Tackling busy streets during rush hour is an experience we’d all like to forget. Cars left and right, stops, starts and lane changes that seem to appear out of nowhere. It becomes even more daunting in an SUV where space is limited and agility isn’t often an option.
So, when I am sitting on one of Toronto’s major arteries at 5:30 P.M., I can’t say I am pleased to be sitting in said SUV, namely the Lexus RX 350 F Sport. But I’m not making any rash judgments. Actually the roomy interior of the RX 350 is a welcome addition to my commute (I drive a Mini Cooper S). I also know this has the potential to be a fun drive, I’m just not experiencing it at four kilometres an hour.
With that in mind, I take the chance to explore the inside. The first thing that strikes me is the level of comfort; everything is comfortably spacious and the materials are what you would expect from a vehicle in the $60,000 category; the heated and cooled seats are made of soft, perforated leather and provide excellent support. The trim is neatly detailed with aluminum and leather, keeping with the sharp, bold and luxurious cues Lexus is so well known for. The only thing that seems out of place is the off-colour, plastic entertainment dash panel, reminiscent of late-model Toyotas.
Settling in, I find it difficult to get the steering wheel/seat position combination right. The wheel just doesn’t have the range I expected – it felt as if the angle was just too great. I forgot about it after some time, but it never felt quite right. It doesn’t help that the seating position makes me feel like I’m perched on a booster seat. Again some added range would help.
With that said, comments from passengers are nothing but complimentary. With heated seats, dual-climate control, adjustable reclining seats in the rear and plenty of leg room for everyone, the 350 F Sport is a hit. Rear passengers would have liked illuminated controls, but that was quickly overlooked.
On the performance end, the Lexus really shines. Having driven plenty of German-bred SUVs, I have a pretty good baseline of what I would accept from a luxury-marquee. On the country roads (where I believe all cars truly come to life), it’s a good opportunity to test the handling aspects of the F Sport. You know very quickly that this is no ordinary ‘soccer mom’ SUV. Undoubtedly, this is helped by an impressive eight-speed transmission, which quietly zips through the gears and gets more fun in manual mode. The quality-built, aluminum paddle shifters provide quick shifts while the exhaust gives out a healthy breath when I step on the throttle at speed – not so much to scare the birds sitting in the trees that whiz by – but you definitely know it’s working.
Winding up and down the hills going deeper into the countryside, I realize how enjoyable the drive really is. I barely notice the open farmland and trees on either side – everything feels right. Steering is responsive and tightens up as things get faster while the sport-tuned suspension is firm but comfortable, and almost seems to lean into the turns. It’s precisely what you want from a vehicle that is supposed to encompass performance and functionality.
In saying this, it’s surprising the F Sport does not feature selectable driving modes. Instead, shifting and suspension comes performance-tuned, ready to go all the time. Luckily, Lexus hit the balance on the head, and manual shifting is a pleasure. The 270 hp V6 has good power delivery and is also available in a 295 hp Lexus Hybrid Drive configuration (RX 450h), for a miniscule 6.9L/100km combined fuel economy rating.
For long drives where entertainment is a must, the F Sport is also well-equipped. The in-dash DVD player and 7.1-channel, 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround system is in line with what you’d expect in a well-equipped living room. The on-screen interface is easy to read while Bluetooth connectivity lets you to talk and play music wirelessly from your smartphone. The downfall of an otherwise strong system is the mouse-like Remote Touch pad, which makes toggling a bit difficult. You get used to it, but again, it’s something else to get used to.
The base RX 350 is one of the most popular vehicles on the road today. After driving the F Sport it’s easy to see why. It provides excellent cargo space, a spacious interior and treatments that are sure to keep any luxury lover happy. Add that the Fuji Speedway-tested F Sport can make you forget you’re driving an SUV – and that’s the hook, line and sinker.
Price as Tested (before taxes): $60,030
Engine: 3.5L V6
Horsepower / Torque: 270 hp / 248 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Ratings (L/100 km): 11.2 / 7.7 / 9.6 (city/hwy./comb.)
Basic Warranty: 48 months/80,000 km