The 2016 Lexus RX 350 F SPORT First Drive

I was recently among a small group of auto writers who gathered in Portland to check out the all new fourth generation 2016 Lexus RX 350. You know it as the Lexus luxury utility vehicle, I came to know it as a fun and sporty vehicle that was heavy on good looks, creature comforts, and technological features.

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Available as a 3.5L V6 with 295 horsepower, the RX 350 F SPORT looks like a hopped up mid-size SUV on the outside, but the inside is all about luxury, lush materials, comfortable space, and elegance. The exterior has an even bolder and more athletic body style than before, with plenty of sharp new creases and curves that you’ll either absolutely love or positively hate — I don’t know that there is any gray area with this version.

Why? Well, we should start with the Lexus signature spindle grill which features triple L-shape-LED headlamps along with a new front fog light and available cornering LED light clusters. Some have compared the Lexus front end to the alien in Predator, and yeah … I get that. But I also see it as a much more masculine look than the RX 350 has previously sported. Sure, women will want to drive it, but I don’t see it as being something that men will shy away from in the least.

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Not your mother’s Lexus

At home in both a rural or urban setting, three new exterior colors have been added: Caviar, Autumn Shimmer, and Nightfall Mica. All RX models feature “a scratch-resistant self-restoring coat in the body paint, which uses a high-performance macromolecular polymer. The high elasticity of the material helps resist scratches, such as from fingernail marks around the door handles.” Has this been a problem for any of you? My main issue with scratches are those swirly marks you see on darker colored vehicles after they’ve been washed a couple of dozen times. Perhaps this paint helps with that, too. The paint is also supposed to possess “a high level of gloss retention to help enhance the initial gloss and color of the paint over a long period of time.”

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The 2016 RX 350 has a wider, more aggressive stance than previous designs, and to go with it are several changes to the to the exterior structure, namely enlarged tire and wheel diameters, a longer wheelbase, and a slightly lowered bottom edge of the front bumper.

The new RX 350 also has improved aerodynamic elements to help the vehicle’s drag coefficient as well as help with driving stability and reduce interior cabin noise.

The RX comes with a standard 18” seven-spoke wheel, and there are three distinct 20” wheels including split five-spoke wheels with a machined finish in a dark silver color, F SPORT split 10-spoke design, and a Luxury Package five-spoke wheel with selectable trim in either Black, Autumn Shimmer, Silver Lining Metallic, or Eminent White Pearl.

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The new RX has ergonomic seats which are comfortable, supportive, and luxurious. The driver will get to use a completely redesigned instrument panel section which has been shaped “with a strong horizontal axis” and a “highly stylized center console [that] looks like a sleek and elegant piece of contemporary furniture”. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the huge optional 12.3” full-screen display. Base models have the 8” version which is still generous, but the 12.3” seems almost decadent. Rather than being a touchscreen, functions are controlled with a joystick mounted in the center console. There’s even a heads-up display for those who want to keep their eyes where they should be — facing the front and on the road.

There are several interior trims available, including Matte bamboo, Espresso Walnut, Matte Linear Dark Mocha Wood, Striated Black Trim, and Gray Sapele Wood with Aluminum; my favorite is the latter.

The RX 350 is made to comfortably seat five passengers, extra leg room is achieved because the ergonomic front seats are scooped out to give knees plenty of space. There’s also a design change to the rear-seat footwell, which now allows backseat passengers to place their toes in a slightly raised manner for a more comfortable foot position. There’s plenty of headroom in both the front and back seats for us taller riders.

The 2016 Lexus RX350 AWD models are estimated to get 19mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, or about 22 mpg average, while the front-wheel drive models are rated at 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, or a 23 mpg average.

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The Drive Mode Select system allows you to choose from one of up to five distinct drive settings (depending upon the vehicle and equipment you choose) including ECO, NORMAL, SPORT, SPORT S, and SPORT S +. On the F Sport, you can also choose the CUSTOMIZE option, which enables you to “combine the modes of the engine, chassis, air conditioning functions, and if equipped the hybrid system, according to preference. The modes of the various control functions can be combined via the navigation screen.”

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On the hybrid RX 450, there is also an EV DRIVE option which allows the vehicle to be driven purely under electric vehicle mode in certain situations. I didn’t get a chance to drive the RX 450, but it produces an impressive 305 total system horsepower.

17-Gear Diary Test Drives the 2016 Lexus RX.09-001

The 2016 Lexus RX 350 is at home in town or in the country

Some of the cool safety features happen to be tech-heavy. These include the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control System, which “makes use of a millimeter-wave radar sensor, camera sensor, yaw rate sensor and steering sensor to provide vehicle-to-vehicle distance control for additional peace of mind. This useful system is especially helpful when driving in congested traffic as it can function in heavy stop-and-go traffic.”

Here’s a video of Paul Strauss from The Awesomer checking it out …

Lane Departure Alert was a feature that I really liked; using a camera mounted to the windshield to detect visible lane markings, when you move out of your lane, the steering wheel will actually vibrate! You can also set it to give an audible alert, but that can get kind of obnoxious, so it can be turned off. Even crazier, if the vehicle recognizes that you are veering out of your lane into the center of the road, “the Steering Assist system will also apply a gentle touch to the steering wheel to help correct the vehicle’s path in addition to the LDA system’s audio/visual warning.”

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Intuitive Parking Assist uses sensors in the front and rear bumpers to detect obstacles that might otherwise not be seen. An audible alert will sound as you get closer to the obstacle. This system is further enhanced with the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, which uses both a camera and a millimeter wave radar system to detect other vehicles or people in front of the vehicle. An audible alert will let you know what’s up, along with a visual alert on the display.

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Of course there is also a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, so that you don’t enter an adjacent lane that’s already occupied, and it will also let you know when other object or vehicles are approaching the rear of the car.

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The stereo is something else, I’ve gotta say. Lexus has always had great stereo systems in their vehicles, and even the base RX 350 sound system is no slouch with its 9 speakers. You can upgrade that to 12 speakers, but if you really want something special, you’ll opt for the 15 speaker Mark Levinson Premium Sound System with Clari-Fi compressed music restoration technology. It is spectacular! Picture a Mark Levinson sound system like you might own in your home, assuming you were willing to throw down $15,000 for their base amplifier, in your car; the sound is crisp, clear, and excellent!

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The amplifier (on the right) is a $15,000 Mark Levinson — one of their least expensive!

The 2016 RX 350 is available in a Luxury Edition as well as my favorite, the F SPORT. Handling on the F SPORT is excellent; I took an extremely twisty mountain course in the non-sport model, and I’m not gonna lie — I was absolutely nauseous during the ride and at the end. I don’t know if the handling was just too cushy or what was going on, but I couldn’t eat lunch after that drive. =/

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I took a similarly twisty ride in the F SPORT model, and I didn’t experience any of the nausea during that noticeably stiffer ride. If you regularly travel twisty roads at brisk speeds —unless you have a steel stomach — you will want to get the tighter F SPORT model. If you get a chance to drive both before making your decision, definitely take a ride down a twisty-turny road (the more hairpins and bumps, the better), and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

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The 2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport is fun to drive, loaded with luxury, and it will be out in November; the base model will start at under $45,000.
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This Portland bridge is in my writeup for no reason other than because I thought it was beautiful.

Disclosure: Lexus paid for my travel, room, and meals; there were no conditions or expectations made regarding what I chose to write about with regard to my experience.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.