aluminium pedals.

(Photo by Cornel van Heerden)

The LFA-inspired digital gauge cluster provides real-time information such as G-force metrics and power distribution and it boasts the new Lexus Safety System+, which it now shares with the flagship Hybrid model, along with the same Adaptive Variable Suspension found in the high-performance Lexus LC that allows you to customise the shock absorber settings for improved ride comfort or reduced body lean as you enter and exit turns.

Given the grunt from the 3,5-litre V6 engine, that is an important factor in the overall ride – and the new model also has improved body rigidity and a thicker rear stabiliser bar (up by 1 mm or 5,7%) along with more rigid hubs.

The F Sport is equipped with the V6 engine featuring direct and port fuel injection for ample grunt and efficient fuel economy. Combined with a quick-shifting eight-speed transmission and delivering 221 kW and 370 Nm at 4 600 r/min it is no slouch and, despite its luxury soundproofing, still allows a delectable burble through to the cabin – a burble that becomes an audio feast when it switched into ‘angry’ mode.

In Normal mode and for daily use, the dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) system offers reduced emissions and enhanced fuel efficiency. VVT-i monitors the engine’s speed and load, increasing torque at lower speeds for improved acceleration and boosting performance at higher speeds by adjusting intake and exhaust valve timing.

(Photo by Cornel van Heerden)

Despite its all-wheel drive SUV status, raised ride height and actual capability off the beaten track, few RX owners are actually going to take their vehicles into those sort of situations and will concentrate on pavement posing and occasionally belittling a hot hatch in a quick drag between robots.

But, wait. There is more, much more.

Left in Normal mode, the RX will satisfy all urban needs and will achieve an overall consumption around the 9,0 l/100 km mark, improving markedly on steady speed long-haul cruises. Sport mode gives it some edge with revised gear ratios and tightened suspension – enough to tweak the adrenalin flow.

Sport+ takes it all to a new level and the F Sport becomes very, very angry sounding quite menacing as it moves upwards through the gears (manually on paddle shift if required). Although it tops out at 200 km/h, it gets there rather rapidly (8 seconds) and with enough of a neck-snap to alert you to the fact things are getting serious.

The vehicles comes standard with Active Cornering Assist, which automatically suppresses understeer if the driver steps on the throttle in mid-corner. The electric power steering has also been retuned for a more linear steering feel and better line-tracing faithful to the driver’s intentions.

Ride quality which was already class-leading has been made even better thanks to new-design shock absorbers that are now fitted with a friction control device, which further reduces the high-frequency vibrations caused by minute imperfections in the road surface.

Additionally, dynamic dampers have been installed on the front suspension member which contributes to isolating the cabin from road vibrations while facilitating flat cornering and responsiveness.

Bottom line – the F Sport relishes a chance at being hustled around corners to return an exhilarating drive without any FOFO (fear of falling over) often associated with SUV vehicles being pressed hard.

(Photo by Cornel van Heerden)

The luxury and safety kit is extensive, including adaptive cruise control that will progressively brake the vehicle to a stop in heavy traffic and gently accelerate while maintaining a safe following distance from the traffic ahead. It also has auto-dipping headlights but, to be a bit niggly, should have lighting that auto ‘shapes’ itself according to changing conditions. Just saying!

The multimedia functions can be operated using a new trackpad version of Lexus’s Remote Touch Interface, or with voice control, replacing the old button-activated system.

The new RX also provides seamless smartphone connectivity via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Voice control can also be enabled via Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant if using an Android device. This is complemented by an additional four USB ports.

MyLexus (identical features to MyToyota) gives access to connected services via a dedicated app, while the RX is equipped as standard with an on-board WiFi hotspot with an initial complimentary 15 GB data plan (with the option to purchase additional data at any time).

Safety comes in the form of 10 crash bags to the latest VSC system with Active Cornering Assist and all RX models now feature a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert. The Lexus Safety System+ (pre-collision safety system and autonomous emergency braking) now gains nighttime pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection

The entire RX range boasts a 7-year/105 000 km Warranty and Full Maintenance Plan. The vehicle service intervals are at every 15 000 km, alternatively once a year.


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