2020 Lexus RX First Drive: Blink and You’ll Miss It
Lexus's bestseller is very, very lightly updated.
PENINSULA PAPAGAYO, Costa Rica—The mid-size RX crossover is the bestselling model in Lexus's lineup, so it's no surprise that the company is obeying a foundational rule of marketing with its 2020 refresh: Don't mess with success. That's why it's nearly impossible to tell the 2020 RX from the 2019. Still, there's one change that is significant—important enough, in fact, to significantly improve our opinion of the car. No, it's not a new turbocharged V-8 or a high-performance RX F version (if only!). We are pleased to announced that the 2020 RX now offers—brace yourselves, here it comes—a touchscreen.
Yes, that's right—the 2020 Lexus RX has returned to the technology that it debuted nearly two decades ago, when Lexus first introduced navigation in the 2001 RX300. This is a Big Deal, because it's essentially a tacit admission that the Remote Touch mouse- and touchpad-style interfaces, about which we have been complaining ceaselessly since they were first introduced on the 2010 RX, aren't working.
The 2020 RX still has the dreaded touchpad, but now you no longer need to stare at the screen while trying to swipe the mouse cursor into the right spot; you can simply point at what you want, as humans have been doing since we first branched away from Neanderthals some 800,000 years ago. To accommodate this, Lexus has moved the displays (8.0 or 12.3 inches in size depending on equipment) closer to the driver. Along with this leap into the future-past, the RX finally adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The new system is compatible with voice assistance like Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, as well as a host of apps including standbys like Waze, Pandora and Spotify.
Other significant changes are less readily apparent, and include a significant stiffening of the structure. Lexus says it has increased the use of structural adhesives in the RX by a factor of ten, and spot welds in the door apertures and rear body structure are now supplemented by "laser screw" welds, so called because they approximate the strength of a sheetmetal screw. (The number of spot welds could not be increased because of the amount of heat they transfer into the metal; laser welding keeps the temperatures much lower.)
Lexus has retuned the suspension to take advantage of the body's newfound stiffness, though it has not sought to make any significant changes in the car's driving characteristics. We expected the rough roads of Costa Rica to make these differences apparent, but the pavers had recently passed over our test route, and despite the presence of an updated F-Sport suspension, we could feel little discernible difference between 2019 and 2020 models we drove on the glass-smooth pavement.
Our drive was a good reminder as to why the RX is a consumer's favorite. We drove the RX350 in short-wheelbase, five-seat F-Sport form, and the exterior changes had to be pointed out to us; they amount to a slight reshaping of the hourglass grille and re-arrangement of the fog lights. It's not a bad-looking vehicle once you get over the gaping grille, but we prefer the visual proportions of the long-wheelbase seven-seat version, as long as we don't have to occupy its tiny wayback area. There's not much we can say about the venerable 3.5 liter V-6, carried over with no changes, except that it does its job with perfect competency, if not much enthusiasm. The RX450h hybrid variant is unchanged as well.
For 2020, Lexus offers the F-Sport package with a driver-adjustable suspension and an enhanced sound package and stiffer dampers. It's not a closet Bimmer-beater by any stretch of the imagination, but for a family car whose primary mission is peace and serenity, it acquits itself well enough.
The RX now comes with a long list of safety and driver-assistance features as standard, including a collision-detection system that can now better detect bicycles and pedestrians in low light. A road-sign detection system can display signs on the dashboard, and the lane-keeping assistance system can, under certain conditions, follow the car ahead if lane lines are not apparent.
Whether or not we'd recommend the RX is beside the point; we expect it to keep plowing its way through the sales charts, at least until gas prices spike and the NX and UX start to eclipse it (as they are primed to do in markets outside of North America). The RX is handsome and competent, and thanks to the freshened infotainment systems, it's now much easier to use. If we were in Lexus's position, we wouldn't have changed more, either.
2020 Lexus RX350 F Sport Specifications
|ON SALE||Late 2019|
|ENGINE||3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6; 295 hp @ 6,300 rpm, 267 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||22 mpg (combined, est)|
|L x W x H||192.5 x 74.6 x 67.7 in|
|WEIGHT||4,400 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH||7.9 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||124 mph|