The automotive industry typically thrives on new car model launches and major redesigns, but Lexus has taken a different approach with the compact luxury SUV RX 350, making only minor changes since 2016 and maintaining its winning appeal in performance and price for 2021.
The RX 350 was again the best-selling compact/midsize SUV vehicle in the US last year and top seller among all Lexus vehicles. For 2021, Lexus made blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert standard features and added a wireless charging option.
The RX competes against Acura MDX, Mercedes Benz GLE and BMW X5 – all costing hundreds to thousands of dollars more. Lexus RX trims include base RX 350, F-Sport and 350L with a tight third row.
Our test-drive five-passenger RX 350 F-Sport added $10,360 for 11 options that included a 12.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio, upgraded LED exterior lights, roof rails, power moonroof, 20-inch tires with special black theme inside and out, parking assist and rear cross-traffic braking, a wireless cell phone charger and heated steering wheel.
Behind the wheel, the RX 350’s appeal immediately emerges with the V6 engine providing decent acceleration and the ride cushioned appropriately with MacPherson front strut and rear double wishbone adaptive variable suspension. Precise handling comes with front wheel drive augmented by a full-time torque wheel control that engages all four wheels when needed for control and stability.
Mileage remains decent at 22-mpg average using the 8-speed automatic transmission, adding needed bursts of speed with manual paddles in sport drive modes. Eco mode conserves fuel.
Outside, the F-Sport black edition showcases a black mesh pinched Lexus spindle grill, black side mirrors, F-Sport badging and satin-finish chrome lower protector.
The interior features premium-leather dominated upholstery and trim, front seats are heated, cooled, bolstered and form fitting comfortable.
Telescoping information gauges on an 8-inch LCD screen combine tachometer and digital speed among other features. Outside noise is muted, except for some enhanced engine growl upon acceleration.
Cabin space is ample with numerous storage trays. Rear seats don’t fold flat but there are storage trays under the cargo floor above a spare tire.
Tech connectivity information and function comes via Lexus’ Enform system accessing a 12.3-inch dashboard screen manipulated by a frustrating, twitchy touchpad; however, there are buttons and knobs to reduce touch-pad reliance, which can be potentially distracting. Crash safety ratings and Lexus driver safety features are top-notch.
At a Glance
LIKES: Power, handling, luxurious interior, spacious, comfort, ride, reliability, and value
DISLIKES: Twitchy infotainment touchpad, noisy acceleration
BOTTOM LINE: Competitive price, resale value, performance/ luxury keeps it top tier
Fact File: Lexus RX350 F Sport 5-DR SUV
3.5 liter, 24-valve, V-6, VVT-i
295 hp at 6,300 rpm
268 ft.-lbs. at 4,700
8-speed automatic/manual paddles
19 city mpg, 26 highway
19.2 gallons, premium recommended
0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds
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Tom Crosby has written more than 1,000 automotive reviews and is a retired Vice President of Communications for AAA Carolinas. He has seen dramatic changes in the automotive industry over the past 25 years and ponders the advent of self-driving vehicles, electric-only vehicles, sophisticated in-car telematics, and the financial challenges facing automotive manufacturers in an increasingly congested worldwide market.