Certain automakers can pull off the “sporty” crossover with less scrutiny. Nobody blinks an eye (generally) when Ford announces another ST-ified Explorer or Edge. BMW puts their ///M logo all over everything. A Mercedes-AMG crossover? Sure, bring it on. But a sporty Lexus crossover? The one that is solidly comfy-over-everything? *record scratch* And so, with a raised eyebrow, I accepted the key to a bright metallic blue 2021 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Black Line.
Lexus’ F-Sport branding isn’t the ultimate in sportiness – those cars are the “F” cars, like the IS-F and GS-F of days gone by. But F-Sport does mean more sport-oriented handling, seating, and styling at the very least. And what is Black Line? It’s a special edition series across many Lexus models, offering unique colorways and interesting accents inside each vehicle. Black Line buyers also get a two-piece luggage set that fits perfectly in their vehicle’s cargo area.
Black Line models are considered low-production, and just 1,000 RX models will be Black Line editions for 2021. 750 of them have been made as the gas-only RX 350, and 250 as the hybrid RX 450h. My tester was painted a gorgeous shade of blue, unique to Black Line, called Grecian Water.
Lexus made sure to note in its Black Line press release that “blue stitching is also found on the exclusive floor and cargo mats for a reminder that we must never stop looking—or dreaming.”
What Is It?
This is a 2021 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Black Line. While the Black Line bit is neat and I wish Grecian Water was available on every Lexus ever, everything I’m discussing applies to any ol’ RX 350 F-Sport, as Black Line is truly just a special color combo sort of thing.
F-Sport, in the case of the 2021 Lexus RX, adds upgraded “performance dampers” – i.e. shock absorbers – and front seats that are slightly more bolstered. You’ll find perforated leather on high-touch areas, a black headliner, a different grille, a unique gauge cluster, and 20″ wheels with all-season tires.
The F-Sport package adds about $3,000 to the RX 350’s MSRP, and the only true performance upgrade is suspension-related. Buyers can spend another $1,000 to add what should be on every F-Sport but was not on mine – adaptive dampers and F-Sport-tuned steering. F-Sport can be added to both the gas-only RX 350 and the hybrid RX 450.
All 2021 RX 350s, F-Sport or otherwise, are powered by the same 3.5 liter V6 found in many other Lexus and Toyota models. Here it produces 295 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque, routed through the corporate eight-speed torque-converter automatic and optional all-wheel drive.
MSRP of my 2021 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Black Line came in at $61,355.
Back-Road Driving in the 2021 RX 350 F-Sport
I really tried with the RX 350 F-Sport, I promise. I spent the better part of an afternoon on the best back roads Northern Virginia has to offer, with the RX in Sport mode and Normal mode. I shifted the transmission manually with the steering wheel-mounted paddles and let it do its thing unencumbered. I wanted to be pleasantly surprised by the amount of fun I was having at the helm of what most people would consider a “mom car.”
There were no surprises.
The Lexus RX is a fine crossover that is entirely competent in many ways. But there’s nothing inherently sporty about it, and the F-Sport upgrades on my tester felt half-baked. Every F-Sport should have adaptive dampers and specially-tuned steering. Asking for another grand on top of the three thousand already being charged for a mostly-visuals package is a stretch.
Without the “performance-tuned” steering, the RX’s wheel requires minimal effort to spin and offers minimal feedback when you push it. Inputs are accepted whenever the RX deems appropriate, providing a soupy relationship between your brain, your right foot, and the throttle. Commands made via paddle shifters are listened to, except for the times they’re not.
Lexus could have tuned all of this to be more responsive – it’s truly all software. They didn’t, for whatever reason.
In any case, the RX 350 F-Sport was composed enough when flung through corners. It didn’t always listen very well, but with enough advance notice on inputs, it’d hustle harder than most RX buyers will likely ever push.
Thinking Existentially: What Is the Lexus RX?
When I was a kid, I had a friend who lived two doors down. Shortly after we moved in, his mom replaced her Chevy Malibu with a gold 1999 Lexus RX 300. It had a tan leather interior and her wedding ring clacked on the wood steering wheel trim every time she took a turn.
Those early RXs set the tone for the luxury-focused midsize crossover market, which was then-emerging and later blew up into what we see today. It may be nostalgia talking, but I truly think the Lexus RX is at its best when it’s the nicest, most luxurious, rolling-isolation-chamber iteration of itself.
Even with my critiques, there was plenty to enjoy about the 2021 RX 350 during our week together. It’s generally quite comfortable, the V6 makes nice-yet-muted noises (unlike the same engine in the well-executed IS 350 F-Sport), and the Mark Levinson sound system is worth every penny. I see why so many people – moms and otherwise – like the RX so much.
And so the F-Sport package just seems so silly to me. The RX has never had sporting pretensions, so why pretend just so it can kinda-sorta fit in with the rest of the Lexus lineup? I’d say “peak 2021 Lexus RX” is a hybrid RX 450h with as many options checked that enable a buttery, velvety, easy driving experience.
Despite not actually being very sporty, the 2021 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Black Line is not a bad offering in the midsize crossover segment at its core. As my test vehicle was equipped, it didn’t make much of a case for itself. The good news is that for the same sort of money – sixty grand – you can have that creamy-smooth RX 450h instead.
It’ll have all sorts of nice options equipped, offer an equal lack of road noise and road feel, and be the modern, quintessential notion of Lexus that put them on the map back in 1990.