2016 Lexus RX350
Lexus’ best-seller gets some new duds
What have we here?
This is the new(ish) Lexus RX350, an edgy, boring-be-damned replacement crown jewel in the Lexus portfolio. Actually, this does represent a significant risk for Lexus- dressing up your best selling vehicle in polarizing duds means you potentially piss off a lot of buyers, many of those who are on their second or even third RX.
The styling is, um…distinctive.
You are not going to confuse the RX with a Volvo XC60 or any of the other segment usual suspects, that’s for sure. Lexus is tired of being typecast as milquetoast and decided to shed the conservative, softly rounded style that has become so familiar across suburban soccer pitch parking lots for something more in-your-face. When we first clapped eyes on it, the dominating exterior design flourish was the grille. It was at this point that we wondered aloud whether Lexus might have moved too far from its anonymous looks in the past to the jarring manifestation you see here. Like it or not, the grille is a unifying styling trait of all Lexus vehicles. With its embellished Norelco Shaver-inspired shnoz, one may worry about small children and lap dogs accidentally getting swallowed up by it. Once you get used to the gaping maw, you’ll take in a cornucopia of creases and scything angles and LED headlights that squint angrily at you. Its kind of like one of those kids who goes off to summer camp all proper and staid, with retainer and violin lesson schedule in tow and then comes back pieced, tattooed while listening to heavy metal.
Did Lexus subject the interior to the same design overhaul as the outside?
Inside the RX350 is significantly less jolting than out. Lexus has always been on point when it comes to exciting inviting interiors and we’re happy to report that that tradition continues unfettered. The lasting impression that we’ll take away from our time spent in the RX is how meticulously everything is put together. You’ve got to look pretty hard to find evidence of where the bean counter’s axe swung and even then everything is pretty first rate. The seats are swathed in wonderfully fragrant glove-soft leather and are expertly supportive. Everything is where you’d expect it to be- the only real miscue we kept running into was the mouse-like controller for the infotainment system. Even after a week to adapting to its idiosyncrasies, we still needed to take our eyes off the road to glance at it when performing a task as mundane as changing the radio station or adjusting the fan speed for the climate control system. Other highlights include a wonderfully large 12” screen that perches on the dash right in the driver’s line of sight and the sonically gifted Mark Levinson sound system that does a fine job of making the compressed music of on your phone sound great.
On the subject of sound…why does the RX broadcast engine noise through the speakers like many sporty cars these days?
We’re not really sure we have an answer for this one. We wondered more than once if the typical RX buyer needs or even wants this feature but it’s prevalence throughout the marketplace means that if the other guys are doing it, so too must Lexus. We tried shutting of the stereo completely in a vain attempt to get it to stop, hoping to bask in the serenity of a whisper quiet Lexus cabin but couldn’t shake the noise. At least the 3.5 litre V6 has enough polish to never sound offensive and mated to a new 8-speed automatic gearbox, the tandem show how good Lexus engineers are at exorcizing the unsavoury parts of internal combustion drivetrain.
So it does the driving thing pretty well too, then?
Like the generations of RX’s that preceded it, this one goes down the road in a pleasing fashion, assuming you prefer the novocaine-type of isolation luxury vehicles do so well. Even with the drive mode selector nudged into Sport or even Sport+ the RX never feels frenetic or out of sorts- it feels a little more alert than when left in default mode, but the prevailing feeling is that no matter the setting the RX will coddle over crushing apexes. Even in the full red-blooded settings the RX rides spectacularly well, a testament to the adaptive dampers standard on F-Sport trims. In fact, the shocks are so good they are almost worth it alone to step up the F-Sport trim level- they are easily the most transformative bit of kit on the RX. They give you the feeling that roads have been resurfaced by soft density foam, and pavement ruts and other gnarly bits are all but eliminated.
They’ve done a good job making sure the RX will keep its place at the top of Lexus sales charts, right?
Aside from the polarizing styling, the Lexus people have done a great job of advancing the breed. Their strategy of honing and tweaking will no doubt capture new buyers alongside the scores of repeat ones. While they’ve got the whole serene comfort thing down pat, there are a few areas that could use improvement. The cargo area is smaller than we’d like, the V6 is surprisingly thirsty and is a bit down on power and the steering is light to the point of being comical. And let’s be honest folks… even in F-Sport trim, the RX does not feel sporty. Despite some minor issues, the RX350 will sell in droves, and it’s coming to a suburban soccer pitch near you.
2016 Lexus RX350 F-Sport— Specifications
- Price as tested: $70,171
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.5-litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 295 @ 6,300 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 268 @ 4,700 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,150 kg (4,740 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 15.7L/100km (15 mpg)