Review update: The 2020 Lexus RX 350 AWD still answers the call

March 23, 2020

The $46,575 2020 Lexus RX 350 AWD answers a very specific call—the call of the mild. It's been popular for two decades because it's a known entity, never too obtrusive, never one to step out of line. We nailed it in our full review thusly: "Performance isn't its big virtue—virtue is." 

That said, we gave the 2020 Lexus RX a TCC Rating of 6.3 out of 10, a good but not excellent score. We dubbed its looks "art-school Waffle House," which still makes us smile, and pointed out how the RX F Sport's front seats were almost as good as the hybrid RX 450h's rear seats, raised slightly to fit batteries beneath them. 

But the RX has changed as Lexus has changed, with little baby steps and big hourglass-grille steps. Truth be told, the 2020 RX has some wild hairs at odds with its well-groomed appearance and reputation. It's still so good at being good—but does that make it better? Here's what I found in a week of hammering it across Alabama and Florida.

Hit: The style. No more calling this one "Room & Bored." From the seductive swoop of the dash to the drag-race red leather of F Sport models, the revamp of the blobby RX into something suave and sensual has been a big win. I was wrong when I said this look would send droves of RX buyers looking for another wagon to wheel around. Lexus buyers want reassurance above all, I think, but it turns out that a look like the one the Nissan Murano has worn for years is reassuring enough.

Miss: The lewdness of it all. Sure, the shape's exciting, but it's a little less perfect than the Murano's execution. It's as if Lexus designers kept hitting F4 in Photoshop until every line stood out in too-sharp relief. When it comes to style, the Lexus RX 350 sticks out like a bright-edged sword in a heap of softly generic crossovers, but that leaves a lot of appealing middle ground to crossover SUVs like the upcoming Genesis GV80.

Hit: It's a smooth operator. My aha moment with the RX came at a gas station near Hank Williams' birthplace—as such moments often do. I left an aspirational bottle of Muscle Milk on the hood and had to spin the car around to get to the pump. Once it rolled into a hoodline groove it stayed put, so smooth was the car's forward motion. Lexus owners are into this, I realized. They're still buying it for its unobtrusive, effortless ways, and they still aren't wrong. All the implied edge and stiffness suggested by the RX's drama-infused shape still slips away under a cloak of softness.

Miss: V isn't always for victory. The RX's noise and harshness remain admirably low, but vibration has crept in to the floorboard and steering wheel. It's so noticeable I reimagined the old Lexus commercials with rolling ball bearings on the hood lines, the Champagne glasses stacked on the hood, as a household calamity waiting to happen. The vibes would scatter that same buckshot over the garage floor; the Champagne glasses would vibrate and crash in a horrible waste of good vintage.

Hit: Safety gear. Every RX has automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, with speed-limit sign detection and options for a crystal-clear surround-view camera system. Toyota does the best job of any automaker in making this lifesaving stuff standard.

Miss: Infotainment agita. Blimey, this touchpad. Kill it with fire. The general idea—making a driver interface act like a home computer—is misguided. The touchpad itself sits right where passengers might rest their hands. At least this Lexus screen finally accepts touch inputs, and we hope that spreads to other Lexus models that bar drivers from getting closer with their machines, in a consensual way.

Hit: Affordable....ish? Most of today's new cars cost more than $37,000, and for ten grand more, the Lexus RX seems reasonable, if only for the classy service and general sense of durability that the brand still brandishes like a cudgel against microplayers like Alfa and Jaguar. 

Miss: Upper-deck pricing. The RX 350 AWD costs $46,575 in base trim, but add on just a few luxuries like Mark Levinson sound, and the RX hurtles toward $60,000. My Lexus RX AWD added blind-spot monitors, a cold-weather package, 20-inch wheels, cooled front seats, Mark Levinson sound, a power hands-free tailgate, a wood steering wheel, and a panoramic roof for a grand total of $59,300. It's enough to make you speak in tongues—but not enough to nudge the RX off the recommended list. 

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2020 Lexus RX350 AWD

Base price: $46,575

Price as tested: $59,300

Drivetrain: 295-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive

EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined

The hits: Refined powertrain, expressive style, good safety gear

The misses: Poor infotainment controller, some cabin vibrations, pricey add-ons.

2020
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2020
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