Lexus invented the luxury crossover in 1998, when it debuted the midsize RX CUV.
Seven years later, in 2005, Lexus dropped its gas-electric hybrid system into the RX, producing the world’s first electrified luxury vehicle.
Lexus’s aggressive strategy has stood the test of time. Today, the non-hybrid RX 350 ($44,150) is Lexus’s best-selling vehicle by a wide margin. The RX 450h ($46,800) is the world’s best-selling hybrid CUV.
In 2016, Lexus introduced the RX L, a larger, three-row version of the RX. It’s available in hybrid ($50,510) and non-hybrid ($47,300) versions.
Aggressive, sporty vibe
With its deep body creases, “floating” roofline and spindle grille, the RX gives off an aggressive, sporty vibe. Its strengths are not related to performance, though. Instead, they reflect the conventional Lexus hallmarks — comfort, safety and quality.
The impeccably finished cabin accommodates four adults in large supportive seats, with abundant leg- and headroom all around. The cabin is whisper-quiet at speed and vehicle dynamics are settled and stable.
For 2020, a light facelift updates the headlights, grille and front and rear bumpers, softening their bolder aspects. Other model-year updates include chassis and suspension tweaks that sharpen dynamics without impeding ride quality.
The chassis is lighter and more rigid than before, enabling suspension tuning that mutes the impact of potholes and other broken road surfaces.
Firm yet compliant
The ride is firm and compliant. The structural revisions reduce noise, vibration and harshness emanating from the road surface.
The RX handles confidently. In turns, an active corner-braking feature brakes the inner front wheel to reduce understeer and boost stability.
The RX cabin is heavily redesigned this year to accommodate an overhaul of the Lexus Multimedia Interface. Lexus supplements the system this year with a dash-mounted touchscreen. It streamlines management of the climate, audio and navigation functions and reduces the driver’s reliance on the frustrating Remote Touch touchpad.
The system is more powerful and responsive than before and far easier to use. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is standard, the first availability of Android Auto on a Toyota/Lexus product. An 8-inch display is standard, a 12.3-inch high-resolution touchscreen, with navigation, is available.
Speed not the point
There are abundant casual cabin storage opportunities. The formal cargo area is less spacious than prime competitors.
The RX's aggressive styling reduces driver sight-lines. Lexus compensates with large side mirrors but the blind-spot warning system (available on non-hybrid trims, standard on the hybrid) is a welcome addition.
None of the RX variants are quick.
The 3.5-liter V-6 that powers non-hybrid models makes 295 horsepower and is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The engine is smooth and silent and the transmission makes sure and reasonably quick shifts without stumbling at lower speeds.
The hybrid system includes a modified version of the same engine and a trio of electric motors. Total system output is 308 hp.
The rest of the family is available in front- and all-wheel-drive versions, while the 450h is strictly AWD.
The lighter RX 350 runs the 0-60 sprint in 7.9 seconds; the 450h needs 8.1 seconds.
Both are rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Non-hybrid models run regular gas and earn 23 mpg combined (20 city/27 highway) in EPA testing; the hybrid needs premium and is rated at 30/31/28.
Driver-assist suite grows
We tested a 2020 RX 450h F Sport ($50,550). The F Sport package added a mix of cosmetic and comfort enhancements, as well as 20-inch alloy wheels and performance dampers.
Lexus is expanding its Lexus Safety System driver-assist suite and making it standard on all models. Previously, the list included automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beams and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist.
New features this year include bicyclist detection, lane centering and road-sign assist.
Our tester’s automatic high-beam function performed so erratically — blinding oncoming drivers in the process — that I turned it off. This seems to have been an anomaly; the feature has worked without incident on other Lexus models we’ve driven.
Lexus struck a rich vein with the RX and has tended its flagship CUV with care. Either electrified or standard-issue, it’s worth a close look at shopping time.
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2020 Lexus RX 450h F Sport
Vehicle base price: $44,150
Trim level base price: $50,550
As tested: $60,035 (includes destination and handling)
Options: blind-spot monitor with intuitive parking assist and panoramic-view monitor and rear cross-traffic alert; windshield wiper deicer, self-cleaning and auto-leveling headlamps; triple-beam LED headlights and cornering lamps; navigation; Mark Levinson sound system; foot-activated liftgate; cargo net and wheel locks; all-weather floor liners and cargo mat.
Tow rating: 3,500 pounds
EPA rating: 30 combined/31 city/28 highway