Phoenix - Down here in the sunny south, where sheer mass, class and - as far as I could tell, Sinaloa cartel-outrunning speeds - are the norm for automotive outings at all times, the venerable Lexus RX 350's considerably sexier edition fit in quite well.
Admittedly, everyone else in Arizona apparently drives a Suburban with 22-inch wheels, and 85 miles an hour feels about normal, so the RX's beefed-up sport suspension and its tougher looks certainly came in handy.
The 2013 F Sport edition pushes a totally "Clone Wars"-style Stormtrooper face to the front of the SUV, with a chrome-edged grille, pronounced mesh and LED-rimmed lamps, plus a set of very sharp-looking, smoked open-spoke 20-inch wheels. I got a vehicle more sensibly equipped with all-season tires; in Arizona, the norm is ridiculously wide low-profile summer tires 365 days a year, so this RX's footwear did help to slightly exaggerate road conditions.
The main disappointment is that the F Sport editions, available on most of the Lexus family, do not involve plunking the engine from the groundbreaking IS-F into your particular SUV or automobile.
Sure, there's a sporty tune on the chassis - and that did make it a more viable machine when I headed up the twisty South Mountain Park roads and started throwing the not-insubstantial RX around some curves. Braking is good, not intense, and the AWD vehicle really is pretty capable.
But the standard output remains, with just 270 horsepower from a 3.5-liter V6, and that was really just barely enough to keep up with the drag-racing hordes. Even the new Infiniti FX37 I profiled last week has 325 HP; the major tradeoff is considerably better mileage from the RX, up to 26 mpg on the highway, in part thanks to a super-smooth eight-speed automatic transmission. You can, indeed, play around with that system to your heart's content via some strategically placed wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
RX's primary leg up on the almost identically (with options) priced FX is size. Rear passengers will particularly enjoy the roomy expanses, and their seatbacks even recline for more room, though they aren't gifted with their own A/C or AV controls or even a second sunroof, as so many other manufacturers have offered. When I carted my family around for a couple of days, my mother noted that rear passenger visibility was totally adequate but she groused a bit about that overly empathic suspension.
Up front, you get very well-bolstered sport seats with heating and cooling options, some F Sport-specific aluminum pedals and a sweep of wood highlights so highly buffed they don't look like real wood. But they are.
A relatively low roof and very, very large A-pillars, plus sun shading around the rear-view mirror, did cut down on forward visibility a touch.
The Lexus center stack of controls is still very unusual, with an asymmetrical mix of air and audio controls and a shift knob that juts out at you.
The ultraluminscent instrument panel glows beautifully, but trip computer info is limited, especially when you look at what even the Koreans offer in their cars.
This was my most involved test of the Lexus mouse-style input controller for the navigation and entertainment system, and you do get used to it. I can't say I ended up being a huge fan of the navigation system itself - particularly vexing was a large black box that popped up on screen telling me it really couldn't show me any details in particular. Air circulation, trip data and many other functions can also be controlled using the mouse. And the optional Mark Levinson audio system, with its 15 speakers, does not disappoint.
Beyond that, the RX serves up an attractive but somewhat dated mix of gadgets - a nice, rudimentary head-up display shows you speed and navigation turns, but the blind-spot monitors are nothing more than lights in the mirrors, and the vehicle proximity warnings (the beepers for parking) were ridiculously vague compared to new systems I've seen in Cadillac and other makers' new machines.