When Toyota decided to put a Lexus badge on a massaged Highlander crossover, it created not only the RX, but a whole slew of imitators and inadvertently the entire luxury crossover segment. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Astute reader Yuma pointed out that I had my history wrong, and in fact the Lexus came first.)
The 2016 RX 350 tested here is the latest iteration, and is Lexus’ top-selling vehicle. Now clad in more aggressive styling with more luxury inside, the RX still shares a platform with the Highlander (and the Camry, and the Avalon, and the ES, and the Sienna) but promises more performance, with more power, more gears and in the test car’s case, an optional F Sport package that ups the masculinity along with the car’s road manners.
Unlike previous generations of the RX, the latest version would never be confused with a Highlander. That car’s boxy styling is replaced with a coupe-like fastback design employing a Nissan-like faux floating roof. Deep side creases and Lexus’ famous – or perhaps infamous – waterfall grille complete the transformation from family hauler to luxury crossover.
The proportions, though, look a little odd at first, until the eye gets used to it. The floating roof and sloping roofline give the RX the impression that the lower half of the car is much bigger than the upper half, moreso than the typical car. This makes it look like a sedan on stilts, with extra bodywork to cover them up. It makes the RX look awkward, but after a while it starts to look more normal.
The test car’s F Sport package adds 20-inch wheels with a matte black finish, which complement the black metallic paint that Lexus pretentiously calls Caviar. It also adds a honeycomb grille instead of the usual slatted grille on normal RXs. As an exterior appearance package, the F Sport makes some sense, but as a performance package it makes less sense (read on to find out how).
Inside, the RX continues the Lexus tradition of upscale, high quality materials and fit and finish with styling that is mostly attractive but has some quirks for the sake of themselves. Because this is a crossover, and because it has that rakish front windscreen, the upper dash is positively gigantic. The instrument binnacle extends at least a foot past the actual instruments and looks like it can be used to land small aircraft. The rest of the dash would look the same, but is saved by the shelf that houses the 12.3-inch Enform infotainment screen.
About that system. It’s obviously the same system as in other Lexus products (and in Toyota products) as it has the same menus, the same UI, and the same functionality, meaning it’s easy to use but missing some functionality like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. However, for the RX’s 12.3-inch screen it’s been given a facelift, and Lexus really did a good job of making the tired system look fresh and modern. Now if they’d only make it fresh and modern.
The center console is one of the best-designed consoles I’ve seen in any Toyota product, and it even has the idiotic Lexus Remote Touch joystick that usual takes up way too much console real estate. Buttons for the heated and cooled seats are logically placed, there’s a storage cubby that is big enough for the largest iPhone, the dual cupholders are in easy reach and the storage bin is large and refreshingly cubic. This is also the first Toyota product I’ve driven with an electronic parking brake, which doesn’t take up a lot of space at all on the console and allows for automatic engagement and disengagement.
The F Sport package adds aluminum pedals and the over-styled gauge cluster with a central, chronograph-style digital tachometer and speedometer flanked by a smaller information screen. It looks a lot like the gauges on the IS 200t I recently tested but without the sliding-face party trick. Honestly, it’s a bit too much for what should be a luxury car, so as an interior package, the F Sport makes less sense as it does on the outside.
Under the hood is the more powerful version of the ubiquitous Toyota 3.5-liter V6, which it shares with the Toyota Tacoma, Lexus GS, Toyota Highlander and Toyota Sienna. In the RX it pumps out 295 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. Power goes to an all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission, which has paddle shifters in F Sport guise.
As in all applications, the Toyota GR V6 is a sweet sounding engine with a linear, progressive torque curve. It makes more power than the one in the ES 350, but the RX is a big, heavy car – 4,387 lbs – so it feels a lot slower than the ES, especially off the line. The eight-speed, as is typical of the breed, shifts early and often to maximize fuel economy, but at least shifts are clean and crisp. In Sport mode, the transmission keeps gears a little longer, but still not enough to consider the RX a performance car.
Ride and Handling
The RX isn’t a handler, period. Fortunately, it doesn’t suffer from the same odd steering as the Highlander hybrid I tested recently, which I called the worst handling car I’ve ever driven. Steering is typical of the Lexus brand, and feels a lot like the ES – accurate, but fingertip-light and not very communicative. It does, however, exhibit the Highlander’s propensity for body roll, even in Sport mode. This even takes into account the F Sport package, which adds a sport-tuned suspension.
Because of this, the F Sport package is a complete waste of time, especially in a car like the RX. It firms up the ride just enough to make it noticeable, but adds nothing to the driving experience that’s noteworthy. The RX should be what it always was (and what the ES is): a luxo-barge that coddles its occupants with its supple, smooth ride. Any pretense of performance, at least canyon-carving performance, should be removed from this vehicle. The ride isn’t terrible, but it would be much better without the stiffer suspension and performance dampers of the F Sport package.
Inside, the RX has plenty of room for four adults to spread out in luxurious comfort, and three can fit in the back quite easily. Seat comfort is outstanding on all except the rear center seat, with the fronts having enough adjustments to easily fit most any driver. The telescoping wheel doesn’t telescope quite enough for my tastes, but for most it should be no problem finding a good driving position.
The RX’s sloping rear window takes away some cargo space and guarantees that, unlike the Highlander, it could never be a three-row crossover, even if it has the length to pull it off. The rest of the cargo area is long and flat, but it could best be called an extended trunk because of the roofline. The rear seats, of course, fold down for more storage.
The RX is rated at 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. In its time with me, I managed 20.5 mpg in mostly in-town driving with one short highway trip, so it’s right about where it should be. While it’s not going to be considered an economy car by any stretch, the mileage is right in the neighborhood of its competitors.
Competition and Value
The Lexus RX 350 F Sport has an MSRP of $49,125 before destination. The test vehicle’s final price is $57,375, including $940 destination and a few big-ticket items like $3,620 for the Mark Levinson 15-speaker surround sound system and $1,150 for a moonroof.
The RX’s price is just on par with its competition, but some of them offer more for less. The Mercedes-Benz GLC has a lower base price, but options can drive the price up. The same moneys that can buy the test RX F Sport can also buy a reasonably optioned Jaguar F-Pace, BMW X3, Audi Q5 or even a Porsche Macan.
Eschewing the F Sport model makes the RX a much better value, and keeps it closer to its original purpose as a luxury SUV.
On the TFLcar scale of:
- Buy It,
- Lease It,
- Rent It,
- or Forget It,
The 2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport gets a Lease It!
This is the part of the review where I would usually say, “Get the Toyota version instead.” This time, though, I don’t agree. The RX, despite sharing its platform and mechanicals with the Highlander, offers a different type of car for a different type of buyer. The Highlander is aimed at families who need the room and the extra row of seats, but the RX is for those who might be a bit older and who don’t have to schlep around a bunch of little kids to soccer practice.
In other words, it’s meant for people like me, older married people who don’t have young kids. That is, if I wanted a midsize crossover, which I don’t. But a lot of people must, since Lexus sells so many of them.
Just skip the useless F Sport package. The RX isn’t a sports car, the F Sport suspension ruins the ride while not really adding any sport, the gauge cluster is overdone and the aluminum pedals are out of place in the luxury-biased interior.
Check out this related TFLcar mashup video of the 2016 RX 350 going up against the Lincoln MKX and the Volvo XC60 T6: