The Lexus RX 350 has been around for several years now and the F Sport badge is nothing new. Most special edition vehicles shy of Porsche usually mean purely appearance and cutting straight to the point, the RX 350 F Sport Black Line Special Edition is your standard RX 350 F Sport with a few extras.
The Black Line Special Edition, which is only available as a package for the F Sport model, delivers black exterior accents, black 20 inch wheels, blue stitching on the interior, and lastly only come with two exterior paint colors – Ultra White or Grecian Water. Oh, and you also get a two-piece set of Zero Halliburton luggage. I know, never heard of them.
New for 2021, the RX comes standard with blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, and power folding mirrors. Sweet.
Optionally, a wireless smartphone charging pad is available. I’d recommend this.
To summarize my feelings of the 2021 RX 350 F Sport Black Line Special Edition up front, I really enjoyed driving it up to the point I needed to interact with the infotainment system, or paused to digest the fuel economy stats.
Without looking at the RX 350 F Sport Black Line Special Edition on paper, those less familiar may assume similar performance to an X5/6 M. The contrasting white and black seats with blue stitching stand out as soon as I opened the door. It set the expectation that the RX 350 F Sport was going to deliver both performance and comfort. I found the driver’s seat to be infinitely adjustable and hugged my 180-pound, just-shy-of-6-foot-frame, like something out of proper sports car. Grabbing the steering wheel, the gear selector, everything felt supple and premium. The infotainment center, and the way the controls all wrapped around the driver set the driver oriented tone immediately.
Pushing the Start button, the 3.5 liter V6 fires to life with a mellow bellow at idle. It’s at this point where I always reach for the drive mode dial and twist it to Sport. The digital gauge cluster run turns to white in LFA-fashion and the word Sport displays on 10 inch infotainment screen in red.
Closing the door and looking around, craftsmanship looks to live up to Lexus standards. The door handles, buttons, the door panels wrapped in leather. Everything feels solid and well made. Heated steering wheel, but only at 9 and 3.
On the road, Lexus turns the pavement to glass but with Sport mode, the suspension firms up, all while somehow retaining that Lexus comfort, but also manages to substantially reduce lean through corners.
And holding me firmly in place are these uniquely F Sport seats…by far my favorite feature of the RX 350 F Sport Black Line Special Edition. And that’s where the sensation of all performance ends and everything you’d expect from a Lexus sport utility vehicle begins.
Peg the throttle to the floor from a stop and the RX 350 F Sport gallops to 60 MPH in the low’ish 7 second range. The 3.5 liter V6 produces an ample 295 horsepower and transfers it to the ground through an 8-speed auto trans. The engine and all of it’s sound fed through the cabin stereo, sounded good to my ears. Fake. Real. Doesn’t matter to me.
What did matter was fuel economy. I averaged 19 miles per gallon with a good mix of highway driving and around town. That average is spot on to RX 350 F Sport’s advertised 19/22(mixed)/25 MPG rating. It’s just a bummer that we’re still looking at an average in the teens in 2021 when my 7 seater 2019 Honda Pilot averages low 20’s with nearly identical powerplant on paper.
If I may go back to the seats again, the button for heating and cooling nicely tucked in front of the gear selector, almost as if Lexus didn’t plan for it and needed somewhere to put the buttons. It’s not the buttons that I found special, but enabling the cooled seats at full-chill in the RX 350 was the first time I had experienced what I could only describe as how cooled seats are supposed to feel. I could feel the cool air blowing out from the perforated leather and onto my back with an abundance I hadn’t felt from our personal 2019 Honda Pilot Elite or from the previous week’s press car, the Volkswagen Atlas. It was a revelation. It was like cracking your own back or neck, and then visiting a professional chiropractor. Yeah, that good.
While I wasn’t ahhhhhhh’ing in the F Sport seats with the cooled fans blowing, I found using Lexus’s infotainment center seemingly intuitive in nature but frustrating in practice. It’s a simple touchpad with haptic feedback to aid locating buttons on a screen, however I found myself skipping over selections frequently. Using the system became a nuisance at times. I just wanted a dial knob.
However, once I located my desired audio source and cranked the volume, I found the Mark Levinson system to be powerful and clear at all levels. Making phone calls through the Lexus was also crystal clear.
Lexus has done a pretty good job of masking that it’s a Toyota product underneath but its visible in a number of places if you know where to look. The menu on digital cluster that displays information such as power delivery, fuel economy and infotainment menus and the cruise control stalk.
Minor in scope, but I found the rear view camera resolution to disappointing. The image was pixelated and lacked the crisp clarity that I found in the Honda Pilot and Volkswagen Atlas. These are small annoyances but when I find the same quality in the previous generation base model Toyota RAV4, there’s a word for it. “Cringe” sums it up.
Beyond the driver’s seat, I found the rear seats to be more than adequate for 2 adults. I wouldn’t recommend 3 unless in a pinch for a short drive. 3 kids? Sure. I don’t see a family of 5 purchasing an RX 350 unless it was the L model, so it’s fine.
Storage space is rated at 32.7 cubic feet with the rear seats down. 16 cubic feet with the rear seats up. With the rear seats up I was able to load four full size BMW 3-Series wheels and tires, and I’d bet a fifth had I tried.
Where the Lexus RX 350 F Sport Black Line Special Edition really falls short for me is the powertrain. Toyota’s V6 is reliable, but in 2021, I find the fuel economy to be unacceptable. Instead of increasing the efficiency of engines by improving the engine, many manufacturers have been increasing the number of gears in the transmission to keep the RPMs lower to decrease fuel consumption. Lexus is now up to a 8-speed where just a handful of years ago the RX line came with 6. It’s not enough.
The 2021 Lexus RX 350 F Sport Black Line Special Edition starts at just shy of $50k. For an additional $2k you can opt for the hybrid RX 450h version, which increases fuel economy to an advertised 30 MPG in mixed driving. The 450h shares the same 3.5 V6 and horsepower increases to 308 but the hybrid system increases weight by 500 pounds, so 0-60 sprints are an identical 7.9 seconds. If ride quality and handling is the same, then the 450h is the model we’d consider.
Why offer the RX 350 at all? Sorry, Lexus.