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2017 Lexus RX 350 Test Drive Review
Full F Sport availability and standard inclusion of the Safety System + Package join added rain-sensing wipers and auto-brake functionality for the parking system to round out the already well-proportioned RX 350 for 2017.
With the new option of the F Sport package for front-wheel-drive RX 350s, the package is now available to the whole RX lineup. Likewise, standard inclusion of the Safety System + Package adds a ton of value to this impressive crossover. While not getting as much press, every RX also gains rain-sensing wipers and auto-braking for its parking-assist system.
Look and Feel
When you’re going up against rivals like the Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, and Mercedes-Benz GLE, you’re starting with your work cut out for you. Nearly every entrant in this segment has won aesthetic praise, and there’s no doubt the RX 350 presents a stunning, if divisive profile. Truly, I can’t remember a more contentious design element than the current Lexus grille, but that doesn’t seem to have hurt sales. Things are just as aggressive out back, with a sharply angled rear liftgate that actually hampers cargo capacity.
Inside, the RX offers a slick and even conservative approach with regard to design, dominated by the iconic Lexus analog clock. High-quality materials and precise construction create an atmosphere worthy of the luxury label, but the optional remote-touch interface for the Enform infotainment system mars the overall experience.
It’s the F Sport package that really transforms this vehicle. Whereas in base form the RX 350 is just another option in the segment, the adaptive suspension, sport seats, and trim touches upgrade things to the point where the RX must be on your list of potentials. That said, it’s no small addition. The base price of $43,120 is inflated by $5,800 with the F Sport package, which adds 20-inch wheels, that adaptive suspension, sport seats, and a unique gauge cluster, steering wheel, and shifter. You also get a lot of aesthetic touches such as aluminum trim, sporty exterior trim, and ambient lighting.
In addition to the F Sport package, my test vehicle was fitted with an unnamed $1,865 safety package that added blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alerts, intuitive parking assist with auto brake, a panoramic monitor view, and power-folding auto-dimming mirrors. Triple-beam LED headlights added another $1,615. A Premium Audio Package added a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, 12.3-inch display, and the remote-touch interface for $3,200, and the moonroof was another $1,100. With $140 tacked on for a cargo mat and $975 for a delivery fee, the walkaway price for the RX 350 F Sport I tested came to $57,815.
With regard to performance, the RX 350 presents an appearance that is more concerned with ride than straight-line acceleration. Its 3.5-liter V6 delivers 295 hp and 267 lb-ft, enough to get you to 60 mph in around 7.5 seconds. That’s on par with the XC90, but a full second behind rivals like the MDX and the X5. Still, 7.5 seconds to 60 mph is by no means slow, and the RX 350 never felt underpowered during my week of testing. This is due in large part to the very capable 8-speed automatic handling power delivery, producing quick shifts on short gears that nearly negated the need for the paddle shifters that come with the F Sport package. It’s a welcome change from my usual automatic experience of late, where the transmission either hunts around endlessly or refuses to downshift in an effort to deliver maximum fuel economy at the expense of the overall driving experience.
And speaking of fuel economy, EPA estimates of 20 mpg city, 27 highway, and 23 combined put the RX 350 right in line with the competition. During my week of testing, which included some canyon-carving jaunts, city traffic, and highway time in Eco mode, I averaged 18 mpg, which is about what I’d expect as a deviation from the stated combined number. I have a heavy foot, and there are nothing but hills here in the Bay Area.
More than that, the optional adaptive suspension with the F Sport Package creates as near a car-like experience as you can reasonably expect in a 68-inch-high crossover. If you must drive a crossover, this is how it should handle, and I’d argue that it’s to the point where it shouldn’t even be optional. In base form, the RX 350 handles like every other soupy crossover SUV, but this suspension sets the new standard in my opinion and should be your first consideration when venturing into the options list. If you’re shopping in this segment and you don’t test-drive the F Sport, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Unfortunately, the RX 350's steering doesn’t match its suspension. It’s vague and numb and overboosted, leading to frequent overcorrection due to the lack of feedback. It’s not substantially worse than a lot of options in the luxury crossover category, but that doesn’t forgive the transgression entirely either. It’s a similar situation with braking. A stop from 60 mph will take somewhere between 120 and 130 feet, and that’s average among the competition, but getting that number closer to 110 feet is possible and necessary. This isn’t a specific criticism of Lexus, but of what we’ve been complacent enough to accept from crossovers in general. They can do better, and they should. More than that, there’s a surprising amount of dive and even pull under hard braking. This is worse in the non-F-Sport trims, but still present here, and that’s unfortunate. Especially in a crossover, braking is much more important than acceleration, and I wish it got more attention.
Form and Function
Where the RX 350 really falls behind in a meaningful way is in overall space and cargo capacity. Thankfully, this isn't felt until you venture toward the back. Front seats are spacious all around, and the upgraded units that come with the F Sport package are perhaps the best in the segment. Intelligent heating and cooling pairs with significant bolstering and serious long-term comfort, though I wish the lumbar support was less rigid and adjusted up and down.
The second row has less good news. Headroom is adequate, even for those over 6 feet tall, but leg and knee room are in short supply, with adults finding their knees pushed firmly into seat backs. More than that, the optional rear-seat entertainment system mounts screens on those same seat backs, putting them much too close for comfortable adult viewing. Children should have less of a problem.
As previously mentioned, the aggressively raked liftgate on the RX 350 looks smart, but seriously hampers the vehicle’s already handicapped capacity. Its available 18.4 cubic feet of cargo is surpassed by most competitors, and the angle on the liftgate means taller items are a no-go. Dropping the rear seats, which unfortunately don’t fold flat, increases total capacity to 56 cubic feet—again less than the competition, but that shouldn’t make or break your decision. This lack of space is especially puzzling given that competitors like the MDX even offer third-row seating, though I find the utility of those third rows highly exaggerated. Unless you’ve been blessed with an especially large family, I wouldn’t consider the lack of a third row an important distinction.
Lexus never shies away from technology, and the RX 350 doesn’t deviate from this convention. Full LEDs with the optional headlights create a striking image, and the newly standard safety systems such as dynamic cruise, auto high beams, lane-departure warning and assist, and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection mean the RX 350 comes out of the gate nicely equipped. It’s confusing that blind-spot monitoring isn’t standard as well and frustrating that adding it is a nearly $2,000 upgrade.
The premium stereo pumps out confident sound in the very quiet interior, and the 12.3-inch panoramic HD display is a gorgeous improvement over the base 8-inch setup. Unfortunately, choosing it means you also get the frustratingly imprecise and unintuitive remote-touch interface for the Enform system. The system itself is great from a software point of view, but even with the upgrades and updates the system has gotten over the years, its mouse-like controller is still an infuriating piece of tech. The cursor bounces around the screen, never landing where you intend and taking your eyes off the road for precious and dangerous seconds. Moreover, perplexing bits of design like a dedicated Map button confuse first-time users who expect to find such functionality within the interface. It’s especially a shame because the lack of a touchscreen means you won’t see fingerprints everywhere, but a laptop-style trackpad would have been a better solution here.
Newly standard safety features help the RX 350 earn an overall 5-star safety rating from the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as well as a Top Safety Pick+ nod from the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That said, while the IIHS awarded the RX top scores in all tests barring a second-best score of Acceptable with regard to headlights, the NHTSA’s tests showed a 4-star rating in the individual overall front, driver front, and passenger front tests.
While the RX 350 may represent a good starting value in the segment, the near-necessary F Sport package negates most of that advantage outright. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not still a good deal. Some competitors offer more space or more power, but as a total package, the RX 350 is impossible to ignore. Lexus’ reliability ratings and resale value should bump that up as well, and with the F Sport package, the RX 350 simply becomes a must-test option in the segment. Additionally, there are currently cash incentives in place for purchase and leasing, if financing is done through Lexus, with offers expiring July 5th.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.
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