Lexus RX 350 F-Sport ups its performance score for 2013

So successful has the RX become that it is the volume seller in the Lexus stable.

Lexus has added the performance F-Sport to its RX CUV lineup for 2013 featuring luxuries such as a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system and an eight-speed transmission.

It can be argued the Lexus RX range of CUVs has been the gold standard in the compact luxury segment since the day it was launched.

Bowing in 1998, the RX was the result of Toyota looking for something between a station wagon and a SUV.

There were a few similar vehicles around, such as the Subaru Forester, but none boasted the kind of luxury and build quality Toyota/Lexus thought would be a complement to the ES entry-level luxury sedan and the flagship LS sedan.

So successful has the RX become that it is the volume seller in the Lexus stable that it’s one of those vehicles that fits the saying, “if it ain’t broke…”

In many ways the look of the 2013 model has much in common with the 1998 version. The first RX sported a 3.0-litre V6 that grew to 3.3-litres and now is a 3.5-litre with quadcams producing 270 hp and 248 lb/ft of torque.

Cargo volume behind the second row seat is 1.132 cu m (40.0 cu ft) and 2.279 cu m (80.3 cu ft) with the second row folded flat.

While most drivers won’t be going very far off-road, the RX for 2013 has a ground clearance of 185 mm (7.3 in), an approach angle of 28.6 degrees and a departure angle of 24.9 degrees.

For 2013 there are three versions of the RX—the base RX 350, the RX 450 Hybrid and the RX 350 F Sport as tested here with a starting price of $57,900.

The RX comes with MacPherson struts and stabilizer bar at the front and an independent double wishbone with stabilizer bar at the rear.

What the F does is add a sport-tuned version of the suspension including front and rear performance dampers which flatten body lean in the corners and make slip angles in turns tauter.

Included are 19-inch F-Sport alloy wheels and fatter tires.

A major indifference is in the transmission with the RX 350/450h having a six-speed automatic while the F-Sport gets a new eight-speed.

Lexus made the F Sport available during a review of some of its current models in a refreshingly unregimented event where we were given the keys and told to enjoy ourselves.

Driving was held in an urban area so cottage country lanes were ruled out, but the idea was to drive the RX F Sport in the environment where most of these vehicles will live.

The V6 is a nice mix of power when you want it with the eight-speed shifting imperceptively through the ratios. With the sound deadening that is a Lexus virtue, it’s remarkably quiet on the inside.

With this drivetrain combination fuel consumption is listed at 11.2/7.7/9.6L/100 km (25/37/29 mpg) city/highway/combined.

The F Sport is also the highest priced of the three RXs and a lot of that has to do with content such as a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system with the latest 7.1 channel speaker architecture. Of course, there is dual zone climate control, but Lexus also fits a dust/pollen/deodorizing air fil