2020 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h Review: Pura Vida
When I first landed in Liberia, Costa Rica, to drive the updated 2020 Lexus RX, I wasn’t sure why the Japanese luxury brand had flown me and other journalists to Central America. About 40 minutes from the Liberia airport on the Pacific coast, the Papagayo Peninsula—with its stunning landscape, crystal-clear water, and white-sand beaches—was where we immersed ourselves in the Lexus world.
The brand is celebrating its 30th anniversary and chose Costa Rica not only because of its stunning roads and natural splendor but also because of its deep connection with Purdy Motor, Toyota’s exclusive distributor in the country. Costa Rica was Lexus’ fifth Latin American market, and it has seen consistent growth since it began operations in 2013. Lexus’ first worldwide market was the U.S., and today the luxury brand continues its expansion across the globe with plans to launch in Mexico in 2021. It will have a presence in 90 countries by then.
It’s within this landscape—both literally and metaphorically—that we drove Lexus’ most popular model, which is getting a midcycle refresh for the 2020 model year. Most of the changes are inside, where the crossover received a touchscreen, a few updates to its infotainment system, and six USB ports. Buyers can choose between the standard 8.0-inch or the available 12.3-inch touchscreen; the latter can be had as a split screen and has a higher resolution than the smaller screen. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Alexa are compatible with the updated RX, and we found it very easy to use CarPlay through the touchpad. Although the touch functionality is new, the screen is a bit hard to reach for the driver given its location on top of the dash; it’s pretty easy to control from the front passenger’s seat, though.
Despite the busy design, the RX’s interior is a nice place to sit. The seats are comfortable, and materials feel soft everywhere you touch. The commanding driver’s seat position provides good visibility.
The bigger three-row RX L continues for 2020 with second-row captain’s chairs that ease entry and exit for third-row passengers.
The exterior updates are subtle: The iconic spindle grille is now bigger, the front and rear fascias have been redesigned, and the triple-beam LED headlights are slimmer. The standard 18-inch wheels sport a new design, and the 20-inch wheels on the Luxury trim have also received a style update.
Things remain the same under the hood, but according to Lexus, changes to the suspension and welding have increased the vehicle’s rigidity. The shocks have been retuned, the anti-roll bars were swapped for stiffer ones, and the dampers were updated to provide a smoother ride. The RX 350 is still powered by a 295-hp, 267-lb-ft 3.5-liter V-6 engine paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is still an option for the gas-only model; the unit we drove in the twisty, hilly roads overlooking the jaw-dropping Culebra Bay was fully loaded. The engine delivers enough power for an SUV of this size, but the transmission was always hunting for the highest gear. Thankfully, paddle shifters are standard for 2020, so the transmission holds gears longer when the shifter is in its sport position. The shifts are smooth, and body roll is controlled well, but we’ll need to spend more time with it to give you a full report.
During our drive we also got behind the wheel of the RX 450h, which is still propelled by the 3.5-liter V-6 mated to an electric motor and a CVT that sends power to all four wheels. The 308 hp make a huge difference compared with the “regular” engine—we found the hybrid to be more energetic. Whether we were driving up steep hills or taking sharp corners, the RX 450h was more fun to drive. It also felt agile when we stepped on the gas and happily passed slower cars on the two-lane road. After this short drive, we’d definitely go with the hybrid. We’ll get you deeper driving impressions once we have a chance to spend more time with it.
The F Sport package continues for 2020, and now it can be split into two. The top-of-the-line F Sport Performance package adds the active variable suspension from the Lexus LC, as well as a cold air intake, active sound control, electric power steering, and a heated steering wheel. The standard F Sport package comes with sportier dampers and a drive mode selector with Sport+. The RX F Sport also offers red leather seats, more bolstering, and an F Sport badge on the wheel.
Another update for 2020 is the addition of Lexus Safety System+ 2.0, which is now standard across the board. Thanks to the changes in the pre-collision system, every RX can now detect cyclists during the day and pedestrians at night, something new for this model year. Road Sign Assist and Lane Tracing Assist are also new, but the Tico roads we drove on didn’t have any lane marks, so we couldn’t really try this feature.
Lexus hasn’t announced pricing, but expect to pay about the same as the 2019 Lexus RX 350, which starts at $44,845.
The Lexus RX won our very first SUV of the Year award back in 1999, and it’s a pioneer in the crossover segment, becoming the first unibody SUV that delivered a “carlike” ride with the seating position and interior space of an SUV. Since then, it has thrived in the segment, becoming Lexus’ most popular model by far, surpassing all of the brand’s sedan sales combined. With its updated styling, better technology, advanced safety, and Pura Vida attitude, the 2020 Lexus RX will continue to be the brand’s sales leader when it arrives at dealers at the end of August. This much-needed update will bring a breeze of fresh air to the crossover. A full redesign is expected in the next two to three years.