BY ANDREW MUZAMHINDO
It has a chiseled jaw and is adorned with red leather. That alone makes an impression.
Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus and revolutionary car design engineer once said adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere. This theory, as well as the one of “simplify, then add lightness”, became the mantra of the performance-hungry designers everywhere. The best way to make a vehicle perform is to make it as light and as simple as possible. The man was onto something; race and performance car designers still believe in this philosophy today.
Performance SUVs scoff at this ideology though, seemingly hell-bent on making a gargantuan, two-tonne-plus behemoth go like stink, stop on a dime and corner like it’s on rails. This is fueled by the public’s conflicting desire to be able to change their mind at a whim. They want a spacious, comfortable and luxurious ride one minute, and a road-storming supercar the next.
Even in the luxurious world of Lexus, there is a demand for performance. Forget about the likes of the dedicated LFA supercar, I am talking about throughout most of their range. Lexus gives the F-Sport badge to their tweaked and tuned offerings and the latest model to get touched by the wand of the Takumi is the mid-size RX SUV.
The Lexus RX range received a mid-lifecycle update that saw several changes to the exterior and the tech. It also saw the introduction of the F-Sport model.
Where the RX 350 EX and RX 450h SE received a new grille with 3D-style L-elements, the F-Sport gets a sportier, crosshatch grille treatment but it still gets their new headlights with Adaptive High-beam System and Bladescan technology that provides unrivalled LED lighting control. The grille does away with the chrome trimming around the spindle and the side air dams are enlarged, creating a more purposeful visage. This works well when combined with the White Nova paintwork, creating a striking contrast.
The F-Sport gets two bespoke colours, the aforementioned White Nova, as well as Heat Blue Contrast. Buyers can also choose from Sonic Titanium, White Quartz, Graphite Black, Morello Red, Amber, Opulent Blue and Black.
A set of 20-inch wheels adorn the corners of the RX 350 F-Sport, their multi-spoke design and graphite grey finish adding a sporty element to the side profile. At the rear, the F-Sport gets the same new LED taillights with L-motif design, but the lower section of the redesigned bumper features two trapezoidal exhaust tips, finished in chrome and split by a faux diffuser. All of the elements are arranged along a horizontal plane, this helps give the impression of width and stability.
Wide it is though; the RX is not a small vehicle, but despite that, it’s exceedingly easy to drive. The driver assistance systems such as lane tracking and adaptive cruise control make traffic and the open road a breeze.
Forward visibility is good but rearward visibility lacks a little due to the broad C-pillars, inherent of the coupe-like styling. For reversing manoeuvres it is best to use a combination of the rearview mirrors and reverse camera to negotiate your path.
Even in F-Sport guise, the RX has a compliant and forgiving ride; one reality forgets that there are large 20-inch wheels and low-profile tyres.
When it comes down to the sporty handling prowess that consumers demand, the RX 350 F-Sport manages to deliver in a muted, sophisticated manner. There is little in the way of theatrics and it won’t be setting a lap record any time soon, but the additional chassis bracing and adaptive variable suspension allows for spirited driving to be rewarded.
The F-Sport has selectable drive modes, including a customizable Sport S+ mode that will heighten the RX 350 F-Sport’s senses and make it more engaging.
However, it is not a rocket-ship. The F-Sport is powered by the same 3,5-litre V6 engine that you will find in the RX 350 EX and it makes the same amount of power as well. You get 221kW and 370 Nm from the naturally-aspirated VVTi-equipped lump and drive is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed gearbox. It is brisk, but not fast. The F-Sport errs on the side of comfort and luxury rather than outright performance.
Lexus claims a 0-100 km/h sprint time of eight-seconds, which means that the average luke-warm hatch will have it off of the line. They also say that the top speed is 200 km/h, which is low when compared to the competition but perfectly acceptable for the gross majority of law-abiding citizens — only five-year olds and the ill-informed believe top speed is everything.
The F-Sport carries a kerb weight of 2085 kg so blistering performance, especially from an engine without forced induction, cannot be expected. But, the F-Sport responds well to inputs and this makes it at least somewhat engaging to drive.
If you wanted outright performance, you wouldd go out and get a hyper-hatch, a two-door sports car or a super saloon, but your eyes are on the RX because it has space. There is certainly no shortage of that in the RX. Both the front passengers and rear passengers will enjoy more than ample legroom. The F-Sport only seats five, but those that require seating for more can opt for the RX 350L EX which features a third row.
Part of Lexus’ update to the range was the inclusion of a 12,3-inch touchscreen and redesigned dashboard to place this screen closer to the driver. Unfortunately, the experience is marred by the fiddly nature of the infotainment system and the control thereof. Lexus insists on using their touch-sensitive trackpad and the menu system is complex and convoluted — let us hope that this is addressed in the near future.
The balancing act continues on the safety front. It would be easy to strip out all the heavy safety equipment and make the RX lighter and thus perform better, but it would not pass regulations and they’d struggle to sell a single one — no one willingly buys an unsafe car as a daily drive.
You will get no fewer than 10 airbags in the Lexus RX F-Sport along with a tweaked VSC for improved cornering stability and peace-of-mind. F-Sport models also get the Lexus Safety System+ which features a pre-collision safety system and autonomous emergency braking. This is combined with rear cross-traffic alert and braking as well as blind-spot monitoring.
The engine has to work extra hard when there is no turbocharger in play and ends up using more fuel than you would like. Lexus claims that the RX 350 F-Sport returns a combined fuel consumption figure of 9,6 l/100km
The Lexus RX 350 F-Sport is an attractive machine with lots of character. It may not be an outright performance machine, winning races as it goes, but it does a great job combining luxury, comfort and an engaging drive. It is the best-looking model in the range and carries with it an air of distinguished class that will hardly ever face criticism.
It will be a tough sell though as it faces off against the likes of the BMW X4, Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport.
- Transmission: Eight-speed shiftable automatic;
- Base Engine Size: 3,5 litres;
- Cylinders: V6;
- Horsepower: 220kW @ 6300 rpm;
- Torque: 400 Nm @ 4700 rpm; and
- Valves: 24.