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Nice luxury crossover. Just don’t call it "Sport"

2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport

Bob English/The Globe and Mail

Rating
9
Overall Rating
9
Overall
The RX 350 would have scored 8.5, the F Sport touches add to the appeal. You’ll like this vehicle if: you have a little extra cash to spend on an RX 350.
Looks Rating
8.5
Looks
The F Sport adornments add flare to a familiar shape.
Interior Rating
8.5
Interior
The sporty touches look neat and the audio system is great.
Ride Rating
8.5
Ride
Firmer than the base vehicle, but not enough to reduce the comfort level.
Safety Rating
9
Safety
Improved handling, combined with AWD, sound structure, electronic aids and airbags, make it a safe family bet.
Green Rating
7.5
Green
Fuel economy gains shade it a little greener.

Having to link the words crossover, luxury and sport to describe the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport created some slippage in the clutch connecting my mental search engine with the output device that transmits drive to my computer keyboard.

And the resultant overheating triggered my rant sensor.

Crossover and luxury didn't cause the problem, particularly in the case of the RX 350, which is largely credited with linking those terms in the late 1990s, and is the best-selling vehicle of this type in North America. But "sport" – come on, really? How can anyone seriously call a crossover a "sports" vehicle?

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Sure, enough engine can be stuffed under the hood and suspension, brakes and tires crammed into the wheel wells to allow crossovers to go outrageously fast and handle far more competently than they have any right to. But to what end? Is anybody likely to actually turn up in their "sport" crossover at a track day? Particularly this one, with its token nod to performance, at least in the go-faster sense.

Then the clutch hooked up, mental temperatures returned to the green, and I realized that, in the RX 350 F Sport's case, I'd simply overreacted to that word once again, one of those meaningless marketing euphemisms, such as "fun to drive," for what is just a mildly improved level of competence, and, I suppose, cachet.

The third-generation RX 350 arrived for 2010 and received a freshening outside for 2013 – the usual grille, bumper and lights – that brought its appearance in line with the evolving Lexus look. And revisions inside that include a new wheel, controls and console. But the $44,950 RX 350 and the $56,750 hybrid RX 450h were joined by the new RX 350 F Sport this past summer, which boasts of performance enhancements thanks to input from the Lexus F performance division.

These didn't include giving it more poke. In true "sport" model tradition, the new RX 350 F Sport is fitted with the same 3.5-litre, 270-hp/248 lb-ft V-6 as the standard model.

It does, however, now have an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters, rather than the base model's six-speed, to send drive to all four wheels. The paddle shift system has been optimized for quick response, which it has, but will nevertheless remain a largely irrelevant feature for most owners, once the initial amusement stage passes. At least the paddles don't get in the way of your hands.

This transmission doesn't actually boost performance though, with average 0-100 km/h acceleration taking 7.9 seconds and the dash from 80 km/h to 120 km/h an even six (according to AJAC Canadian Car of The Year Competition performance testing). These figures were bested by the then-new 2010 model – 7.7 seconds to 100 km/h and 5.1 seconds 80-120 km/h – entered for that year's competition. It was rated at 275 hp and other factors, such as overall gearing, likely came into play.

But while the F Sport may not be quicker, it is more socially and fiscally responsible, delivering a worthwhile improvement in fuel economy, which is rated at 11.2 litres/100 km city and 7.7 highway versus 11.8 city/8.3 highway for the six-speed-equipped RX 350. It averaged 10.5 litres/100 km on a 500-km winding secondary road drive through cottage country north of Toronto.

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The F Sport is equipped with stiffer springs and uprated dampers and a clever front and rear lateral damping system – think of a hydraulically dampened strut tower brace – designed to improve steering feel and reduce the negative effects on ride and smoothness that a firmer suspension and structure can result in. It also comes with slightly lower-profile P235/55R19 all-season tires on unique alloy wheels versus the P235/60R18s on the standard RX 350. It hasn't been lowered though (the hybrid's ride height is 10 mm lower), or the brakes upgraded.

So, is handling improved? Not to any obvious level, at public road speeds anyway, but enough to make the make the F Sport a more pleasant luxury crossover to drive on smooth, twisty and hilly country roads. I'd make this the standard setup and offer something a little more serious in a "sport" edition.

The F Sport also comes with the new Lexus-look spindle grille and a revised and bolder-looking bumper with neatly integrated fog lamps and LED running and taillights, plus, of course, F Sport badging.

And on the already luxuriously equipped inside, well-shaped seats upholstered in black leather with white stitching, Ebony Bird's-eye Maple trim, a black headliner, leather-wrapped wheel, alloy pedal covers, voice-activated navigation, reversing camera, power folding/self-dimming outside mirrors and a Mark Levinson 15-speaker surround sound audio system.

The F Sport is obviously a pretender compared to seriously-silly hot-rod crossovers such as the BMW X5M, Infiniti FX50, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 or Land Rover Sport Supercharged, but in real world terms it's quick enough and handles competently in luxury crossover vehicle terms and is overall a pleasant vehicle to spend time in.

Tech specs

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2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

Type: Luxury crossover

Base Price: $57,900; as tested, $60,030

Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, turbocharged V-6

Horsepower/torque: 270 hp/248 lb-ft

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.2 city/7.7 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Acura MDX, BMW X5, Infiniti FX, Land Rover LR2, Lincoln MKT, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Volkswagen Touareg

*****

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