ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus, is extending its efforts to present a more performance-oriented image, the better to compete with other high-end marques.
To that end, the popular RX 350 luxury crossover utility is now available with an F Sport package.
Just as BMW has its M models, Mercedes-Benz its AMG division, and Audi its S versions, F Sport is promoted as more sporting versions of standard Lexus vehicles. Lexus’ competitors endow their performance models with additional engine power, upgraded suspensions and tires, and often sport seats and special interior and exterior trim denoting their enhanced capabilities.
But in the case of the RX, the F Sport package stops shy of actually enhancing the wagon’s performance, mainly because the engine is unchanged from the standard version.
The F Sport designation, available only with all-wheel-drive, does brings a number of changes or upgrades to the already well-endowed RX:
- An eight-speed automatic transmission, in place of the standard six-speed autobox, with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
- 19-inch split five-spoke alloy wheels in a ominous, dark graphite finish with 235/55R/19 tires.
- Unique sport front bumper and mesh grille.
- F Sport exterior and steering wheel badging.
- Black leather-trimmed seats with white contrast stitching, black headliner, and aluminum pedals and footrest.
- And an F Sport-tuned suspension.
That last item has the most noticeable effect over the standard RX, consisting of firmer shocks and springs, a front performance damper, a rear damper and a bracing system that connects the left and right sides of the rear structural frame that’s supposed to deliver a more engaging driving experience.
In reality, though, the improvements in handling are barely noticeable, considering the extent of the suspension changes. And the ride quality, one of the high points of the standard RX, is degraded a bit; it’s now more jittery and stiff over most road surfaces.
There also seems to be a bit more road noise transmitted into the cabin.
The eight-speed automatic transmission delivers extremely smooth shifts, but so does the standard six-speed gearbox. With two more ratios, you’d expect there might be some acceleration gain, but if there is it’s negligible.
The cabin is virtually unchanged, and that’s a good thing. It’s quite a comfortable place, with supportive buckets up front and generous space for three rear passengers in the adjustable backseat.
The cargo hold in the back is quite spacious, with plenty of room for a vacationing family’s stuff. There’s no third-row seating option; bigger families will have to shop elsewhere.
Without an increase in engine output, and more real-world payoff from the suspension revisions, the RX 350 F Sport turns out to be mostly a stylistic exercise. But the base RX is so good, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to spend the extra bucks. Except for those awesome graphite-finish alloys, and they can be had on front-drive RXs in a Sport package.