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2020 Lexus RX Test Drive Review
The Lexus RX gives luxury SUV buyers a lot to like, including an engaging drive, historically-good reliability, and comfortable seats, as well as a good amount of cargo space for its size.
The Lexus RX was the original luxury lifestyle crossover in the United States The 2020 Lexus RX comes in two-row and three-row varieties. The three-row version is given the Lexus RX-L moniker. They both deliver on the key points that make the RX a solid choice for buyers shopping in the midsize luxury SUV segment.
Look and Feel
Lexus refreshed the RX for the 2020 model year, giving it upgrades inside and out. These aren’t just small changes. Styling changes to the RX allow it to shine in an increasingly crowded field. There's no doubt that this RX, aging as it is, is still a stylish step ahead of anything with a Toyota logo on it.
The exterior of the 2020 RX now features standard 18-inch wheels, slimmer headlights, and L-shaped taillights. The company’s triple-beam LED headlights are available as an option. The SUV’s grille has been altered to look more like the face on Lexus cars and two new paint colors are available: Moonbeam Beige Metallic and Nori Green Pearl.
A new shape takes hold as the dual exhaust, rear diffuser, and updated reflectors work together to create a fresh backside. Lexus also gave the SUV an available hands-free tailgate.
The cabin of the Lexus RX continues to be well-appointed. A number of interior colors and material combinations are available. Wood and satin-brushed aluminum trim are available as part of equipment packages.
Opting for a performance-focused F Sport appearance package adds a unique steering wheel and shift knob, aluminum pedals, bumpers, grille, badges, front seats, meter, aluminum ornamentation, and 20-inch wheels. Front and rear performance dampers, power-folding mirrors with memory, LED ambient lighting, stainless steel rear door garnishes, steering and seat memory, and scuff plates are also included.
Leather-wrapped surfaces feel premium to the touch and look luxe. With the RX, Lexus hasn’t busied itself with overly ornate interior-fascia pieces—like what you’ll find in their flagship LS sedan—so the SUV appears hardy enough to also take the wear and tear of family life.
The look of the center stack, which contains the climate controls, is dated. Though completely functional, it’s aging quickly as the industry moves forward toward more stylish appointments and fewer buttons.
All RX 350 models are powered by the same 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It achieves 295 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque running on premium 91 octane or higher fuel. Three-row Lexus RX 350L models use the same engine but are limited to 290 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. The eight-speed automatic is smooth in operation.
A hybrid version of the RX—the RX 450h—is also available. It pairs the RX 350’s V6 with an electric motor to achieve 308 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. It is recommended that the RX 450 fuel with 95 octanes or higher gasoline.
The elongated version of the 450h, the RX 450hL, uses the same engine setup but gets just 259 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque from the gasoline engine. However, it achieves 165 horsepower from an electric motor that works in tandem with a 37-kilowatt-hour battery pack. Both models have their powertrains completed by an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Each RX hybrid model has one motor that helps drive the front wheels while all-wheel-drive variants (the RX 450h and RX450hL are only available with all-wheel drive) get another motor on the rear axle to power those wheels and add 67 horsepower to the car. A third electric motor works as a generator, engine starter, and transmission-control device.
The RX is no athlete. It takes most of the models 7.9 seconds to get from zero to 60 mph—a tick longer for the RX 450hL. Still, drivers will rarely find themselves wishing for more power, especially after the performance enhancements the RX received for this model year.
The 2020 Lexus RX 350 achieves an EPA-estimated 23 mpg combined. The RX 350L and RX 350 AWD get 22 mpg combined and the heavier RX 350L AWD gets just 21 mpg combined.
Fuel economy is the hybrid model's strong suit. The Lexus RX 450h all-wheel drive gets 30 mpg combined, making it the most fuel-efficient model. The RX 450hL isn’t far behind achieving 29 mg combined.
RX F Sport models with the Handling Package get standard adaptive variable suspension and 20-inch wheels, which are designed to sharpen the car’s agility. Active sound control, sport electric power steering, and a heated steering wheel are also available.
Drivers can switch their RX into a variety of drive modes. Normal, Eco, and Sport are the standard modes. Hybrid RXs get EV mode as well, which allows for emissions-free driving over short distances. Opting for the F Sport package gets drivers the option of Sport S+ mode, which activates a firmer suspension setting. Customize is also an option for F Sport owners.
As tested, the RX 350 F Sport delivers the type of drive experience Lexus owners are used to. Throttle response and shifting are smooth. With the available all-wheel drive, the SUV keeps its four wheels sticking to the ground in most driving situations but without the torque-vectoring technology available on the related Toyota Highlander, the RX has trouble in the snow, especially when equipped with its standard low-resistance tires.
On the highway and dry rural roads, the RX proves easily maneuverable, delivering a connected drive experience. The car’s insulation and structure keep the cabin quiet. Braking is smooth and appropriately strong.
Form and Function
The Lexus RX interior isn’t as minimalist or stylish as its German luxury SUV competition, but it does the job well. Four adults can fit comfortably in the two-row RX model but in the three-row RX-L, the third row is best reserved only for small children or the family dog, and only when necessary. They’re a tight squeeze for many tweens, teens, and adults.
The cabin is suitably wide and tall in its two-row configuration (as tested) where it’s technically a five-seater. The front seats are comfortable for extended periods of time and provide easy ingress/egress. Their seating position is good, providing decent outward visibility. However, like many SUVs, the A-pillar impedes the driver’s ability to easily see curbs and corners.
The cargo area of the RX 350 and 450h are smaller than what is offered by the SUV’s rivals. The RX has a high load floor, which compromises the amount of space. Its split-folding rear seat folds easily.
The RX 350L and 450hL also have less cargo space than the competition. Compared to the three-row Lincoln Aviator, the Lexus models have about 20 cubic feet less rear storage area. A hands-free liftgate is available on RX 350 and 450h models, and standard on long-wheelbase RX-L versions of the car.
Though the Lexus infotainment system is consistently derided as one of the worst in the business, the company has taken steps with the 2020 model to make it more accommodating to user requests. Part of this is moving the standard 8.0-inch display and available 12.3-inch touch screen 5.5 inches closer to the driver.
As tested with the 12.3-inch touchscreen, the infotainment system continues to be difficult to navigate. It’s not easy to make the screen look the way you want it to appear by making certain modules bigger or smaller, and the appearance of the navigation system isn’t conducive to it being used easily unless directions were being given verbally by a passenger who is looking at the screen as reference in tandem.
But, there’s a solution. All RXs come standard with Apple CarPlay. Plugging in an iPhone and activating CarPlay solved most of the RX’s operating system issues by putting them out of sight and out of mind.
There are other ways around this too. The SUV comes with Amazon Alexa, Android Auto, Google Assistant, Spotify, Pandora, Google Maps, Waze, Apple Music, Apple Maps, and WhatsApp compatibility, which allow for integrated functionality, so you don’t rely on the Lexus-branded merchandise.
The physical control of the infotainment system has gotten much easier over the last few years thanks to it becoming a touchscreen rather than a display screen. Though still not anywhere close to perfect, the center console touchpad system is much easier to manage thanks to improved responsiveness and a more natural cursor feel.
For 2020, Lexus added two additional USB ports to the RX bringing the total up to six.
The car's standard 12-speaker audio system is perfectly fine for most buyers. A 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system is available, and a CD player is standard—something Lexus insists that audiophiles request despite industry trends that see them going extinct.
Every Lexus comes with a good roster of standard safety equipment called Lexus Safety System+ 2.0. Among that roster of technology is adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. Blind-spot monitoring is also available. A rearview camera is standard.
As part of its 2020 enhancement, the RX gets daytime bicyclist detection, low-light pedestrian detection, road-sign assist, and lane-tracing assist standard as well. As tested, road-sign assist and lane-tracing assist worked as advertised without nannying tendencies.
Lexus has also given every RX a three-year subscription to Lexus Enform Safety Connect and a 10-year subscription to Enform Service Connect. Enform Safety Connect utilizes the company’s OnStar-like services however, when needed, it can’t always be counted on. During testing, the system took several tries to connect and did not stay connected despite being in an area lacking tree cover, though it was snowing heavily. In the end, utilizing cell service and email proved to be the most effective means of communication.
The RX has received good safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as the result of crash tests. Though the ratings aren’t as good as models with brand-new generations coming to market, they’re on par with vehicles deep into their generational model run.
The 2021 Lexus RX 350 starts at $44,150. Add all-wheel drive and that base model goes up to $45,550. Moving up to the RX 350 F Sport will cost you $47,950 and all-wheel drive adds $1,400 more. The extra space of the RX 350L will set a buyer back at least $47,300. Adding all-wheel drive to that model brings the starting MSRP up to $48,700.
Hybrid RX models are pricier at every turn. The 2020 RX 450h has a starting price of $46,800. Go for the RX 450h F Sport and you’ll see the amount run up to $50,600. Getting the RX 450hL will set you back at least $50,510.
Adding the F Sport Performance Package to any F Sport model will drive up the price to at least $50,350.
Those prices make the Lexus a very competitive model. It sits comfortably in the range carved out by the Volvo XC60, Infiniti QX50, and Cadillac XT5. Its hybrid technology doesn’t up the cost too much more while also giving the model a power boost. Like any SUV on the market, buyers can option their RX to several thousand dollars over the MSRP listed.
If you don’t require the curve carving capability (and price tag) of a BMW, Mercedes, or Audi SUV but still want luxury-level appointments and comfort, the Lexus RX is worth taking a look at. But, there’s a reason it gets frequently cross-shopped with the top-line variant of the Nissan Murano and other luxe mass-market models targeted at empty nesters. If you’re not in it for the hybrid technology or specifically looking at a Lexus, you may want to see what less money can get you.
Eileen Falkenberg-Hull is the Senior Editor of Autos at Newsweek and the former editor of AutomotiveMap. Her work has appeared in American City Business Journals, Trucks.com, CultureMap, InnovationMap, SportsMap, and U.S. News & World Report. She is also an on-air contributor to the SBNation Radio network.
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