2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport review: May I have some more sport, sir?

2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport

2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport

Maybe our expectations are too high, but Mark Templin, Lexus group v.p. and general manager, billed the 2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport as “not just an appearance package, but a full-fledged performance package.” But to us, its fledge falls somewhere short of full. To our sporting bones, the RX350 F Sport needs more oomph.

Here’s the deal. The F Sport suffix was added to the Lexus RX350 lineup this year. It’s a new trim level, not to be confused the a Sport Appearance package. The 2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport includes a sporty facelift, with a distinctive front bumper and mesh grille, dark-finish 19-inch wheels (instead of the standard 18-inchers) and interior trim changes, but for a sport model, as Mr. Templin suggested, there’s more than cosmetics needed.

To that end, the 2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport, while powered by the same 270-horse 3.5-liter V-6 as the standard RX350, has an eight-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, replacing the lesser RX350’s six-speed non-paddled automatic. The paddles augment the standard center stack-mounted shift lever that, with its placement, distances the driver from the drive. The paddles fix that.

The eight-speed, we’re told, “yields quick shifting response with help from miniature high-flow linear solenoids that allow more precise clutch operation. The torque converter uses a low-speed lockup damper to enable lock-up from first to eighth gear to help improve the fuel economy.” We’ll have to believe them, because it’s the type of thing that, if it can be felt, it isn’t working…and if it can’t be felt, it probably is. But it’s also used in the six-speed automatic. Our highest praise, then, is that the transmission is smooth and responds to the paddles quickly, which of course is why they are there.

The RX350 F Sport comes only with all-wheel drive. Like the standard RX350 that puts power through all four wheels, the F Sport’s system has “Active Torque Control,” of which is Lexus’ way of saying an electronically controlled coupling ahead of the rear differential that can vary torque distribution anywhere from 100:0 to 50:50 front to rear.

The wood trim in the 2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport is, yes, really wood

The wood trim in the 2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport is, yes, really wood

But for sportier handling for the 2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport, Lexus firmed up the springs and shocks. Beyond that, the F Sport has a “lateral performance damper system” to reduce body vibrations, for “a more linear steering feel and enhanced ride comfort.” Instead of ordinary bracing, this system has a front performance damper and a rear damper connecting the left and right sides of the rear structural frame.

We’ve never felt the standard RX350 had that much in the way of body vibrations, but if there are, the system fully erases them. Ditto the need for the lateral dampers. It seems a long way to go to eliminate ordinary bracing, but again, we don’t feel its absence, so it must be working.

The sportier interior for the RX350 includes a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, black leather-trimmed seats with white perforation holes, combined with white contrast stitching on the seats, center console and door armrests. Real Ebony Bird’s Eye Maple trim is included, with a black headliner completing the Dark Knight theme. And of course, you can’t have sport without aluminum pedals.

The seats aren’t very sportily contoured, however, with no big bolsters for, well, inspired cornering. And Lexus F knows sports seats. We know, because we’ve driven the Lexus IS-F.

Lexus changed the joystick controller or its multi-system control screen on the center stack this year across all models. Instead of the mouse-type button at the base of the joystick, selections are made with a downward push of the joystick. Smooth ride of the RX350 F Sport notwithstanding, the slightest jiggle would push the joystick where it wasn’t intended to go. It’s simply too touchy.

We’ve always liked the cargo compartment of the Lexus RX350, and that doesn’t change with the F Sport, particularly with the rear seatback folded, making a flat floor and making it easy to slide large items in.

2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport engine

While the 2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport has an eight-speed automatic transmission, its engine is the same as the standard RX350.

That said, while the voices of many navigation systems are harsh and obviously compounded from phrase segments, the Lexus voice is elegant, not that of a disembodied mutant.

While the ride and overall vehicle silence impressed first-time passengers—we’re admittedly somewhat spoiled—the added gutsiness of expected of a sport model was absent, or at least didn’t live up to our expectations. And too, for a vehicle aspiring to an F Sport rating, we’d expect something more under the hood. Not that the RX350 F Sport was slow, but 7.8 seconds 0-60 mph isn’t burning up the track, either. We’d just like an edge over the standard RX350 at the stoplight drags. But that’s the way we are.

We would have thought that Mr. Templin might feel the same, having given us full-fledged expectations of full F Sport performance. It’s not that the 2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport is bad. It just didn’t keep the promises Templin and the f Sport name on its shoulders.

Specifications,prices next page.