The most-popular Lexus vehicle, the RX midsize luxury crossover, got some refinements for 2013, but the biggest news is the addition of the first performance-oriented model - the F Sport.
That's the one Lexus brought us to test on a recent week. Although it's no speedster - it has the same engine as the base RX 350 - it has extras that make it stand out, including an eight-speed automatic transmission, special 19-inch wheels and a custom leather interior.
Base price of the F Sport is just above $47,000, and it's available only with all-wheel drive. It's aimed at people who want sportier performance, something that critics have complained was lacking in previous RX models.
The F Sport is at the top of the RX 350 line, whose prices begin at $39,660 for the base front-drive version.
As for the F Sport, it was "designed to engage driving enthusiasts with performance and styling enhancements," Lexus said.
The eight-speed transmission comes with manual paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The 19-inch alloy wheels with dark graphite finish are very cool-looking, and they're outfitted with 235/55R19 tires. Also included on the F Sport are a unique front bumper and a mesh grille.
The F Sport also comes with a sport-tuned suspension with front and rear performance dampers; and the Lexus Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management setup, a computerized controller for the electronic stability, traction control and antilock braking systems.
Special F Sport exterior and steering-wheel badges are included in the package, along with the special black leather seats with white contrast stitching, a black headliner, and aluminum pedals and footrest.
Also standard on this model are the Premium and Comfort packages that are optional on other RX versions.
The Premium package features include memory for the driver's seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors; leather seats; power tilt/slide moon roof; power/folding/self-dimming outside mirrors; rear armrest storage with lid; and roof rails.
With the Comfort package come heated and ventilated front seats, as well as rain-sensing wipers.
Under the hood of all RX 350 models is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 270 horsepower and 248 foot-pounds of torque, and on all but the F Sport, the engine is connected to a six-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with intelligence and a manual-shift mode (using the shift lever).
No higher-power engine is available for the F Sport model, but there is plenty of power with the 3.5-liter, and the eight-speed transmission shifts smoothly and offers peppy acceleration in the lower gears. Lexus says the vehicle's top speed is electronically limited to 112 mph.
The all-wheel-drive is an electronically controlled system that automatically shifts power from front to rear, as much as 50 percent, to provide sure starts and keep the vehicle going on slippery surfaces. Otherwise, all torque goes to the front wheels.
With the eight-speed transmission, the F Sport has EPA ratings of 18 mpg city/26 highway.
The front seats of my F Sport were quite comfortable, and there was a spot in the center console between the front seats for my smartphone, and a USB port inside the console to connect it to the great 15-speaker, 330-watt Mark Levinson audio system.
Also included on the tester was the in-dash navigation system, which comes with the Lexus Enform service that is similar to General Motors' OnStar; a blind-spot monitor; a heads-up display showing digital speed readout on the bottom of the windshield; "intuitive" parking assist; and a rear cargo net.
I took a turn riding in the back seat, and found it to be nearly as comfortable as the front, with plenty of legroom, in the two outboard positions. A smallish adult or child could sit in the middle position, but there is a pull-down armrest for when no one needs to sit there, and it includes two cupholders.
In general for 2013, the RX received "numerous interior and exterior upgrades," Lexus says, including the "bold new face of Lexus, the signature spindle grille."
There are also new headlights, taillights, LED daytime running lights, fog-light trim, and front bumper.
Inside, the luxury has been ratcheted up a notch, and there is a new, sportier steering wheel, metallic accents on the glove box, and a redesigned center console that Lexus says is more versatile and accessible.
There's also a new optional ebony bird's-eye maple wood trim and an available saddle leather interior, with contrast stitching on the seats, center console and door armrests.
2013 LEXUS RX 350 F SPORT:
-The package: Premium, midsize, front- or all-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger, V-6 gasoline or V-6 gasoline/electric-powered-hybrid crossover utility vehicle.
-Highlights: Lexus has updated the RX for 2013, and added a performance-oriented version, the F Sport. This luxury crossover also comes in a hybrid version, and offers a variety of high-tech features, along with decent fuel economy, good power, and lots of standard or optional amenities.
-Negatives: No third-row seat offered; price climbs significantly with navigation and other extras.
-Overall length: 187.8 inches
-Curb weight range: 4,510 pounds
-Engine: 3.5-liter V-6; one or two electric drive motors
-Transmission: Six-speed automatic (RX-350); eight-speed automatic (F Sport); continuously variable automatic (hybrid)
-Power/torque: 270 horsepower/248 pound-feet (gasoline models); 295 hp (hybrid, combined gasoline and electric)
-Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock
-Cargo volume: 40 cubic feet (rear seat in place); 80.3 cubic feet (rear seat folded)
-Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
-Base price, base model: $39,660
-Price as tested: $53,029
-On the Road rating: 9.1 (of a possible 10).
All prices exclude destination charges.
ABOUT THE WRITER
G. Chambers Williams III has been an automotive columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1994. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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