New Car Review: 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

Front 3/4 view of 2013 Lexus RX 350 F sport

Among enthusiasts, Lexus has something of a bad reputation. Despite stunners like the LFA supercar and the recently-reviewed-here IS-F sedan, the image is stil that of isolation chambers on wheels.

And out of the Lexus lineup, the vehicle that gets singled out for perhaps the greatest amount of abuse and derision among the smugly superior driver's set is the RX crossover.  It is, intentionally, the least sporting Lexus, designed to be a supremely comfortable conveyance appealing primarily to middle-aged and well-off females.  And it's been selling like hotcakes for well over 15 years.

But Lexus is on a mission to be taken seriously, and so this year, there's an F Sport edition of the RX 350.  Unlike the IS-F, there's no engine swap, just a much-appreciated upgrade of the transmission, suspension and some nice trim bits.

Rear 3/4 view of 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

A stock RX 350 starts at $39,660. You'll throw in significantly more cash for the RX 350 F Sport, $47,350.  And while the same 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 remains under the hood, the six-speed automatic transmission is replaced by an 8-speed with paddle shifters. The usual payoff of extra gears in added gas mileage is nowhere to be found, though...the EPA estimates remain 18 city, 26 highway.

F Sport also brings standard all-wheel drive, the F-Sport tuned suspension, and 19-inch alloy wheels.

Does it help?  Yes.  Apart from a big, standard LS (which is greatly improved this year...comprehensive review coming), the RX has been, until now, the last Lexus I'd want to take tight curves in at any kind of speed.  But the RX 350 F-Sport tames them in a way I'd never have thought possible from this particular vehicle.  So, money well spent, since in our book it's all about control.

Opt for the F Sport and very little is left as an option.  Heated and ventilated seats and a moonroof are standard equipment, as are power-folding heated outside mirrors and F-Sport specific details such as a 3-spoke steering wheel with audio controls,  a leather-trimmed interior with silver contrasting perforations and stitching, memory for seats, mirrors and steering wheel and unique front styling.

Interior view of 2013 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

Our tester added a blind spot monitor ($500), a heads-up display ($1,200), a Mark Levinson 15-speaker surround sound audio system with DVD, HD and SiriusXM ($995), navigation including  Lexus Enform & App Suite  ($2,775), intuitive parking assist ($500) and a cargo net ($59), resulting in an as-tested price with $895 destination charge of $53,924.

A lot of those options are take-or-leave stuff for us.  In a vehicle with a high beltline, blind spot monitors are a good thing.  The heads-up display is a gimmick. The gauges are in a good position for awareness without taking your eyes off the road. We love good audio, but do we love it an extra $995 in a vehicle that already has a good system? And while the App Suite makes en-route use of Bing, Yelp, Open Table, iHeart Radio and Pandora a breeze, we have to ask why it costs almost $300 more in this car than it does in the IS-F sedan.  Intuitive Parking Assist is just a fancy phrase for "It beeps at you when you're about to hit something" and if $500 keeps you from denting your $50,000 car , that's probably worthwhile.   And the way I take corners, Mrs. TireKicker would insist on the cargo net, even if it was substantially more than $59.

So I (and you, if you agree) could lop $5,000 in options off the RX 350 F Sport we drove and wind up with a price of about $49,000.
Given that just about every RX 350 that starts at $39,660 gets optioned up to that range before being shipped to a dealer anyway, why not spend the money on one whose handling inspires confidence?  If I was going RX shopping, it'd be the RX-350 F Sport.