2016 Lexus RX 350 Performance

8.0
Performance

With so much attention paid to stance and styling, you might expect that the new 2016 Lexus RX family has some completely new performance bones—and a newfound attitude from the driver’s seat. Well, in this respect, you’d be wrong and you’d be right.

The 2016 RX lineup definitely cranks up the driving experience and feels more communicative than it ever has—especially when you opt for one of the F Sport versions. Yet at the same time, it’s by no means edgy, and there’s no mistaking that this is a model aimed at comfort, utility, and pragmatic needs.

The 2016 Lexus RX family provides a little more happiness from the driver’s seat, without cutting into passenger comfort.

There remain two engines in the RX lineup, as well as front- and all-wheel-drive versions of each—for a total of four powertrain combinations. And then there are also performance-oriented F Sport versions of both.

The V-6 in the RX 350 is new, making 295 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It has a new variable valve system that allows a wider range of intake-cam timing and the fuel-efficiency-enhancing Atkinson cycle, and there’s also direct injection. In all models, the RX 350 now gets an 8-speed automatic transmission—with F Sport models getting steering-wheel paddle shifters. Also, in the M mode, the torque converter locks up fully in third through eighth gears when accelerating and second through eighth gears when decelerating.

A pre-loaded front differential also helps with stability and performance off the line. And in RX 350 models with all-wheel drive, the system uses clutches to vary the torque distribution up to 50 percent to the rear wheels (or up to 100 percent to the front wheels).

Altogether, the RX 350 can get to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds (or 7.9 seconds with all-wheel drive).

Head over to the RX 450h hybrid model instead, and you get a different version of the 3.5-liter V-6, here making 259 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, with the compression ratio bumped up to 13:1. With its planetary drive system and twin-motor hybrid assistance, it operates as a full hybrid, with the vehicle capable of taking off in low-speed, low-load conditions on electric power alone. All-wheel drive versions of the 450h get a separate electric-motor drive unit for the rear wheels that supplements what’s happening in the engine bay and functions as an over-the-road hybrid system.

The RX 450h’s planetary gearset and lack of defined gears are part of what makes this setup feel less convincing in F Sport guise. You can also click steering-wheel paddle-shifters, although even then the transmission doesn’t seem to hold ratios with any predictability.

RX 350 and RX 450h models get Normal, Eco, and Sport modes—all affecting powertrain responsiveness, power steering effort, and the degree of air conditioning use. F Sport versions get additional Customized, Sport S, and Sport S+ modes. In Hybrid models, turning that controller over to Sport changes the gauge layout, with the "Power Meter" replaced by a tachometer.

Also, with the RX 450h, you now get an EV Mode that lets you (if the charge is adequate) run the RX in a quieter all-electric mode, for somewhat longer times than it would otherwise allow at low speeds.

The RX models keep their layout entirely car-like, with a MacPherson strut front suspension with lower control arms and a double-wishbone rear suspension. Lexus has softened the front suspension somewhat while aiming for a firmer rear-suspension tune—balancing that out with a larger anti-roll bar in front. All versions of the RX include four-wheel ventilated disc brakes.

Lexus engineers aimed for enhanced steering feedback this time around, and they achieved it, albeit with a big asterisk. Just as in a number of other newer vehicles with electric power steering, the RX’s steering actually transmits more feedback about the road surface back to the driver when it’s in its lightest (comfort-oriented) setting, counterintuitively. Beneath it all, the Lexus RX remains a pleasant-driving mid-size crossover, and the harsh impacts that could upset a true sport sedan or high-performance model are damped out.

F Sport models add the Adaptive Variable Suspension system that adjusts the damping force at all four wheels depending on the driving and road conditions. The Sport S and Sport S+ modes provide even firmer control, while the system has a rugged-surface sensing system that will aid ride comfort when you do get to a particularly rough surface.

Wheels are 18-inch, seven-spoke alloys in base models, upgradeable to 20-inch high-gloss machined alloys or super chrome alloys with color inserts. The RX uses a new Michelin Premier LTX tire that’s designed to improve its characteristics for wet-road performance somewhat as it wears.

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