First Look: 2020 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450HMay 30th, 2019
Lexus has always been a little ahead of the curve. Its first RX SUV, introduced way back when Jean Chrétien was still Prime Minister, seemed outrageous at the time. Lexus was crazy for building such an odd-shaped loon, I thought back then. But I also remember thinking, about the same time, those predictions that everyone would someday be walking around with a phone in their pocket sounded like lunacy. And yet here we are.
Lexus was also ahead of the game when they decided to make quality and dealership experience hallmarks of the brand. No, Lexus models weren’t always as sassy as BMWs or Audis, but they sure as hell didn’t cost as much in maintenance either, consistently taking home “most dependable” and “most reliable” awards. In recent years, after adopting a design philosophy that was more angles and lines than a map of the constellations, Lexus cars and SUVs looked almost too futuristic, as if the brand was trying too hard. Only recently has that same design philosophy looked fitting for our time.
But because the current, fourth-generation RX 350 and 450h has been in production since 2015, and because competition in this category is fierce, Lexus is freshening its most popular vehicle (also in three-row, RX L trim) for the 2020 model year. A cursory glance does not reveal that the front and rear fascias are new, or that it wears new 18-inch or 20-inch wheels. Triple-beam LED headlamps have been slimmed, and come standard starting on the Luxury grade. The fog lights have been moved lower and streamlined. Inside, an eight-inch touchscreen or optional 12.3-inch unit crowns the centre stack, paired with a remote touch pad located where your right hand naturally rests. And the multimedia system now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — finally — with six USB ports for devices.
Those slimmer headlamps certainly accentuate the angry, angled look of the RX without being weirdly eccentric, and they work well with the brand’s hourglass grille to smartly freshen the RX’s front face. Rear tail lamps use an “L” motif across the top of the lamp, reflected by inverted Ls across the bottom. A power rear tailgate that can be activated by a kick sensor, is now available on the Executive package. All in all, it’s a big improvement on what was already an attractive vehicle.
The ride, which was never objectionable, should see improvements too. Front and rear stabilizer bars are now hollow to reduce weight, yet thicker diameters and reinforced bushings will, Lexus says, help reduce body roll and improve steering response. Shock absorbers have been retuned to work with the stiffer roll bars, while upgraded dampers feature a new “friction control” device that helps to control high frequency vibrations for a smoother ride. To prevent understeer that occurs when turning into a corner too quickly, “active corner braking” brakes the inside rear tire to help keep the RX from sailing into the roadside shrubbery. Fifty more spot welds and adhesives are said to improve rigidity.
Engines and transmissions remain the same — an eight-speed automatic hooked to a 3.5-litre V6 (295 hp; 268 lb.-ft) in the 350, and a 3.5-litre V6 with electric motor in the hybrid for 308 net horsepower and 247 lb.-ft.
Safety, of course, has also made gains, much of it standard. A little like GM’s OnStar, “Enform Safety Connect” gives access to a live human 24/7 who can help in a crash or emergency. The pre-collision system has been improved so that it can now be aware of cyclists in the daytime — instead of just cars and pedestrians — in front of the vehicle. By increasing the camera’s sensitivity and dynamic range, pedestrians in low light conditions can be better seen as well. The system even has the ability to detect lane markings on the road to help with lane positioning; and if the markings are poor or non-existent, the RX will follow the vehicle in front of it when working with the RX’s radar cruise control. These all come standard.
A new exterior colour, Moonbeam Beige Metallic, joins a new interior trim colour, Birch. A new RX F Sport package borrows a variable suspension system from the Lexus LC that’s more responsive than previous systems. F Sport packages also include a cold air intake, aluminum pedals, sportier steering with heated steering wheel, and an attractive red leather interior with bolstered sport seats.
The 2020 RX and RX L will start production at Toyota’s Cambridge South plant in the third quarter of 2019. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale date, but shouldn’t be too far off the current $55,000 starting price.