The Lexus RX is a mid-size luxury crossover SUV that has been on the market since 1998. It was originally released in Japan in late 1997 as the Toyota Harrier, export sales followed in March 1998 as the Lexus RX. Four generations of the Lexus RX have been produced to date, the first being compact in size, and the latter three classified as mid-size. Both front- and four-wheel drive configurations have been used on the RX series, and several gasoline powertrain options, including V6 engines and hybrid systems, have been offered. In this review we will be looking at the latest iteration of the Lexus RX 450h which features the 3.5-liter V6 hybrid and for 2020 the front fascia gets a new bumper and headlights, and the body and suspension are tweaked for improved handling and ride comfort.
The success of the Lexus RX has been particularly strong in the United States, where it has continued to top the best-selling luxury SUV segment since its introduction. As one of the earliest luxury crossovers on the market, the RX has inspired similar competitors from rival marques and has constantly pushed their competitors to keep improving. That first Lexus RX offered the seating position and styling of an SUV with the plush ride quality of a luxury car and this continues to be the case to this day. While other manufacturers have played with the recipe to create larger, and more sporting luxury crossover SUVs, the RX remains the original.
The 2020 Lexus RX is a standout. Performance isn’t its big virtue, but being a Lexus is. The current Lexus RX shape can best be described as elegant from the large hourglass “spindle” grille to the blackout panels that let the roof appear to float, we think the design sits nicely inline with Lexus’ own smaller NX and UX crossovers.
For the RX 450h, Lexus takes the 3.5-liter V-6 from the RX 350 and augments it with three electric motors: a starter-generator that also controls transmission ratios; a 165-hp front drive motor; and a 67-hp rear drive motor. Peak system output sums to 308 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. That gives the hybrid more power but less twist than the standard RX. The hybrid also swaps the RX 350’s eight-speed automatic for a barely audible e-CVT that chooses the optimal transmission ratio of gas and electric power input for the amount of propulsion requested by your right foot. All hybridized RX models feature standard AWD. As you would expect, all the electric motors and variable ratios result in a significant fuel economy advantage.
The 2020 RX 450h earns EPA ratings of 31 mpg city, 28 highway, 30 combined. This was a little different to what we calculated on our test, we found that we were getting closer to 33 mpg in our combined city, mountains, desert, highway travels. However on long sections of highway driving across the states we hit averages of almost 44 mpg. The Eco drivetrain mode slows throttle responses and cuts down on climate control use, for a slight gain and we used this throughout the trip.
Ride and handling underscore the RX’s mission. 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. However in reality the RX doesn’t really change its attitude a lot, despite the click of the electronic switch through those mildly distinct programs. The plus is its drivetrain never becomes noisey and the RX’s ride doesn’t get upset by big pavement seams, uneven roads or potholes. When on the road I found it nearly impossible to not pull away from a stop without a level of dignity and grace. The brakes have a softness that makes them easy to modulate. The responsive CVT consistently delivers the right ratio for the engine to deliver the level of power needed. The RX steers with a light touch and turns in with more road feel than most SUV’s and this was something that we really took a liking to during our test.
Lexus bundles each RX crossover SUV with a wealth of safety and accident-avoidance technology. Its crash test scores are well earned, with a Top Safety Pick nod from the IIHS. Every RX comes standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that includes front collision warning with automatic emergency braking, daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with lane centering, road sign recognition, and auto high beams. The IIHS has given the current RX “Good” scores in crash tests, and named it a Top Safety Pick when equipped with LED projector lights available on certain trims.
The cabin isn’t as exuberant as the body but it’s still visually stunning. 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 stateliness of the RX. Library-quiet interiors trimmed in high-grade leather and wood defined Lexus for years and we are glad they are continuing this trend. The step-in height for five adult passengers 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. The second-row seat was a softly padded bench that can recline. The bench has a fold-down armrest, and its seat back folds down to expand cargo space. As a bonus, leg room is really good. RX hybrids have a slightly higher rear seat since it sits atop the battery pack. Coupled with the stellar panoramic roof, the rear seat is a wonderful place to watch the miles go by. It’s a radical design inside for Lexus, but it’s laid out well and quiet.
The base RX 450h starts at $46,750 and comes with such exterior features as 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, front fog lights, heated exterior mirrors with integrated turn signals, body-colored door handles, a rear spoiler, and a power liftgate. Standard interior features include paddle shifters, dual-zone automatic climate control, simulated leather upholstery, eight-way powered and heated front seats with two-way lumbar support, a leather shift knob, leather and metallic trim, a power moonroof, and a rear manual reclining 40-20-40 bench seat. Our test vehicle added a 12.3-inch touch screen, built-in navigation, and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Audio system as a $3,365 option. A bundle of blind spot and rear cross traffic monitoring, surround-view monitor and front and rear parking sensors were a $1,865 option, while adding triple-beam LED headlights, fog lights, turn signals, and cornering lamps cost $1,675. It also came with a $600 color heads-up display, a $150 liftgate kick sensor, a $315 carpeted cargo cover, netting, and wheel locks. With a $1,025 delivery, processing, and handling fee, the final sticker jumped nearly $13K over the base price to $60,550.
Some of these additions we wouldn’t look to include if making the purchase ourselves such as the Panoramic Moonroof ($1,850), 20″ wheels ($1,130) and the Heads Up Display ($600). We did find that the addition of Blind Spot monitoring ($1,865) was very useful and the 12.3″ navigation system Mark Levinson premium audio system would be worth the splurge ($3,365).
The 2020 Lexus RX bundles in newly standard infotainment features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, a CD player (who still listens to CD’s?), AM/FM HD radio, SiruisXM satellite radio. Lexus Enform connectivity adds Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant capability to play music, access news and other info, and control compatible smart home devices and more. Other forms of connectivity supplied by Enform in the RX 450h are subscription-based (after a free three-year trial) and include telematics services, a smartphone app for remote services, and in-cabin Wi-Fi. The Lexus Dynamic Navigation system also leverages Enform’s embedded connectivity to provide over-the-air software updates.
With the 2020 RX, Lexus has addressed some of our long-standing complaints about its formerly unintuitive infotainment system. For 2020, a touchscreen and touchpad replace the former mouse-like infotainment controller and it is now positioned inches closer to the driver than in the previous model which is a huge plus and the USB port count is now up to six which is handy for extra guests. I do, however, have great appreciation for the weight and feel of the buttons and knobs in the center stack. The hardware feels quality and is weighted perfectly. Another nice in cabin feature is the driver or passenger will have no problem adjusting the temperature, changing the radio station, or activating their (optional) heated and cooled seats. Also we can’t skip the delightful analog clock in the center.
The 2020 RXh comes standard with the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 that includes front collision warning with automatic emergency braking, daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with lane centering, road sign recognition, and auto high beams.
The driving experience of your modern SUV owes a great deal to the Lexus RX and the Lexus RX remains at the top of the midsize luxury crossover class that Lexus helped create. With the 2020 update, Lexus has continued to stay on top with increased refinement, technology, and value. Meanwhile the RX retains all its core virtues that it’s built a legacy with; composed driving dynamics, a quiet and cosseting ride, and unwavering reliability. Don’t forget it is the best value in its segment, posts the best fuel economy numbers of the group, and has been a real pleasure to live with. In the end the fact that this is the best looking RX yet, doesn’t hurt either.
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