When the original Lexus RX debuted as a 1999 model, it sparked the luxury soft-roader craze.
With the space and styling of an SUV and the ride of a car, it combined two mutually exclusive worlds and was an immediate trendsetter.
Fast-forward to 2019, and the RX is in its fourth generation, having enjoyed being not only Lexus’s best-selling model for years, but also the best-selling luxury SUV on the market.
For the 2020 model year, Toyota’s luxury arm has given the RX a number of mid-cycle improvements to keep it feeling fresh.
Lexus has massaged the RX’s rather extreme exterior styling to keep it in touch with the brand’s evolving design language but also to make it a little easier on the eyes.
The gaping spindle grille has a more complex pattern than before, and the front bumper has a new design with bigger intakes.
Revised LED headlights are available, and the LED taillights have been restyled. New wheel designs, exterior paint colors, and interior leather options round out the external changes.
Arguably the biggest news comes in the form of the RX’s main infotainment screen, which spans 8.0 inches as standard but can be upgraded to a 12.3-inch unit with a split-screen display.
Both displays add touchscreen functionality. We found that the addition of a touch interface makes the RX’s infotainment system much less frustrating to operate, although on the larger screen some of the icons are hard to reach from the driver’s seat.
And because there is no “home” button on the screen, you still have to use the maddening touchpad on the center console for some functions.
The interface still seems a bit too complicated as a whole, despite the improvements, which also include the new RX becoming the first Lexus model to get Android Auto capability in addition to Apple CarPlay (both standard).
Like all of the brand’s 2020 models, the RX now features the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 suite of features as standard, which adds bicyclist detection, lane centering, and road-sign assist.
The 2019 model already had standard features such as automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, automatic high-beams, and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist.
Blind-spot monitoring and a 360-degree camera are among the RX’s options.
Powertrains remain the same as last year, meaning a 295-hp 3.5-liter V-6 with an eight-speed auto in the RX350 and an Atkinson-cycle version of the same engine mated to a two-motor continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) in the hybrid RX450h for a total output of 308 horsepower (only one motor contributes drive force).
The RX350 can be had with front- or all-wheel drive while the RX450h is all-wheel drive only; the 450h’s rear axle is driven by a third motor.
Neither powertrain feels particularly eager to move the RX quickly, even while using the newly standard paddle shifters, but we found the hybrid to be more engaging to drive despite our previous test results showing that it is the slower of the two models.
More Starch and Sport
Lexus says that the 2020 RX has a much stiffer structure, stiffer anti-roll bars, and retuned dampers and springs for an overall firmer suspension.
We couldn’t notice any marked differences versus the 2019 model on the supersmooth Costa Rican roads.
There’s still a good amount of body roll in corners and basically zero steering feedback, but the RX is nicely composed and super quiet.
We’ll see how the new setup fares once we get a test vehicle on Michigan’s broken pavement.
The all-wheel-drive RXs we sampled were all equipped with the optional F Sport package, of which there are now two available.
The first package adds slightly different exterior and interior styling, Sport+ and Custom driving modes, and retuned adaptive dampers.
The second package takes things up a notch with retuned steering, a cold-air intake, and fake engine noises piped through the stereo that we can’t help but admit to enjoying. But don’t worry if you don’t feel the same; you can turn that feature off.
In the Sport and Sport+ settings, the RX’s steering firms up nicely and the powertrains are quicker to respond, but you still shouldn’t call this Lexus “sporty.”
Few will take issue, however, with the idea that RX lacks the dynamics to back up its aggressive styling.
This is a quiet, comfy cruiser first and foremost, with the changes for 2020 only sharpening its edges ever so slightly. Lexus knows not to mess too much with this luxury SUV’s proven formula.