Quick Drive: 2013 Lexus RX350 F-Sport

By Brandon Turkus

November 20, 2012

—Ypsilanti, Michigan
We really like the Lexus F-Sport range. The GS F-Sport is one of our favorites in that segment, delivering handling and poise in spades, and giving Lexus a realistic competitor to mid-size sports sedans like the BMW 5-Series. There’s an LS F-Sport coming as well, that promises to turn the brand’s flagship into more of a speedboat than a yacht. These new, sportier models are just what the brand needs to keep its products fresh and appealing in a younger market. 
So while we salute this move to make more engaging vehicles, we feel it’s important to remind everyone that while Mercedes-Benz is teeming with AMG variants, this does not give license to Lexus to make an F-Sport version of all of its vehicles. We need no further evidence of this than our recent stint in the deeply conflicted RX F-Sport. 
You see, the standard Lexus RX is a top-notch isolation box. It’ll devour miles, children (oh, you know what we mean), and cargo with equal levels of aplomb. Its spacious, smooth-riding character is exactly what you want on a road trip, and it’s also plenty quiet when just driving around town. It is not, however, an involving vehicle. Even its 3.5-liter V-6 is oriented towards comfort. Sure, it packs a decent 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, but it’s the buttery, refined character and engine note that make it a success. There’s a reason we didn’t include it in the four-way SUV roundup we conducted a few months back.
Quick Drive: 2013 Lexus RX350 F-Sport
The F-Sport, though, tries too hard to turn the RX into a sporty offering. This is down to what’s been added.
The standard RX packs a six-speed automatic transmission that delivers invisible performance, keeping the engine right where it should be, and contributing to the generally quiet and smooth character of the powertrain. The F-Sport, for reasons we’re still trying to comprehend, ditches the six-speed auto in favor of an eight-speed automatic. Lexus has done two eight-speed automatics before: one in the new LS and a frustrating unit in the IS-F. This gearbox has more in common with the IS-F.
It seems consistently unsure of when to downshift, while upshifts are overly slow. Switching over to the manual mode doesn’t solve the problem, either. It’s patently bad, refusing to upshift with any urgency after pulling the right paddle. 
The suspension has been treated to the F-Sport treatment as well, with F-Sport struts and performance-tuned dampers. It feels stiffer without actually delivering any increase in feedback. And in the process of tightening the suspension, the RX has lost its characteristic smoothness. Impacts are felt more easily, thanks, we’re guessing, to the new 19-inch wheels (which, to be fair are pretty good looking). 
Meanwhile, the system that could have made the biggest difference in the RX experience, the electronic power steering, remains untouched. It’s still light and lifeless, with little to no feedback either on center or through the turns.
Look, we’re all for sporty cars, trucks, and SUVs. Sometimes, though, it just doesn’t make sense. By adding an F-Sport trim, Lexus basically flies in the face of everything that makes the RX a successful luxury crossover. It’s not as comfortable, not as smooth, and not as quiet as the vehicle on which it’s based. If you want a sporty crossover, there are a lot of options out there. This isn’t one of them. If, however, you want a relaxed, silky CUV, then a standard RX is a great choice.
2013 Lexus RX350 F-Sport
Engine: V-6, 3.5 liters, 24v
Output: 270 hp/248 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 7.7 sec
Weight: 4510 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 18/26 mpg
Base Price: $47,000