We took the 2013
Lexus RX 350 F-Sportfor a 300-mile drive from our Manhattan office, to the Jersey Shore, and back, and had a great time, even in ghastly, leaving-Manhattan-on-Friday-afternoon traffic.
The RX 350 F-Sport starts at $US47,000. The model we tested cost $US53,924, which isn’t a huge jump. But the F-Sport performance package, to our disappointment, didn’t actually make the SUV fun to drive. It provided enough power, but the steering response was “meh.”
That said, the RX is excellent in just about every other way. The original luxury SUV has been on the road for 15 years, and time has been good to it.
The interior is well thought out and perfectly comfortable. The ride quality is sublime: You barely feel the road, even at over-the-limit speeds.
If only Lexus would get rid of that mouse-like control for its infotainment system.
Now there's plenty of competition (including the Mercedes-Benz GLK, BMW X3, and Audi Q5), but the RX is still ahead in the sales department.
This year, the RX topped J.D. Power's Dependability Study results, the first crossover or SUV to take first place.
But despite the promise that the F-Sport version comes with a 'full-fledged performance package,' the drive quality is uninspiring.
There's plenty of power to get up to speed on the highway and pass other cars on the road, but at no point is it actually fun to drive. The good part is that you feel like you're gliding on the road, and don't even notice hitting potholes.
We had a long drive -- from Manhattan to the Jersey Shore and back -- in tons of traffic, so comfort mattered more than handling and power.
And that's where the RX delivers. The 2013 model is the product of years of refinement, and it's a really well thought out car.
There's a spot to put a bag or random belongings between the driver and passenger seats, an underutilized space.
Another compartment between the seats has a USB port, and the bottom lifts up to reveal more space for squirrelling things away.
These little 'windows' don't do much for visibility, but they bring in light and make the cabin feel more open.
Even with three people, the back seat feels pretty roomy. Our model didn't come with the two optional 7-inch screens.
The Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system sounds good, but costs nearly $US1,000 on top of the MSRP.
EPA-rated fuel economy is 18 mpg city, 26 highway, 21 combined. That and a big gas tank took us the more than 300 miles, with range left to spare. The RX Hybrid gets a much more impressive 32 mpg city, 28 highway.
The Lexus 'Enform' system is above average. It provides info on what restaurants you can find at various highway rest stops, and connects nicely with a phone (and reads text messages out loud to keep your eyes on the road). But it's somewhat lacking in the graphics department.
Not everything is great. This mouse-like thing is used to control the infotainment system, and it may be the worst thing about the car.
You use it to move around the cursor. It's like using a Ouija board, but with less control, and you're driving at the same time.
Fortunately just about everything can be controlled through the steering wheel, or the few buttons on the center console.
Even with the hood up, there's not much to see. Underneath the plastic shell is a 3.5-liter V6 engine.
As you expect in an SUV, there's plenty of room in the trunk, and the back seats fold down if you need more storage space.
There aren't many standalone car options I think are worth $US1,200, but the head-up display is one of them. It projects things like your current speed onto the windshield.
It's especially good for navigation, as there's no need to pull your eyes off the road to check a map, or suffer through annoying, repetitive voice commands.
I haven't driven a non-F-Sport version of the 2013 RX, but my guess is that's the better deal. There's not enough pep in the F-Sport to justify a $US7,000 price jump, and the best parts about the SUV -- comfortable ride and thoughtful features -- can be found in the standard RX.
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