THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Very efficient, impeccably tailored cabin, new touchscreens with Apple Carplay/Android auto capability.
- What’s Bad: Vague steering, not very confident in the corners, outmuscled by the competition (but who cares?)
More people choose the Lexus RX over any other luxury crossover on the market. After driving the gas-hybrid RX 450h around for a week, I didn’t find it to be the most luxurious, or the most powerful, or even the most tech-heavy. So what makes this Lexus so popular?
For starters, the RX does what it says on the box and it does it without fault. With every Lexus product you’re buying into a luxury brand that has gone the extra mile to lure buyers away from the largely German competition, starting in 1989 with the beautifully built LS sedan.
The current generation RX debuted for the 2016 model year with a dramatic, new body sporting sharp lines and angled slashes capped off by an enormous rendition of Lexus’ polarizing spindle grille. The designers have stepped out of the box and taken risks and the RX stands out.
A mid-cycle update for 2020 sees a tweaked grille, a slightly revised front face, redesigned LED head and tail lamps, and new wheel designs. The cabin also gets an update by way of new touchscreens and remote touchpad, two additional USB ports for rear passengers, and, most importantly, the addition of Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
The one-up Luxury package adds some of the more desirable features you expect at this level like premium leather, 20-inch wheels, a larger 12.3-inch screen, and a navigation system. If you’re interested in something sportier there are two levels of the F-Sport trim that among other things gets you a unique grille design and front lip, unique wheels, and a sport-tuned adaptive suspension.
Efficiency with Urban Athleticism
If you prioritize efficiency over muscle, the RX 450h might be just the ticket. Motivation comes via a 3.5L V6 and three electric motors, two on the front axle and one driving the rear enabling all-wheel drive. Power is routed through an e-CVT and the electric all-wheel drive system only comes into play when extra traction is necessary. Total system output is rated at 308 hp.
The Acura MDX sport hybrid is probably its closest competitor and offers a similar powertrain, but with combined cycle fuel economy noticeably higher at 9.0 L/100 km versus the Lexus, which is rated at 7.9L/100 km.
Around town is where the RX 450h shines. You’ll use less of the gas engine and more of the electric motors getting that efficiency boost promised by hybrid drivetrains. The transmission and torquey electric motors also make this crossover feel peppy and energetic at lower speeds. Keep your foot down when on a highway on ramp, for example, and the Lexus runs out of steam quicker than you’d expect. It’s here too where you realize the RX 450h is geared to those who prefer a serene and luxurious driving character over athleticism in the corners. The Lexus tends to bob and weave, steering is fingertip light, and the eco-friendly tires are quick to protest manoeuvres that are too spirited.
The RX 450h is all about luxury and efficiency and it shines in that respect with a powertrain that operates seamlessly and fades into the background saving fuel without asking anything from the driver.
Smart Interior Trims with Improved Infotainment System
The cabin has always been a Lexus strongpoint and this RX is no exception. From the design and material selection to the plush leather upholstery and sharp high-resolution displays it is a visual feast. Details like laser-etched wood grain trim and an analog clock make it feel like you spent your money wisely.
The RX stands on fairly even ground with other mid-size luxury competitors offering enough room to pass the test where I sit comfortably behind my six-foot self. It betters the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE in cargo space when the second row is in place but not when you fold it down.
For families that require more space, the lengthened RX 450h L adds a third row of seating that is good for transporting the little ones but not so much adults. Being a Lexus, much of the tech comes standard but stepping up to the Executive or F Sport 3 trim gets you power-folding rear seats, a head-up display and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. None of which were on my test vehicle, and really weren’t missed.
For 2020 the infotainment screen is new and now touch-enabled. If equipped with the luxury package like on my test vehicle its sizes up from 8-inches to 12.3. While touchscreens aren’t the best way to interact with the various apps and systems, the old Lexus mouse was a sore point and made for a frustrating user experience.
Thankfully, that mouse has been replaced with a touchpad that’s easier to use but not perfect as the cursor still snaps around the screen often skipping over what you want to select. It’s a good thing then that you can now poke at what you want and it will respond in kind. The system is snappy and the pin-sharp graphics and muted colour palette convey that luxury feel expected at this price range.
Families will feel better knowing that the Lexus RX is an IIHS Top Safety pick and comes standard with the full gamut of driver aids, including blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, a pre-collision system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic high beams, dynamic cruise control, and lane tracing assist.
The Bottom Line
If you’re set on a Lexus RX, like the majority shopping in this segment, then the hybrid is the only logical choice. At just $2000 more than the less efficient, less powerful RX 350 it makes little sense not to go this route, especially when factoring in the significant amount you’ll save on fuel.
The RX is a complete package. It might not be the sportiest, or the most powerful but it doesn’t need to be. It delivers the right blend of utility and luxury that families in this segment are looking for and it’s easy to see why so many keep coming back to it.