When you think Lexus, performance and utility may not come to mind. With regular top placement in Consumer Reports, Lexus has always been the sensible, reliable luxury vehicle. Recently, with the F-Sport models, Lexus has tried to bridge the gap with the Europeans in regards to performance. With that, I’ve been driving the 2016 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport with an eye towards utility and real-world performance. It’s been fun, no doubt.
Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Features:
- 295-horsepower V6 engine
- Class-leading 8-speed transmission
- Active Torque all-wheel drive
- F-Sport performance package with aggressive styling cues
- Full technology and safety package with blind spot monitoring, backup assist, lane assist, pedestrian detection, HUD, etc.
- Mark Levinson premium audio with 15 speakers
- Luxury cabin with leather seats, climate control, etc.
- 10 standard airbags
- Warranty: 4 yr/50k bumper-to-bumper, 6 yr/70k powertrain
- MSRP: $57,375 (as equipped)
Get up and go in the RX
Upon arrival, I was impressed with the styling of the RX 350. I hadn’t seen one up close before and they looked overcooked in passing, but after actually seeing it in person, the styling is quite unique and aggressive — especially compared to the competition.
Of course, this is a Lexus we’re talking about so the interior is full of luxurious features like automatic everything, heated and cooled (my favorite feature) seats, a full slate of technology and safety features as well as a bright and intuitive instrument panel. I’m not going to pretend to give you track times and braking distances — there are plenty of other sites that can give you that kind of information. But, I will go through the features that matter to an outdoor enthusiast, so let’s get started.
What about utility?
Again, this is an SUV (albeit a luxury one), so it better be able to carry its fair share of gear. With the RX, you have several options, starting with a large trunk area. There’s plenty of space there for all kinds of items — including my totes full of cycling, running and skiing gear that I haul around. And, even more impressive is that the levers to fold down the rear seatbacks are also situated on the right, rear panel for quick access without having to open the rear doors. While they do fold down that way, you still have to go into the back seat to fold them back up (something you don’t have to do with the Audi Q5, for example).
When the seats are folded down, they don’t sit quite flat, but they come close (and are much better than the Toyota RAV4, for example). In that configuration, the RX 350 can swallow a road bike with ease and should be able to fit most mountain bikes.
On the trailer hitch side, the F-Sport has some unique equipment that complicates installation. So, while it’s certainly possible to add a hitch, the cost will be somewhat higher. Once in place, the RX can haul up to 3500 lbs., but I prefer to just use it for bike racks (which weigh slightly less than 3500 lbs.).
On top, your Lexus dealer can equip the RX with factory crossbars, but load capacity and flexibility is limited, so I’d suggest going with Thule AeroBlade or AeroBlade Edge for a more functional load-carrying system (Yakima didn’t offer crossbars for the RX). With that, you can easily install cargo boxes, bike racks, ski racks or boat/SUP racks.
I’ll add that I’m glad the carpets and mats are all black, but the light grey seats do show dirt and grime pretty easily. I’m a black/black guy, but that’s personal preference.
Sitting on the back bumper to prep for a ride or a run is a little bit of a challenge because it is so tall. But, that comes with the territory when going to a larger SUV like this one.
How is the onboard technology?
In-car tech is hard. It’s one area that the manufacturers won’t relinquish because it provides huge margins, but I think they should simplify things. I say that because we all walk around with smartphones that are more intuitive than every car interface I’ve yet to see. We just want in-car tech to work as intuitively as our smartphones and, well, they don’t and they never will unless they adopt Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, but that’s another story.
As I did with the Toyota Prius Four and the Toyota RAV4, I simply paired my phone via Bluetooth and expected it to work. While that worked flawlessly on both the Prius and RAV4, things got more complicated in the RX. My phone got lost in Bluetooth Neverland at some point and required me to un-pair and pair again. After doing so, things appear to have improved, but after only a couple of days of use I can’t say that for certain.
Aside from some Bluetooth hiccups, I never quite fell in love with the odd “joystick” control for the Lexus Enform entertainment display. It was too finicky and difficult to use reliably. In other vehicles, a simple dial with a button is used, which I prefer.
The voice recognition falls way behind the Prius and RAV4 as well. I couldn’t get it to work reliably at all as commands like “Call Ana Mitchell” would turn into “Show Texaco Icons” and stuff like that. I think the whole technology system is in need of a firmware update, which I’m sure is coming.
At the outset, I really wanted the in-car tech to shine, but in the end it fell a bit flat.
How about safety?
I’m a big safety fan and the RX has a lot to offer. Aside from stellar crash ratings, this thing has all kinds of doodads to keep you safely on the road, avoid accidents and keep you safe should you get into an accident. Blind spot monitoring is excellent as well as lane departure and steering assist. There is a feature called Lane Keep Assist, which seems great at first (keeping the vehicle centered in the lane), but in practice it feels like you are fighting the vehicle. That said, I can see it being useful under certain conditions.
I love the pre-collision system with pedestrian detection which can bring the vehicle to a full stop in case of a collision with a car, tree, person or a cyclist. Thankfully that feature remains untested — I’ll trust that it works.
I found the backup camera to be excellent, but I couldn’t quite get used to the side mirrors rotating outward when reversing. When the mirrors rotated outwards, I lost all reference and found myself second-guessing things more than I should. I’m sure there’s a setting to turn that off, but I have yet to find it.
How does it drive?
Luckily, the RX was delivered to me in Park City, Utah. From there, I was able to drive through winding mountain roads and truly feel the handling and power of this vehicle. The speed-sensitive steering is nice as it tightens up as speeds increase. It does still feel a little too loose at low speeds, but again, it does tighten up.
Handling on mountain roads is excellent with tons of road-gripping capability. It carves through corners without much body roll and is a ton of fun to drive.
Popping this thing into the four different drive modes (Standard, ECO, Sport S and Sport S+) delivers noticeable changes in personality. Frankly, even ECO drove quite well and I was satisfied with Standard mode most of the time. But, when I wanted this thing to really sing, hitting Sport S+ mode was eye-popping as it brought the RX to a place I didn’t think it could go with brisk acceleration and tighter suspension. It becomes downright aggressive and responsive. The paddle shifters are nice, but I only used them a couple of times before settling on Sport S or Sport S+ if I wanted a sporty driving experience.
Parking lots are a breeze, with the exception of the aforementioned backup issue with the side mirrors. And, since the rear cargo area only sports a small window, there is a bit of a blind spot so keep that in mind.
At freeway speeds, the RX is a blast. I can zip around, speed up and change lanes with confidence. Stepping on the gas is always a good time in this vehicle with a nice, solid engine sound to boot. I really enjoy driving this on the open road as it just cruises along in insulated silence.
How about off-road?
Lets be serious here… this is an on-road SUV with the ability to get a little dirty. Snowy and wet roads are perfect for this beauty and, surprisingly, some light off-roading was quite pleasant. I hit some local dirt roads to see just what it could take — the kind of stuff I’d do with my Subaru Outback. As expected, it does great on loose gravel and occasional rough, rutted terrain. No, it’s not going to crawl like the GX or LX models, but I was pleasantly surprised how capable it was.
On the same dirt roads I took the RAV4, the RX 350 tackled them much more favorably. The suspension didn’t bottom out on the surprise double-bump in the road and overall it did quite well. It’s safe to say that the RX performs about as good as anyone would expect it to. Gravel, dirt and loose terrain is great — just don’t expect much more beyond that.
Odds and ends
Since this is a Lexus, it’s got tons of great features — most of which I won’t go through, but a few are worth highlighting. I really like the LED interior lighting, it is so much more soothing than regular lights. I love the smart key and lighted door handles and I love how all the handles are active as well — not just the driver’s door.
While the rear hatch does take an ultra-slow 6 seconds to open/close, but the double-tap to close and lock all doors is pure genius. I’ll add that I’m getting about 22 mpg in mixed driving using a variety of drive modes (spot-on with EPA estimates). Running it in Standard mode all the time will likely increase those numbers.
- The aggressive styling looks better in person
- Tons of Lexus luxury throughout
- Safety features galore — chose what you want or don’t want
- Powerful engine that sounds meaty
- Put it into Sport S+ mode and watch out… this thing hauls
- Can swallow large items with ease
- 8-speed transmission is smooth
- Instrument panel is intuitive and clean
- Heated and cooled (my favorite) seats
- Larger than competitive vehicles
- Only requires regular unleaded (competition requires premium)
- LED interior lighting is soothing
- Lit up door handles are awesome
- Enform entertainment system is too busy with some hiccups (hopefully a firmware update is coming)
- Joystick is too finicky and difficult to use reliably
- Voice control never worked correctly and fell far below the Prius and RAV4, which worked flawlessly
- Bluetooth woes — re-pairing may have fixed this
- Side mirrors rotating outwards on backup threw me for a bit of a loop (can this be disabled?)
The Bottom Line: 2016 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport
As far as driving is concerned, the RX 350 F-Sport is awesome. The suspension is taut, yet comfortable and acceleration is plenty strong (especially in Sport S+). Of course, the luxury details are spot-on with a comfortable interior. The Enform entertainment system is a bit too busy with a touchy joystick that was too touchy for my liking. I also had some wonky Bluetooth performance. Tech issues aside, this is a beautiful, fast and fun vehicle with a ton of utility.
Learn More: Visit Your Lexus Dealer