The Lexus RX is one of the pioneering members of the crossover class. The first RX went on sale in all its bright-eyed glory all the way back in 1998, a front-wheel-drive-based easy rider of an SUV designed to appeal to suburbanites who liked the idea of sitting up high but didn’t want the truck-like driving experience of a conventional sport-utility vehicle. As history has shown, that turned out to be a pretty smart move.
Not surprisingly, then, the RX has been one of Lexus’s best-selling vehicles ever since, flying out of showrooms over the course of the last couple decades by the literal millions. And it shows no signs of stopping: last year was nearly the best yet for the RX in the United States. Still, while Lexus may not be the quickest on the trigger when it comes to updating its models, the RX’s status as a big seller means it’s unlikely to be the last to score a facelift. So seeing as how the carmaker gave it a mild mid-life refresh last year, we took it out for a week to see how this O.G. crossover is holding up in its latest form.
The Lexus RX looks ridiculously aggressive (and we’re into it)
If the cutesy little first-gen RX 300 turned a corner and came face to face the 2020 RX 350 F Sport, it’d probably honk its horn in surprise and leak oil in fear. Lexus’s trademark spindle grille, squinting headlights and ginsu-edge lines give it the sort of sex appeal you don’t expect to find in this category — and especially not from Lexus.
It makes the RX look smaller than it is in real life, though that’s not to suggest it’s gargantuan; rather, it’s right in the Goldilocks zone for a two-row SUV, with decent room for both rows of occupants and a body that doesn’t require panicked searching for a plus-sized parking spot. (The three-row RX 350L, however, is best left ignored, as its last set of seats are barely adequate for anyone over child-seat age.)
The RX 350 F Sport drives better than you’d think
With looks like that, you might expect the RX F Sport to pack serious firepower beneath its hammered-angle hood. Sadly, all that’s there is the same 3.5-liter V6 found across much of the Toyota/Lexus lineup, tuned here to make 295 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque. (There’s also an RX 450h hybrid version, but in spite of the substantially bigger number in its name, it only makes 13 more horses and 19 fewer pound-feet.) Still, that’s more than enough for real-world duties; paired with the eight-speed automatic that’s best left to its own devices, it’ll merge onto highways with vigor, if not involvement.
And, like the newest Camry, Avalon and Corolla, the RX drives better than Toyota products of the early 21st Century would have you believe. The ride is pleasantly dampened but still doesn’t serve up much body roll, and while the steering may not be spewing details about what it’s doing into your fingertips, it’s direct. Remarkably, Lexus even offers an F Sport Performance Package with retuned steering, suspension and drive modes, as well as a few stylistic add-ons. My car had it, which probably helped in this regard.
Anyone looking to drop $50,000 or so on a luxury SUV that’s fun to drive would be better served with a Porsche Macan (ideally a Macan S) or at least a BMW X3, but if that’s lower on your list of priorities than reliability or aggressive looks, the RX F Sport is a solid choice.
A better Lexus interior is still not a great luxury car interior
For the 2020 model year, Lexus made strides to improve its oft-maligned infotainment system, it of the free-floating mouse controller and maddening, incomprehensible menus. The infotainment screens — both the standard eight-incher and the optional 12.3-inch one — get touchscreen functionality. It helps mitigate some of the issues, though you still have to use the trackpad-and-cursor setup for some moves. My advice: spend 20 minutes when you get the car setting all your defaults and presets and practicing with the system, so you know how everything works…and then resort to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for everything but the radio stations.
It feels like a bit of a throwback in a few places, too. I’m glad for the presence of hard buttons over touchscreen controls for things like the climate and seat heating and cooling, but the buttons in the RX feel too cheap for a luxury car in 2020. It’s not that they don’t work, but, to steal a phrase from the beer world, they don’t have great handfeel. And it’s rather jarring to climb into a car that looks as futuristic as this one does…and see a CD player staring back at you from front and center in the dash.
Price as Tested: $58,115
Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V6, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Power: 295 hp, 268 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Lexus provided this product for review.
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