The RX is one of the few crossovers that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be something else.
There are some pretty serious Lexus fans in our office, and as the years go by I do find myself enjoying these vehicles more. The biggest factor is the brand’s consistency; whether you’re in their latest sports car, a traditional luxury sedan, or even a crossover, every Lexus has a certain calming feeling that distinguishes them in a very understated way. The extremely successful RX-series crossover has been a long-standing volume seller for Lexus and despite exponentially increasing competition, has managed to keep its edge. To see exactly why this model has remained successful, I took to the streets in a fully loaded 2018 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport AWD.
This particular test vehicle came optioned exactly how I’d have chosen it; shimmering Atomic Silver, a black leather interior, and the F-Sport Series 3 package representing all the luxuries you can throw into a CUV, plus the sporty looks of the F-Sport exterior kit. The F-Sport gets a unique front grille and fascia, 20” charcoal wheels, and subtle F-Sport badging. Quite honestly, I spent most of my week ignoring the exterior of the RX 350. It’s angular and aggressive, but its looks don’t jive with its personality, which I love, so I decided to do what many buyers do and simply ignore how it looks.
The interior of the RX 350 is really the heart and soul of this crossover. Fitment and construction of every piece is outstanding, and while some materials are just simple soft-touch plastics, they are so well executed that it’s easy to forgive the fact that they’re not something more exotic. The seats are sublime and feel like you could drive for days without getting achy. Controls are simple, clean and easy to access, and the digital LF-A inspired gauge cluster makes a great centrepiece. Everything you touch, from the thick leather wrapped steering wheel, to the gear selector and door handles feels nice. Not only that, but everything works well; and I mean that in the sense that the heated and cooled seats get very hot, or very cold, and the same goes for the heated steering wheel. The 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system sounds great, and the infotainment screen is responsive and simple to navigate.
The interior does exactly what it’s designed to do, keep the occupants comfortable and relaxed, and I believe the reason for that is because it’s simple in design. Buttons, knobs, even a mouse to navigate the infotainment menus, they’re all just easy. There is nothing inside the RX 350 to serve as a distraction; it’s quiet, simple and actually rather boring in design. This allows the occupants’ minds to rest and focus on the drive, rather than be distracted by gimmicks and fancy design work.
From a practicality standpoint the RX 350 is a winner as well. There is plenty of storage upfront with deep (and adjustable) door pockets, a huge center console and glovebox, big cup holders, and a cleverly placed wireless charging pad. Comfort in the second row is nearly on par with the front, and even with the seats in place the rear cargo area is generously sized. If you need more the split bench folds almost totally flat to open up a very handily sized cargo area; my only gripe here is that the power function to fold the seats is slow. If you need even more space, for the first time ever you can now opt for an RX 350L, the extended wheelbase model which includes foldable third row seating.
From a performance standpoint, the RX 350, even in its sporty F-Sport guise is nothing to write about. The tried and true 3.5L naturally aspirated V6 puts out 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm. The only available transmission is an eight-speed automatic. It’s enough and the RX 350 accelerates off the line briskly and cruises with what feels like zero effort on the highway. However, it’s not exactly a powerhouse and putting your foot down to pass results in a smooth, linear, but moderate rate of acceleration.
Handling follows a similar suit; steering is light but fairly responsive, and the RX remains well composed in just about every situation, including riding on our pothole-riddled city streets. When pushed, the cushy suspension does begin to lean a bit and the lack of steering feel doesn’t instill confidence in spirited cornering. Nonetheless, the RX isn’t meant for enthusiastic driving; it’s all about getting you and your family around in the utmost of comfort, and that it does extremely well thanks to its library silent interior and best-in-class ride quality. The linear naturally-aspirated V6 and the soft silent ride perfectly complement the RX 350’s luxurious and comfortable interior making this the most relaxing CUV to drive, bar none. This is what Lexus is all about, and why my affinity for them has grown.
All RX 350s sold in Canada come equipped with Active Torque all-wheel-drive. This system does a good job transferring power between the front and rear wheels to keep grip where you want it and keep the RX stable in adverse conditions, while maximizing efficiency whenever possible. Fuel economy is right in line with other V6-powered CUVs; rated at 12.2L/100km city and 9.0L/100km. A week of commuting had my average right at 11.5L/100km; exactly where I’d expect it given the ratings.
You can get into a base model RX 350 for $55,750, which actually feels like a pretty decent value as all of those intrinsic Lexus qualities that you expect from the brand are not going away regardless of the options list. If you do want more of the luxuries and gadgets, there are a handful of packages available between the entry level price and the $70,000 MSRP attached to our loaded F-Sport Series 3 tester. An F-Sport Series 2 is available, which delivers on the aesthetic without some of the extras. Also interesting is that at the $70,000 mark you can have your choice between the F-Sport, or if the sporty looks are not your thing, you can opt for the more conservative Executive package, which offers similar equipment.
The way I am starting to see it, the 2018 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport AWD is a perfect daily driver and family hauler for an enthusiast who has a toy in the garage that fills the void whenever the need for something more engaging to drive is felt. It is actually the exact opposite of a driver’s car, and that’s why I like it so much. F-Sport kit aside, the RX is one of the few crossovers that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be something else. Even at $70,000, it’s still cheaper than a top-line Cadillac XT5 (reviewed here), which is equally good, but even as a Cadillac owner, I have to give a slight edge to the Lexus just for that consistency throughout that this latest model retains.