2020 RX 350L road test: For the L of it — Lexus, luxury and loyalty

The RX is still a gold standard for luxury with all the VIP prestige and pleasures of Lexus ownership. (Lexus)

With some key improvements, the 2020 RX is a calm choice in the storm and fairly priced

The mouse is out and a touch pad is in among the changes for the 2020 Lexus RX, the founding member of the luxury SUV crossover league. When the RX debuted in 1998 it was the first of its kind with carlike comfort and SUV presence. It was a disruptor in what a car could be — and a benchmark that started the segment for luxury midsize car-based SUV crossovers.

Today, every maker has one and the segment is crowded with quality choices as the preferred body style over large sedans.

The Luxury package, $6,000, adds key features, including dynamic radar cruise control, power moonroof, heated and ventilated front seats, heated wood and leather steering wheel, Sapele laser cut wood with satin aluminum trim and semi-aniline leather upholstery. (Lexus)

The RX is now in its fourth generation, which debuted in 2015 as a 2016 model. With some key improvements, the 2020 RX is a calm choice in the storm and fairly priced.

2020 UPDATES
There were a few hardware and software enhancements for 2020, not the least of which were two more charging USB ports, now at six, and a new infotainment touch pad that replaces an overly sensitive joystick.

The 12.3-inch navigation screen with 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system, $3,365, is well worth the cost. (Lexus)

More notable is the addition of the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 as standard equipment. The advanced tech package, including a pre-collision system that adds daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection along with Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist.

Road Sign Assist displays certain road sign information in the instrument panel. Lane Tracing Assist works with the dynamic radar cruise control to read lane markings to steer the vehicle in the center of the lane. And when road markings are obscured or not detected, LTA can, in certain conditions, follow the vehicle ahead.

Replacing a darty joystick control device, the new touch pad is a much-simplified tool to access the various functions and features of the new 12.3-inch display. (Lexus)

Active corner braking was added to help prevent understeering with more front tire grip and handling stability.

Ride quality was addressed with new hollow front and rear stabilizer bars that are lighter but also thicker with reinforced bushings to trim body roll and improve steering response. The shock absorbers, too, were retuned for the stiffer roll bars and a new friction-control device helps reduce high-frequency vibrations.

The stiffer suspension reduces the noise and vibration from the road, the engineers say. The body was made stiffer by additional spot welds and industrial adhesive to join panels and sections.

Most appreciable to RX owners coming back for a new lease will be the new touch pad to much more easily access the big screen of cabin and infotainment controls. It replaces what was a touchy joystick and also makes the shift console less crowded. It just takes a fingertip on the pad to move from category to category.

The front seats are full-bodied and 12-way adjustable but some will find the seat bottom hard after a while on the road. (Mark Maynard)

PRICING
The RX is sold in gasoline and gasoline-electric powertrains in standard and long-wheelbase RXL body styles, in front- or all-wheel drive. Gas versions use a 290-horsepower port- and direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission. The hybrid model is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 with an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission working with two electric drive motor-generators, for a total 308 horsepower.

Standard models start at about $45,000 and long-wheelbase models at about $48,000. Hybrid pricing starts at about $48,000. F-Sport models, with an appearance package and performance suspension, start at $49,000 for gas or $51,000 for hybrid.

The 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6 is tuned for max mileage, until the foot goes down and the V-6 roars. Sport mode fills the gap between dutiful and screaming. (Lexus)

Today’s front-wheel-drive long-wheelbase RX 350L Luxury was $62,715 as tested, including the $6,000 Luxury package and the $1,025 freight charge from Fukuoka, Japan. Other options included the blind-spot monitor with intuitive parking assist, panoramic view monitor and rear-cross traffic braking for $1,865. The head-up display added $600 and triple-beam LED headlights with cornering lights, front turn signals and fog lights was $1,775. The 12.3-inch navigation system with Mark Levinson 15-speaker audio system, $3,365, is well worth the cost. And there was $90 for door-edge film (to guard against nicks), a cargo net and cargo mat, wheel locks and key glove for $315 and $380 for roof rack cross bars.

HYBRID
The all-wheel-drive RX 450hL can be driven at low speeds for short distances on battery power from the 37-kWh nickel metal hydride hybrid battery. The on-demand all-wheel-drive system functions as front-drive until there is slippage, then the sensors direct power to the rear wheels. The battery system adds more than 450 pounds to the curb weight, but mileage ratings are strong at 29/28/29 mpg city/highway/combined.

Of Lexus’ five SUV models (ranging from the subcompact UX, compact NX, and truck-based GX and LX) the RX is the top seller, in the sweet spot of pricing, style and family function. (Lexus)

SAFE SELLING
With concerns regarding the pandemic and lockdown, Lexus has various programs and procedures in place at the dealerships and in vehicle delivery. More information can be found at Lexus.com/PeopleFirst. And here is a brief story with some specific dealer examples, Support.

“We are continuing to share updates directly to guests as restrictions vary by state and city,” a Lexus representative wrote in an email. “Please check back to the Lexus consumer website linked above as it will continue to serve as a main hub for this type of information.”

DRIVABILITY
I have driven several generations of RX over the years and the 2020 model is the quietest and feels the most solid and robust. But remove the roof-rack crossbars for an even quieter highway ride.

The suspension is softer now and more comfortable, rolling quietly as if on carpet. The laminated windshield adds to cabin calmness and the 20-inch, all-season Michelin Premier LTX tires (235/55) were quiet rolling, or it was the suspension and cabin soundproofing that shut out any road harshness.

The 6- or 7-seat RXL was stretched 4.3 inches to create space for a third row. (Lexus)

Braking is confident from four-wheel ventilated discs, 12.9 inches front, 13.3 inches rear. The turning circle of 38.7 feet is about a half-foot wider than the standard RX, but more manageable than some crossovers and sedans.

With a curb weight of 4,442 pounds, the 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6 engine is necessary, but it is down 5 hp from the standard RX due to a difference in exhaust routing. The performance is tuned for max mileage, until the foot goes down and the V-6 roars. Sport mode fills the gap between sluggish and screaming.

Fuel-economy ratings are 19 mpg city, 26 highway and 22 mpg combined. Premium fuel is recommended for peak performance, but 87 octane is acceptable. I was averaging 21.1 mpg in a week of driving, and the large, 19.2-gallon tank gives a wide cruising range.

The second row has a flat floor and seats with fore-aft slide and recline. (Mark Maynard)

CABIN
The interior design is tastefully luxurious with Lexus-ized overlays of soft materials, satin metal trim and tender leather. The tester’s semi-aniline black leather, neatly stitched with perforated center sections, is as impressive as a hand-crafted attaché briefcase.

The front seat area is roomy, with good headroom of 38.7 inches, with the moonroof. Driver sightlines are not compromised at the windshield pillars.

The shifter console is a bank of controls, including a drive-mode dial, modules for seat heating and ventilation, an electric parking brake and a pair of cup holders, which have an ingenious two-step mode for taller bottles. There is a new slot to prop a phone, a pair of 2.1-amp charging USBS and a 12-volt plug. Wireless charging is a $75 option.

Inside the console is another 12-volt plug and a second set of charging USBs.
There is a large, locking glove box, sliding visors with lighted mirrors, and door storage with a bottle holder.

Cargo space has a wide opening of 45 inches but space behind the third row is limited at about 6 cubic feet, but it is ideal for corralling grocery bags. The roller cover can be stored in its own underfloor space when using the third row. (Mark Maynard)

BACK SEATS
The second row has a flat floor and captain’s chairs with fore-aft slide and recline. The seats (or a 60/40 bench) will tip and slide for third-row entry or fold to extend cargo length. But moving back the seat can obliterate third-row legroom and moving it forward will cramp second-row comfort. The seats are short on adult thigh support but supportive — and the leather and stitching look fantastic, but there are no electronic controls for temperature or fan speed. The fold-down armrest houses two 2.1-amp charging USBs and two can holders.

The third row has a scant 23.5 inches of legroom, but the space has fan and vent controls. The power folding pair of seats is a slow-motion engineering masterpiece to watch as the seats (one at a time) fold, articulate and ease into a flat load floor.

Cargo space has a wide opening of 45 inches but space behind the third row is limited at about 6.2 cubic feet, which is ideal for corralling grocery bags, and there also is basement storage for the roller cover. Fold the third row and the hauling space is much more functional at 23 cu. ft. and about 42½ inches deep. Or fold both rows for about 6 ½ feet of board-hauling length.

While newer competitors have loaded their big guns to blast their place in the segment, Lexus has made incremental improvements consistently to the RX since its launch. But change happens slowly at Toyota Motor, the parent of the Lexus division. The company’s engineering philosophy is to “do it right the first time,” and let it ride for five to seven years.

From its first generation, the RX has stood out for its polarizing exterior design. Love it or hate it, the RX is still a gold standard for luxury with all the VIP prestige and pleasures of Lexus ownership.

MarkMaynard@cox.net

The front-wheel-drive RX 350L tester was $62,715, including the $6,000 Luxury package and the $1,025 freight charge from Fukuoka, Japan. (Lexus)

2020 Lexus RX 350L FWD
Body style: midsize, 6-7 seat SUV crossover in front- or all-wheel drive; aluminum hood and tailgate
Engine: 290-hp, port and direct injection 3.5-liter V-6; 263 lb.-ft. torque at 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-60 mph: 7.9 seconds
Fuel economy: 19/26/22 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel recommended for peak power

SPECIFICATIONS
Fuel tank: 19.2 gal.
Cargo space (floor to roof): 6.2 to 23 cu. ft.
Front head/leg room: 38.7*/41.4 in. *39.8 without moonroof
2nd row head/leg room: 37.9*/30.9 in. *38.5
3rd row head/leg room: 34.8/23.5 in.
Length/wheelbase: 196.9/109.8 in.
Curb weight: 4,442 lbs.
Turning circle: 38.8 ft.

FEATURES
Luxury package equipment includes: keyless entry with push-button ignition, dynamic radar cruise control, power moonroof, heated-ventilated front seats, heated wood and leather steering wheel, Sapele laser cut wood with satin aluminum trim, semi-aniline leather upholstery and interior trim, LED lighted front door sills, manual rear-door sunshades, and power fold third-row seats, reclining-sliding second-row seats, 20-inch alloy wheels, automatic high-beam control
Safety features include: 10 air bags, brake assist, Safety System 2.0 features of lane-tracing assist, road-sign assist, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist

PRICING
Base price: $54,325, including $1,025 freight charge; price as tested $62,715
Options on test vehicle: blind-spot monitor with intuitive parking assist, panoramic view monitor and rear-cross traffic braking $1,865; color head-up display $600; triple-beam LED headlights, cornering lights, front turn signals and fog lights $1,775; 12.3-inch navigation system with Mark Levinson 15-speaker audio system $3,365. door-edge film $90; cargo net, cargo mat, wheel locks and key glove $315; roof rack cross bars $380
Where assembled: Fukuoka, Japan
Warranty: 4-years/60,000-miles bumper to bump with roadside assistance, free first and second scheduled maintenance services and a lodging for emergency breakdowns 100 miles from home; 5-years/70,000-miles powertrain

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