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2020 Lexus RX Review

LIKES
  • Grabby shape
  • Smooth acceleration
  • Cozy ride
  • Thrifty hybrid
  • Space for five adults
DISLIKES
  • Showy shape isn’t for everyone
  • Has grown quite expensive
  • Head-scratching F-Sport
  • Teeny-tiny third-row seat
  • Mixed crash-test results
BUYING TIP
  • The Lexus RX 450h strikes many shoppers as the best value, with excellent fuel economy and mod interior trim.


The 2020 Lexus RX gives up on old standbys like somber style and silence, and casts its lot with a more rowdy crowd.

The 2020 Lexus RX wears its sleeve on its sleeve. It’s fashion-forward in a way it’s never been before, but that edgy look doesn’t sink too deeply into its steady ride and careful handling. Performance isn’t its big virtue—virtue is.

A sales titan even in a niche filled with X3s and GLCs and F-Paces aplenty, the 2020 RX earns a TCC Rating of 6.2 out of 10—lower this year due to hits taken in crash-test performance.

The current Lexus RX shape can best be described as art-school Waffle House: It’s spindled, corseted, grilled, slitted, honed, tapered, and cloaked. No subtle moment from past RXs has been left undisrupted, from the massive spindle grille to the blackout panels that let the roof appear to float. It’s calmer inside, somewhat, but the lewd red leather on F Sport RXs soaks up the last drops of propriety.

The RX 350 spins out 295 horsepower from a gas-powered V-6, while the RX 450h pairs a V-6 with motors and batteries for roughly the same output, and higher curb weight. Neither powertrain revels in rocketing to 60 mph, but the moderate 0-60 mph times of about eight seconds feel fine—and refined—through an 8-speed automatic or continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The RX soothes drivers with a calm and composed ride even with its biggest wheels and tires; even in F Sport trim, adaptive dampers smother any erratic wheel hop from the road below. It doesn’t seek out side roads, but doesn’t mind coming along for the ride.

Five-seat RX crossovers fare very well with five adults on board. The F Sport’s snug buckets are a high point, and so is the rear seat on the RX 450h—it’s an inch higher than others, thanks to batteries mounted beneath it. Cargo space abounds, but Lexus’ attempt at three-row seating is a non-starter; the cramped third row can only suit very small children.

Every RX comes with automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, but crash tests have found fault with its headlights and with its front-impact protection. That is a rude surprise for a vehicle that’s been rated at the top of its class in the recent past. Every RX now comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as an improved touchscreen infotainment system and six USB ports. Options range from a panoramic roof to 835-watt Mark Levinson sound to the F Sport’s performance upgrades.

Styling
We still don’t know if Lexus needed to shake up the RX’s styling.

Lexus has shaken off the stodgy designs of its recent past, but the latest RX still gives us pause. We give it an extra point for the adventurous body shape, while noting it’s similar to that of the Nissan Murano. It’s a 6 here.

Remember the egg-shaped RX of the past two decades? Lexus broomed that look for the latest edition of its most popular vehicle. The current RX has a brash design, from its hourglass grille to its vaguely feral air vents, down the body sides with their deeply honed edges, to the rear roof pillar that’s partly blacked out to suggest a roof that floats. It’s a concert of flourishes that would have horrified the Lexus of 1990, but seems just a bit overstated today, especially when compared with Lexus’ own smaller NX and UX crossovers.

The cabin isn’t as exuberant as the body but it’s still a visual shock for anyone who’s just steadied themselves to trade in their million-mile first-generation RX. The cockpit doesn’t even need the lewd red leather of the F Sport to stand out. Its swoopy center console cants toward the driver and places an optional massive infotainment screen up front and center, while real wood and metallic trim on some models restate the RX’s new mission to shock and awe while it delights passengers. F Sports go the extra few steps with more cladding, more color, and more attitude.

Performance
The Lexus RX doesn’t match its expressive looks with heated performance.

Lexus wraps the RX crossover in a racy shape that’s drag-race ready, but the flash goes only skin-deep. The RX’s better at calming the ride and eking out miles per gallon than it is slicing through the field of talented, sport-tuned SUVs that wear badges from F-Pace to X3.

We like the RX’s ride enough to give it an extra point, which brings it to a 6 in performance.

Lexus sells two RX crossovers, both in standard or longer “L” versions. The RX 350 taps a 3.5-liter V-6 for 295 hp and 267 pound-feet of torque. The engine runs a lean cycle to conserve fuel, but accelerates to 60 mph in about eight seconds with the help of a smartly programmed, paddle-controlled 8-speed automatic. At more than 4,200 pounds in base form, the RX 350 adds traction and weight with all-wheel drive, but that doesn’t drag down acceleration by much. There’s a throaty exhaust note plugged into the cabin of RX F Sports, but the powertrain’s mostly inaudible, and mostly an effortless piece.
The RX 450h takes a similarly sized V-6 and pairs it with two electric motors and a battery pack for fuel economy gains. The engine powers the front wheels, the batteries the rear, which gives the RX 450h all-wheel drive (sometimes called in this version “through-the-road”). With its CVT, the RX 450h takes its respectable 306 hp net output and reaches 60 mph in about eight seconds—it’s no performance boost, in other words.

Ride and handling underscore the RX’s mission, which despite its styling, remains less adventurous. Lexus fits the RX with a drive-mode selector that encourages lighter fuel consumption in Eco mode or more brisk maneuvers in Sport or Sport+ modes. The RX doesn’t really change its worldview, despite the click of the electronic switch through those mildly distinct programs. 

Its drivetrain never becomes irritable, and the RX’s generally unflappable ride doesn’t get flapped by big pavement seams or potholes, even in the big-wheel F Sport versions. Credit there goes to sport-tuned adaptive shocks that react to the road surface by the millisecond; they’re slightly stiffer than the conventional suspension setup, but still more plush than the very firm F-Pace or Edge ST. The RX steers with a light touch and turns in with more road feel in Comfort mode than in weighty, numb Sport mode—which should tell you all you need to know.

Comfort & Quality
Skip the third-row option: The 2020 Lexus RX does best with five passengers and cargo.

Library-quiet interiors trimmed in high-grade leather and wood defined Lexus for years, but the latest RX crossover curates lipstick-red leather and unrestrained curves instead. It’s a hallmark change that doesn’t change the RX’s excellent seats and storage—the reasons we give it a 9 for utility.

Were the ratings here simply based on third-row seating, the RX would suffer a dismal fate. Added in this generation of RX crossovers, the RX L has a comically small third-row seat that would cost it points. It’s longer than the gas-only RX by 4.4 inches, but only small children will fit in its third row. It does boost the space inside from about 100 cubic feet to about 117 cubic feet.

Focus on the first two rows of seats, and the RX comes out on top. The step-in height for five adult passengers (or four, with optional second-row captain’s chairs) is ideal. In front, well-shaped bucket seats only get better with higher-priced models; all have power adjustment, while Luxury versions get 10-way adjustment, heating and cooling, and F Sports have thicker, wider bolsters. 

The second-row seat has better comfort than a Ford Edge or Chevy Traverse thanks to a softly padded bench or buckets that can recline. The bench has a fold-down armrest, and its seat back folds down to expand cargo space. Leg room is very good, too. RX hybrids have a slightly higher rear seat (it sits atop the battery pack); coupled with a panoramic roof, it can trim more head room than we’d like. 

Most RX crossovers now come with synthetic leather, but it’s a convincing imitation of the real thing reserved for the most expensive models. Lexus applies wood or metallic accents to the RX cabin, with moody gray wood or bamboo on gas and hybrid versions and aluminum trim on F Sports. It’s a radical design inside for Lexus, but it’s laid out well and quiet enough, though Lexus now pumps sound into the cabin to engage the driver more—the antithesis of the first Lexus sedans and their stone-quiet cabins.

Safety
Crash-test scores paint a less impressive picture of the Lexus RX.

Lexus bundles each RX crossover SUV with a wealth of safety and accident-avoidance technology. Were its actual crash-test scores better, it would earn a score higher than 5 here.

Every RX comes with automatic emergency braking and forward-collision warnings, as well as automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, and active lane control. For 2020, Lexus upgraded that safety suite with speed-limit sign detection and finer sensing of pedestrians for the braking system.

However, the most recent crash-test scores put us at odds with the RX. The IIHS has given the current RX “Good” scores in crash tests, but holds back its Top Safety Pick award due to “Acceptable” or “Marginal” headlights, depending on the model. The NHTSA has worse news: front-drive RXs earn just four stars overall, while AWD versions round up to five stars overall despite four-star scores for frontal crash protection. 

Add in not-great vision to the rear thanks to thick roof pillars, and the Lexus RX should be higher on the safety scale than it is.

Features
The 2020 Lexus RX pitches in newly standard safety and infotainment features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

With the 2020 RX, Lexus has addressed some of our long-standing complaints about its formerly dreadful infotainment system. We can’t call the pricey SUV a strong value, but its standard and optional features lift it to a score of 7 here.

For 2020, a touchscreen and touchpad replace the former mouse-like infotainment controller; Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Alexa compatibility join the RX family as well, and the USB port count is up to six. Synthetic leather now comes standard on most versions. The F Sport model gets an optional performance package with retuned steering, a sport-tuned suspension, a sunroof, a gesture-controlled power tailgate, and a heated steering wheel. 

All RX 350 models come with power features, LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, power front seats, and an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen. The base price of $45,175 also includes a stock infotainment system with nine speakers, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and new this year, Alexa/Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility.
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Add on the Premium package and the RX gains roof rails, wood trim, and real leather; the Luxury package tops off the RX 350 with upgraded leather, heated and cooled front seats, and 20-inch wheels. Lexus will increase the center screen to a high-definition 12.3-inch unit, and fit a widescreen rear entertainment system with the ability to play two videos side by side.

The $47,775 RX 450h—our choice in the lineup—sports features equal to those on the RX 350 Premium; its options include heated and cooled seats, a panoramic roof, blind-spot monitors, and navigation.

Other RX options include a head-up display and an 835-watt Mark Levinson audio system. The most expensive $51,485 RX 450hL can be optioned up to more than $60,000.

Fuel Economy
Hybrid RX crossovers get the best fuel economy, while the popular RX 350 registers average.

The Lexus RX gets the nod in hybrid versions for excellent gas mileage. We rate it based on the more popular gas-only model, though, which means it’s a 4 out of 10. 

The 2020 RX 450h would earn a 6 based on its high EPA ratings of 31 mpg city, 28 highway, 30 combined. The long-wheelbase L version checks in at 29/28/29 mpg. The Eco drivetrain mode slows throttle responses and cuts down on climate control use, for a slight gain.

The more popular front-drive RX 350 checks in at an EPA-certified 20/27/23 mpg, figures that fall to 19/26/22 mpg with optional all-wheel drive, and on front-drive RX 350L crossovers. The AWD RX 350L dips to 18/25/21 mpg.


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