Introduction – Find the best Lexus deals!
Midsize crossover SUV buyers like to have a third-row seat, just in case they need it. Until the 2018 model year, however, the only Lexus SUVs with a third-row seat were the rugged GX and LX models. The popular RX came only with 5-passenger seating.
By adding 4.4 inches of extra body length, Lexus created the RX L for the 2018 model year. It has a third-row seat, theoretically allowing this SUV to carry seven people at a time. You can choose the RX 350L with a V-6 engine or the RX 450hL with a powerful yet efficient gas-electric hybrid powertrain. You cannot, however, choose F Sport trim with the RX L. Instead, this longer and roomier version is available with standard, Premium or Luxury packages, plus numerous upgrades.
Now, for 2020, Lexus makes subtle design changes inside and out, refines the SUV’s ride and handling, and adds new infotainment and safety systems.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Lexus RX 350L Luxury equipped with front-wheel drive, a blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning system with automatic braking, a surround-view camera system, a head-up display, a 12.3-inch infotainment system with navigation, a Mark Levinson 15-speaker premium sound system, triple-beam LED headlights, and a handful of accessories. The price came to $62,715 including the $1,025 destination charge.
What Owners Say… – Find the best Lexus deals!
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Lexus RX, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
Compared to the midsize premium SUV segment as a whole, Lexus RX owners are more often female (42% vs. 37%), are older in terms of median age (65 years vs. 58), and earn less in terms of median annual household income ($161,890 vs. $198,923). Just 23% of Lexus RX owners identify as members of Generation X, Y, or Z (vs. 43%).
According to J.D. Power data, Lexus RX owners are concerned about reliability, quality, fuel economy, and maintenance costs. The data says:
- 78% of Lexus RX owners strongly agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability (vs. 60% for the segment)
- 70% strongly agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is quality of workmanship (vs. 60%)
- 64% strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (vs. 48%)
- 54% agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is miles per gallon (vs. 40%)
Additionally, 58% of Lexus RX owners say they are willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (vs. 51% of owners in the segment). At the same time, fewer Lexus RX owners agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (79% vs. 84%) and fewer agree that they need a versatile vehicle to accommodate a busy lifestyle (80% vs. 85%).
Owners say their favorite things about the Lexus RX are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, interior design, seats, visibility and safety, and exterior styling. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Lexus RX are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, storage and space, climate control system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.
In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the RX ranked sixth out of 13 midsize premium SUVs.
What Our Expert Says… – Find the best Lexus deals!
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Lexus RX measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.
Based on J.D. Power data, Lexus RX owners are less interested in driving a vehicle that stands out from the crowd and rate the SUV’s styling mid-pack among their favorite features.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
When it was last redesigned for the 2016 model year, Lexus wanted to make a bolder statement with the RX, adding plenty of visual drama to the design in an effort to make the SUV more distinctive. Consider that goal realized, even if half a decade later the look has lost some of its original edge.
To create the RX L, Lexus extended the bodywork behind the rear doors by 4.4 inches. That doesn’t sound like much, but the sheetmetal stretch is obvious to observers. “It looks like a football,” opined a relative who owns an older Lexus RX.
Something you might not realize is that a Lexus RX’s paint features a scratch-resistant, self-restoring property. The test vehicle was dipped in a new and unusual Nori Green Pearl paint and came with polished 20-inch alloy wheels.
Owners like the RX’s interior design, perhaps because it offers plenty of buttons, knobs, and switches in seeming direct refutation of current trends toward minimalism and alternate ways to operate vehicle features and functions, such as voice and gesture control.
Photo: Christian Wardlaw
Driver-oriented, the dashboard is a layered affair with numerous materials, textures, and colors. Lexus offers several different cabin treatments, and the test vehicle’s Luxury trim level includes downright plush semi-aniline leather, real aluminum accents, and laser-cut Sapele wood trim panels.
Lexus RX owners rank the seats as their third favorite thing about the SUV. No doubt, the front chairs are excellent, offering proper support for all-day, long-distance comfort. In addition to premium leather, the test vehicle had heated and ventilated front seats and a heated wood-and-leather steering wheel.
If you’re not riding up front, know that the RX L’s second-row seats are equally pleasant, and you sit up higher than expected with a good view out.
Moving to the third-row seat (the whole point of the RX L in the first place), it is not hospitable to adults. I’m not sure it’s good for kids, either. I was able to cram my 6-foot frame into it, but because my legs don’t detach from my body, they prevented the second-row seat from being useful to anyone.
And then I got stuck and had to call my wife from the driveway so that she could help me to move the second-row seat forward in order to exit the vehicle. They say there is a first time for everything, right?
Based on this experience, I’d say the reason to buy the RX L is for its added cargo room and not for its third-row seat.
Climate Control System
Driving the RX 350L during a Southern California heat wave proved the triple-zone climate control system to be highly effective. Also, even though the controls are easy to find and use, drivers can use voice commands to change the temperature.
Oddly, the heated and ventilated seat controls are not grouped with the climate control panel. Instead, they’re located on the center console and tucked behind the transmission shifter, making them harder to use.
According to owners of the 2019 Lexus RX, the infotainment system ranked almost last in terms of their favorite things about their SUVs. That might change when data for this year’s model is finalized.
Perhaps the most significant change to the 2020 Lexus RX is the new approach to infotainment. Lexus moves the standard 8-inch and available 12.3-inch display screen substantially closer to the driver, switches to a touchscreen setup, and adds support for Android Auto smartphone integration. In addition to Android Auto, the RX includes Apple CarPlay, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa compatibility, Lexus Enform Wi-Fi and Remote Services with limited free trial periods, and satellite radio with a 3-month trial subscription.
The Remote Touch Interface (RTI) touchpad remains on the center console, but the new touchscreen display, combined with all of the traditional switchgear on the dashboard, virtually eliminates any need to use it. Still, Lexus says some customers prefer the RTI, so it remains present and accounted for.
Based on my experience, the move to a touchscreen is a smart one. Gone is the frustration I used to feel when using the RTI. Plus, the voice recognition system passed all of my natural language request tests with flying colors. Also, unlike many luxury SUVs, the RX retains both power/volume and tuning knobs, making it easy to adjust the stereo.
Speaking of the stereo, the test car’s optional 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system produced rich, impressive sound quality.
Storage and Space
As previously stated, I think the reason to get the Lexus RX L is for its extra cargo space, not the third-row seat. If you keep it folded down, space behind the second-row seat increases from 16 cu.-ft. to 23 cu.-ft. Maximum volume rises from 32.6 cu.-ft. to 58.5 cu.-ft. However, even with the larger cargo area, the RX L’s measurements are not as generous as might be expected.
In terms of interior storage, Lexus adds a new smartphone holder slot on the center console in front of the cupholders. Aside from this, storage space is decent but is often impractical due to difficult access. The lower door panel bins expand to accommodate larger items, which is a thoughtful touch.
Visibility and Safety
Thanks to thin windshield pillars, large side mirrors, and front quarter windows, the view forward is excellent. A head-up display is available, and while it remains visible when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses, it is faint and can fade from view on lighter-color pavement.
New for 2020, Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 is standard, a collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) that operate in a smooth and refined, if not always accurate or preferential, manner. Options include blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning with automatic braking, and surround-view camera systems.
In crash tests, the Lexus RX earns a 4-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it a Top Safety Pick rating when equipped with its optional triple-beam LED headlights. The RX’s standard headlights get a Poor rating from the IIHS.
Every Lexus RX 350 has a strong, smooth, seamlessly refined 3.5-liter V-6 engine with plenty of power. It makes 295 horsepower and 268 lb.-ft. of torque, and Lexus says the RX 350L accelerates to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds. This SUV feels faster than that, though.
The engine powers the front or all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. It works well in Normal mode, but in Sport mode the transmission produces overeager and sometimes uneven response to your right foot. The steering wheel paddle shifters are moderately effective, but nothing about how the non-F Sport version of this SUV drives will encourage you to keep using them.
According to the EPA, a Lexus RX 350L with front-wheel drive should get 22 mpg in combined driving. The test vehicle averaged 19.3 mpg on the driving loop, driven in Normal mode the entire time except for the mountainous portion of the route, during which I used Sport mode.
This year, Lexus stiffened the RX’s chassis, revised the suspension tuning, and re-tuned the steering in order to improve the ride and handling. Unfortunately, my previous experience with this generation RX is with the F Sport model, so I can’t judge whether or not the changes are effective.
I can tell you that the steering is downright buttery in terms of road feel and response, and creamy in terms of effort levels. If you’re seeking a traditional luxury style of driving, the RX delivers.
Similarly, the ride is effortlessly smooth regardless of the pavement surface, absolutely unfettered by bumps, divots, and the speed humps on the street where my child’s elementary school is located.
On the highway, the RX’s cabin is almost silent inside even with the roof rack cross bars installed, and straight-line stability is excellent. Furthermore, the brakes are perfectly calibrated in terms of pedal feel, response, and modulation.
Lexus nailed the RX’s ride quality. Handling, not so much.
When you start tossing this SUV down a country road, excessive body motions could spark bouts of motion sickness in your passengers. The steering is fairly slow, too, and the 235/55R20 all-season tires are terrible partners in crime, rendering the new Active Cornering Assist system fairly useless. Even when you’re not driving a twisty road, occupants suffer severe head toss when taking driveway aprons or drainage channels at an angle.
Take heart, however, in the F Sport version of the RX. It boasts a standard sport-tuned suspension and steering, and it offers a Performance Package with a Sport S+ driving mode and an adaptive damping suspension. Sure, the ride might not feel like you’re gliding on a cloud, but the improved control of body motions is no doubt worth the trade-off.
Final Impressions – Find the best Lexus deals!
Styling, technology, and engineering changes help to keep the 2020 Lexus RX fresh in the face of new competitors such as the Cadillac XT6 and Lincoln Aviator, and redesigns coming soon for the Acura MDX and Infiniti QX60. The Genesis GV80 also has the Lexus RX squarely in its sights, and recent redesigns of the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE are keeping the pressure on Lexus.
Still, there is a reason that the Lexus RX is the most popular luxury SUV in America, and J.D. Power data illustrates them. Reliability, quality, low maintenance costs, and good fuel economy (with the RX 450h hybrid models), combined with a comfortable cabin, cushy driving dynamics, a sterling reputation, and luxurious image, make the Lexus RX appealing to buyers who appreciate such things.
Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.
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