by Jared Rosenholtz
For most luxury automakers, the compact luxury crossover segment contains their hottest seller. But for several years now, the mid-size RX has been the best-seller for Lexus. In fact, only the Tesla Model 3 (if you count it as a luxury vehicle) outsells the RX in the United States. This is the most important vehicle for Lexus, which is why the company gave the model a much-needed refresh for the 2020 model year.
No major changes have been made to the RX's V6 and hybrid drivetrains but Lexus has introduced a major upgrade to its infotainment system. It now has a touchscreen. The Remote Touch interface has long been maligned as one of our least favorite infotainment systems on the market but Lexus hopes the addition of a touchscreen can alleviate our gripes and place it in a better position against rivals like the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. To test out the new touchscreen and the other improvements introduced for the 2020 model year, we borrowed an RX 350L (the three-row version) for a week of testing.
For 2020, the RX benefits from a few styling tweaks, tech upgrades, and improved driving dynamics. Starting with the styling, the RX has received a revised grille and front bumper design. Lexus claims that the 2020 RX drives even better than before thanks to revised stabilizer bars, better steering response, and upgraded dampers. In the cabin, Lexus has moved the infotainment screen 5.5 inches closer to the driver and added touch functionality, while there are also additional USB ports, new storage options for a smartphone, and a new Lexus app, along with a larger 12.3-inch screen in the options list. The big news is the long-awaited addition of Android Auto, the first such integration of the feature for any Lexus.
An enhanced safety specification sees features like daytime cyclist detection and pedestrian detection (in low light) being added. Other enhancements include a revised color palette, new wood trim options, and two additional wheel designs.
3.5-liter V6 Gas
3.5-liter V6 Gas
|RX 350 F Sport||
3.5-liter V6 Gas
The RX's excess of slashes won't be to everyone's taste, but it certainly can't be accused of being boring. The revised grille and sharpened headlamps (with an available triple-beam LED design) modernize the front end, while new wheel designs have been added, too. These range in size from 18- to 20-inch items depending on the trim. The F Sport gets a unique front fascia and mesh grille insert, along with black outside mirrors. A power moonroof or a panorama glass roof is available, as is a power rear door with a kick sensor for more convenient loading of cargo.
At 192.5 inches in length, the RX 350 is just under two inches shorter than the BMW X5. Width works out to 74.6 inches, height is 67.7 inches, and the wheelbase is 109.8 inches. The longer RX 350L shares these dimensions but measures 196.9 inches in length and height is a slightly lower 67.3 inches. The RX 350L has a ground clearance of 8.1 inches, increasing to 8.2 inches for the version with the standard body length. According to Lexus, the RX 350's approach/departure/breakover angles work out to 17/24.9/16.8 degrees, respectively. Curb weight ranges from 4,222 pounds for the RX 350 with front-wheel drive to 4,619 for the RX 350L when equipped with all-wheel drive.
Our test unit was painted in Nori Green Pearl, a color we'd definitely recommend avoiding as it doesn't flatter the RX's lines. Elsewhere, on the LC 500, Nori Green actually looks quite flattering. Eight other standard shades are available: Eminent White Pearl, Atomic Silver, Nebula Gray Pearl, Caviar, Obsidian, Moonbeam Beige Metallic, Matador Red Mica, and Nightfall Mica. The latter two shades are the most striking and they work well with the RX's adventurous styling cues. Ultra White is reserved for F Sport models.
The RX isn't the quickest SUV in this segment. Not by a long shot. While refined, the 3.5-liter V6 engine lacks turbocharging so outputs are limited to 295 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque in the RX 350. Curiously, the heavier RX 350L gets a detuned version of the same engine with 290 hp and 263 lb-ft. The base RX 350 will hit 60 mph in 7.7 seconds in front-wheel-drive guise, dropping to 7.9 seconds with all-wheel drive. The slowest version is the RX 350L AWD which takes 8.1 seconds for the benchmark sprint. Not that it matters much in a luxury SUV, but the top speed is limited to 124 mph. Acura's MDX has less power but manages 0-60 in under seven seconds. Both the smaller BMW X3 and the larger X5, even in their base trims, easily outperform the RX thanks to their turbocharged engines. All of that being said, the Lexus V6 is smooth and but can often feel sleepy with the automatic transmission. The RX can tow up to 3,500 pounds, a number that also lags behind other competitors in this segment.
Lexus has kept it simple with the RX, utilizing just one engine in the form of the familiar 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6. An RX Hybrid is also available but is counted as a separate model. Available in both FWD and AWD guise, the V6 produces 295 hp and 267 lb-ft in the RX 350 and RX 350 F-Sport, and a marginally lower 290 hp/263 lb-ft in the RX 350L. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard across the range.
We have no issues with the RX's V6 engine. It's smooth, offers a usable amount of power, and remains quiet even with a heaped helping of throttle. As for the transmission, our opinions aren't as generous. The eight-speed 'box feels like it was tuned with novocaine. Mash the throttle, and the transmission loafs around for ages before finally responding to your command with a downshift. The RX is not a quick vehicle but this transmission tuning makes it feel even slower and less responsive. We've experienced much better from Lexus, and definitely from rivals in the midsize segment.
The Lexus RX driving experience can best be described as a bowl of vanilla ice cream with no sprinkles. Fine as a plain dessert, but nothing to get excited over. The steering carries a surprising amount of weight but with absolutely no feedback coming through the wheel, there's no way to enjoy the driving experience. Lexus has included Eco, Normal, and Sport modes for the driver to toggle through but if they change anything about the driving experience, we couldn't detect it. Even in Sport Mode, the RX is hesitant to respond to throttle inputs, waiting until long after the gap in traffic has vanished before initiating a downshift from the transmission.
For 2020, Lexus has added hollow front and rear stabilizer bars to reduce weight and limit body roll as well as re-tuned shock absorbers and stiffer roll bars to create a smoother ride. These changes have definitely made the RX smooth but at the expense of composure. The RX handles like a bowl of pudding on wheels, so we suggest you take corners slowly. Our tester was not equipped with the F Sport equipment, since it isn't available on the RX 350L, but we doubt it will improve the car enough to match its European rivals with regard to driving dynamics.
With EPA-rated estimates of 20/27/23 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles, the RX 350 in FWD guise is the most fuel-efficient model in the range. With a 19.2-gallon gas tank, a combined cruising range of around 441 miles should be achievable. The AWD version's economy dips slightly to 19/26/22 mpg, while the model that uses the most fuel is the RX 350L AWD, returning 18/25/21 mpg. Unlike many luxury vehicles, the RX runs on regular gasoline. We averaged a respectable 19.3 mpg over our week with the RX.
The RX's cabin is built to Lexus' usual high standard. The result is plenty of soft-touch materials, tight panel gaps, and a solidity to the switches and dials that is appropriate for a luxury SUV. The supple leather seats and thoughtful storage spaces make life easy for the driver and passengers, with only the third row lacking enough space for adults. Undoubtedly the interior's biggest talking point this year is the updated touchscreen infotainment system, atoning for one of the RX's biggest foibles by being a lot easier to use than before. While you get power-adjustable front seats, a premium sound system, and plenty of driver aids as standard, the RX can be lavishly equipped with extras like open-pore wood trim, a brilliant Mark Levinson sound system, and second-row captain's chairs.
The RX has always been strictly a five-seater but complaints from dealerships have forced Lexus to offer the three-row L version with seating for seven, barely. Front legroom is measured at 44.1 inches in the standard RX while rear seat occupants get sliding seats with up to 38.0 inches. Headroom is also quite generous with 39.4 inches up front and 39.1 inches in back. These numbers change if you get the RX 350L.
In the three-row model, headroom is slightly more generous with 39.8 inches up front but only 38.5 and 34.8 inches in the second and third rows. Legroom up front is reduced to 41.4 inches and the second row only gets 30.9 inches to accommodate space for the third row. Lexus says there are 23.5 inches of legroom in the third row but with the second row pushed back all the way, we don't see any way you could fit a human back there. While fine as a five-seater, it seems as though the RX falls flat on its face as a seven-seater.
The base RX 350 comes standard with NuLuxe synthetic leather with Striated Black trim. The NuLuxe is either Black, Birch, or Parchment. From there, a wide selection of upgrades are available, such as Matte Bamboo trim, Matte Walnut, and Gray Sapele Wood with aluminum. Semi-aniline leather is also available at an added cost. These upgrades form part of various packages. The sportier RX 350 F Sport comes standard with either Black or Circuit Red NuLuxe upholstery and aluminum trim. While a leather-trimmed steering wheel is standard, a heated leather and wood-trimmed steering wheel can be specified as a standalone option. Built using high-quality materials, the RX's interior is one of the lone bright points.
As with its performance off the line, the RX is rather average in terms of cargo capacity in this class. In the five-seater version, there's just 16 cubic feet of space behind the second row of seats. The seven-seater has a mere 6.2 cubes behind the third row, expanding to 23 cubes when this row is folded flat. With the back seats folded, the RX 350 has 32.6 cubes of space and the RX 350L up to 58.5. While the obligatory set of golf clubs will easily fit, the RX lacks the cargo-hauling capabilities of other luxury SUVs. On the plus side, the second row's 40/20/40-split folding design increase the versatility of the available space, while the power tailgate makes life more convenient. The RX 350L additionally gets a power-folding third row of seats with a 50/50 split, while a power-folding second row is available.
Small-item storage is more in line with what we expect from a midsize SUV and comprises a vast center console compartment and door pockets which expand to accommodate larger or unusually-shaped items. Cupholders are fitted in every row, while seatback map pockets are useful for passengers in the second row.
Lexus hasn't been stingy with the RX, equipping the SUV to a high standard straight out of the box. The base RX 350 gets push-button ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power tilt/telescopic steering column, power-adjustable front seats, a power rear door, the essential rearview camera, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 suite bundles together vital driver aids like a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, all-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and intelligent high beams. Moving up to the RX 350 F Sport adds sportier instrumentation, LED ambient lighting, and sport seats in front with upgraded bolsters. The RX 350L additionally has three-zone climate control, a power-folding third row of seats, and power-folding wing mirrors. Triple-beam LED headlamps can be optioned along with heated/ventilated front seats, a power moonroof, and a color head-up display.
At long last, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have arrived on the RX to strip away the misery of using Lexus' Enform infotainment system. Now available with a massive 12.3-inch touchscreen (an eight-inch item is standard), this is the most usable Lexus infotainment there has been since the automaker decided to ditch touchscreens several years ago. But it isn't a magic bullet. There are still issues. The integration of the touchscreen feels half-baked, like it was added with minimal effort. No changes have been made to the user interface, so switching to certain menus still requires you to reach down away from the touchscreen to use a hard key or the Remote Touch controller. The touchscreen is also mounted too far away, making it difficult to touch items that appear closer to the passenger. We were excited to see if the touchscreen could fix Lexus' infotainment woes but this just feels like a BandAid at best. On the plus side, the nine-speaker base audio sounds pretty good and the optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson system is outstanding. Lexus forces you to bundle Mark Levinson with navigation, which is a shame because we'd much rather use Android Auto or CarPlay.
While J.D. Power hasn't yet issued an overall rating for the RX, last year's model was rated at 85 out of 100, above much pricier luxury SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne and the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class. Lexus also received the J.D. Power quality award last year for the brand with the fewest reported problems by 100 owners within the initial 90 days of car ownership. Not a single recall has been issued by the NHTSA for the 2020 RX, although last year's model did receive one recall for a fuel pump that may fail. Still, it's clear that the RX upholds the manufacturer's superb quality and reliability reputation.
In the unlikely case that something does go wrong, the RX is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty, a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a six-year corrosion warranty, regardless of mileage.
The RX was rated an overall four out of five stars when evaluated for crashworthiness by the NHTSA. Promisingly, the SUV was also rated as a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS, scoring a maximum Good result in all major crashworthiness tests.
Any luxury SUV should come fully stocked with the latest safety gear and, for the most part, the RX doesn't disappoint. Every model gets a backup camera, ten airbags, windshield wipers with a rain sensor, and the usual ABS braking system.
The Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 combines several advanced driver aids. These are a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, road sign assist, lane tracing assist, lane departure warning with steering assist, intelligent high beams, and all-speed dynamic radar cruise control. Optional safety gear comprises blind spot monitoring, intuitive parking assist, a panoramic view monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic braking. Triple-beam LED headlamps and an adaptive front lighting system are further options.
As the best-selling (non-Tesla) luxury vehicle in the US, it doesn't appear as though the RX's faults have kept people from buying it. There are plenty of attributes to enjoy about the RX including its comfort and build quality but we feel there are better options in this class, especially if you need three rows. In its transformation to become a three-row vehicle, we feel like Lexus has completely botched the RX. The 350L model looks awkward at the back and the third row is too small even for children. Our tester carried an MSRP of $63,330 and we can honestly say we'd be happier buying a Kia Telluride or Hyundai Palisade and pocketing nearly $20,000.
Comfortable though the RX may be, options like the Audi Q7, Mercedes GLE, and Volvo XC90 all seem like more exciting options. Don't want a European car? Then check out the Acura MDX, Buick Enclave, Lincoln Aviator, and the upcoming Genesis GV80. The RX is an acceptable choice as a two-row model but we'd avoid the L model.
The range starts off with the RX 350 at an MSRP of $44,150, exclusive of tax, licensing, registration, and Lexus' destination fee of $1,025. Next is the RX 350L with its extended body length at $47,300, followed by the bolder RX 350 F Sport at $47,950. All versions feature FWD by default, but AWD can be optioned on each for an extra $1,400. A fully loaded RX 350 F Sport can quickly approach the $60k mark.
Available in three trims, the RX range is made up of the RX 350, the RX 350L, and the RX 350 F Sport. All models are powered by a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 engine. In the variants with the standard body length, the unit produces 295 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, while the longer RX 350L's outputs are slightly lower at 290 hp/263 lb-ft. An eight-speed automatic transmission does duty across the range, and every trim can be upgraded from FWD to AWD.
The RX 350 comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels and a power tailgate. Inside, the luxurious cabin features synthetic leather upholstery and power-adjustable front seats, with the driver also having access to a power tilt/telescoping steering column. An upgraded infotainment system comprises an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa integration. A nine-speaker audio system is fitted, while six USB ports cater to passengers at the back, too. The safety spec includes ten airbags, dynamic radar cruise control, and a pre-collision system.
The RX 350L, by virtue of its longer body, adds a third row and increases seating capacity to seven. This third row has power-folding functionality and is a 50/50-split design. Other extras are three-zone climate control, power-folding outside mirrors with an auto-dimming function, aluminum roof rails, and an armrest for the second row with two USB ports.
Reverting back to the standard body length but with a more confident appearance is the RX 350 F Sport. It gets larger 20-inch alloy wheels, a special mesh grille, F Sport badging, LED ambient lighting, aluminum interior trim, and front/rear performance dampers.
Despite a high standard specification, Lexus has availed a range of packages for buyers who want to customize their purchase. On the base RX 350, the $800 Premium Package substitutes the standard trim with matte walnut or matte bamboo. It also adds a power memory system for the driver, along with power-folding mirrors. The $315 Cold Weather Package adds windshield wiper de-icers, headlamp cleaners, and more. Much pricier is the Navigation Package at $2,285, while the Navigation/Mark Levinson audio upgrade goes for $3,365. The priciest upgrade is the Luxury Package at $4,210 (semi-aniline perforated leather, 20-inch wheels, ambient lighting, a heated steering wheel, and more).
The RX 350L has a similar range of package upgrades but at different prices. For instance, the RX 350L's Luxury Package costs $6,000. The RX 350 F Sport gets its own bespoke upgrade, with the F Sport Performance Package going for $4,850 and adding an F Sport-tuned adaptive variable suspension, a special Sport S+ driving mode, F Sport-tuned power steering, and more.
There's a similarly comprehensive array of individual options like triple-beam LED headlights and LED taillights ($1,675), heated and ventilated front seats ($640), blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert ($1,385), and a power moonroof/aluminum roof rails ($1,350). These prices are for the RX 350, with minor differences in cost depending on the trim. The RX 350L's second-row bench seat can be replaced with two captain's chairs for $405, but Lexus cheekily requires you to also add the $1,580 Premium Package to get it.
If we were to option out a Lexus RX, we'd attempt to keep the cost down as much as possible because the $44,150 starting price is reasonable for a mid-size luxury SUV. We'd attempt to avoid the pricey packages and instead opt for cheaper ala carte options. Some notable inclusions would be heated/ventilated front seats for $640, which requires you to select the $800 Premium Package and $1,350 moonroof. We'd then go for the color head-up display, offered at $600. As described with front-wheel-drive, the RX will set you back $48,565.
The NX is a smaller, five-seater SUV from Lexus. Starting at $36,870, it comes in at nearly $10,000 less expensive than the base RX 350. Of course, that means a less powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 235 horsepower, although the NX's lighter weight means it is actually the quicker of the two SUVs, able to get to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. At nearly 10 inches shorter, the NX is a bit more nimble than the RX, but both are typically Lexus with a comfortable ride and excellent refinement and build quality. Both have below-average cargo capacities among luxury SUVs, but they are better than most for quality and predicted reliability, as is the case for most models from the Lexus stable. If you don't require the RX's extra available seats and smoother V6 engine, the NX will save you a fair amount of cash while providing a similar level of luxury and comfort.
Both of these Japanese luxury SUVs represent more luxurious offerings from Toyota and Honda. Under the hood, the MDX uses a 290-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine. Although this is slightly down on the standard RX's 295 hp, the MDX is much sprightlier off the line and can tow more than the Lexus when equipped with all-wheel-drive. The MDX is also a more enjoyable SUV to drive with weighty steering and a comfy ride. On the downside, the Acura's dual-screen infotainment system isn't the best and its cabin doesn't evoke the same quality feel of the one in the RX. Both are three-row SUVs, but only the MDX provides any degree of comfort in the third row for adults. Because a three-row SUV should be able to accommodate seven passengers in comfort, this is the aspect that swings our vote in favor of the Acura.
Check out some informative Lexus RX video reviews below.