The Lexus RX has been a sales juggernaut since it ignited the luxury SUV segment more than two decades ago. Today, it offers solid style, comfort and performance across a broad lineup. You can get a gas or hybrid drivetrain, more engaging F Sport trims and as of a few years ago, a third row.
- Silky drivetrain.
- Relaxed, quiet ride.
- Updated infotainment.
- Cramped third-row seating.
- Remote Touch Pad is infuriating.
- Loose steering.
But just because the RX sits atop the sales charts doesn’t mean it’s not without shortcomings. The in-your-face front end isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the cumbersome-to-operate tech leaves a lot to be desired. And while the ride veers toward being supple and luxurious, the RX is a far cry from being fun to operate. Enter the 2020 model, which aims to improve all these things.
Massaged looks and the ‘third row’
I’ve written on numerous occasions that I don’t mind Lexus‘ spindle grille. Like BMW’s kidney grille, it’s recognizable and synonymous with the brand. The front and rear fascias are updated on the 2020 RX 350, with the most noticeable change happening on the grille. On non-F Sport versions, the horizontal slats are out in favor of a more impactful mesh pattern that, along with the altered bumper cover and slim headlights, make it edgier.
2020 Lexus RX 350L: Fresh looks and tech, but compromises remain
On my 350L Luxury test car, the 20-inch split-spoke wheels are also new this year, as is the Moonbeam Beige Metallic paint coat that isn’t mind-numbingly bland, which I very rarely say about shades of beige. I’d go for the other new paint choice of Nori Green Pearl, first seen on the pint-size UX crossover instead, though.
In the RX’s well-built, soft, leather-lined cockpit, there are some small layout changes to note, such as the new smartphone holder on the center console. Situated in front of the cupholders, the slot securely holds phones and provides easy access to it preventing you from fishing it out of cubby. It’s not a huge thing, but sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.
Unfortunately, what couldn’t be helped is the RX 350L’s third-row seating. It remains difficult to access and ridiculously tight once you’re back there, with enough legroom for someone 10 years old at best, if not younger. Even then, passengers in the second row need to scooch their seats forward, sacrificing their legroom as well.
If the way-back seats sound like an afterthought, it’s because they are — the RX was never designed to have these. This bigger RX rides on the same wheelbase as the standard model, but simply gets an additional 4.4-inches of length behind the C pillars as band-aid to serve third-row hungry customers.
That’s not to say it’s all bad. If you need to carry more people in a pinch, the 350L’s third row works for short distances, and there’s more cargo space when those seats are folded flat. The regular RX 350 offers 56.3 cubic feet of cargo space, while the RX L packs 70.7 with both rows of back seats stowed. That stacks up favorably to the Acura MDX’s 68.4 cubic feet of space, but is behind the Infiniti QX60’s 76.2.
Maybe the most noteworthy 2020 RX improvement is the available 12.3-inch split-screen that’s set closer to front passengers, which is now a touchscreen with crisp graphics. That means working through the Lexus Enform infotainment system no longer relies on the distracting Remote Touch Pad. Changing radio stations and entering navigation destinations is now easier, with slightly simplified menus.
Lexus Enform also finally gains Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities in all RX models, in addition to offering Amazon Alexa integration and Wi-Fi hotspot. On my tester, a lovely 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio setup pipes tunes into the cabin, and there are six USBs and three 12-volt scattered throughout the interior, meaning everyone can plug in their phones.
The Lexus Safety System Plus 2.0 is also now standard equipment across the RX lineup. The package combines new features such as road sign detection, daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection, along with previously standard goodies like adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with auto braking and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist. My tester is also outfitted with optional blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, which are must-have systems in my book.
Smooth, but a bit tighter
All RXs continue to be powered by a 3.5-liter V6 working with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Front-wheel drive is standard, but my tester runs all-wheel drive. In the RX 350L, the V6 makes 290 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque, which is down from the regular 350’s 295 horses and 267 lb.-ft., due to a different exhaust system. The EPA estimates that the drivetrain returns 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
In Normal mode, the bigger RX requires a firmer press of the throttle to rollout in a brisk manner, though the transmission seamlessly performs cog swaps. Snap things into Sport and acceleration is livelier, and the trans holds onto gears longer and is more eager to downshift.
In an attempt to punch up the RX’s dynamic chops, Lexus tinkered with the chassis and suspension. Structural adhesive usage increases tenfold and new welding techniques result in twice as many spot welds without harming chassis metal, producing a stiffer platform. That’s joined by stiffer dampers and thicker antiroll bars with reinforced bushings to reduce body roll and offer better steering response.
Are the changes noticeable? A little, but it’s not front-page news. Pushing it some around expressway interchanges, the 4,600-pound RX L hangs on fairly well after some initial body roll. Credit the 20-inch Michelin Premier LTX tires and the new active corner braking stability system that helps reduce understeer by applying brake pressure to the inner tire.
Of course, sporty driving isn’t the RX’s main mission in life. Not with the loose on-center steering that’s also void of feedback and the cushy suspension. Instead, the RX is at its best cruising along in a serene manner, gliding over bumps and potholes to remain a competent, comfort-focused luxury crossover.
How I’d spec it
The Lexus RX 350L Luxury you see pictured rings up at $63,540, including $1,025 for destination. My ideal 350L would also be an all-wheel-drive version, which starts at $49,725. From there I’d equip navigation with the 12.3-inch touchscreen and great Mark Levinson sound system for $3,365, and blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert for $1,065. To get the latter, Lexus requires you to get the $1,580 Premium Package that adds power folding mirrors, fancy interior trim, memory seats and a moonroof. For creature comforts, I’ll take the $640 heated and cooled front seats, $150 heated steering wheel and $405 second-row captain’s chairs. That lengthy list of add-ons makes my 350L a $56,930 vehicle.
A little better
The 2020 Lexus RX 350L begins at $48,325. Equipping all-wheel drive is a $1,400 up-charge. That represents a higher cost of entry compared to other premium Japanese three rows such as the MDX ($45,525) and QX60 ($45,375). The Lexus is the most luxurious and comfortable of the trio, but the jump-seat third row is a major strike against it for anyone needing to move six or seven people often.
For people looking for more cargo space and only need to move some extra kids occasionally, the RX 350L could work. But those who need to utilize a third row often, the Acura and Infiniti are better and more practical packages to consider.