One reason the Lexus RX 350 continues to be a runaway best seller for Toyota’s upscale brand is its near perfection in defining what has become the luxury crossover market.
Oh, there’s longevity on its side to be sure. The 2020 model is the sixth generation for the mid-size crossover based on Toyota’s Highlander platform. But each year Lexus tweaks it a bit, like a plastic surgeon making nips and tucks on a successful movie star’s nose and chin.
So if the last model had a small sunroof, the 2020 has a giant panoramic one. If the last test vehicle didn’t have a heated steering wheel, the current one does.
That’s why the RX 350 is such a joy to drive and with its angular styling as of a couple years ago, including its in-your-face corseted grille, is a delight for the eyes compared to boxier crossovers.
But any way you look at it the RX 350 is roomy, quiet and powerful with as luxurious and quiet an interior as any $60,000 to $80,000 vehicle. Mine was an Atomic Silver RX 350 AWD F Sport model. That’s top of the line for the 350 model. Two hybrids, the 450h and 450hL (an extended version) are the other top tier RX models.
F Sport is a moniker Lexus adds when the model offers a bit more performance than its standard offering. In this case, it adds an extra drive mode, S+, which further enhances steering feedback and offers better throttle response. F Sport also adds that heated steering wheel, AVS (Adaptive Variable Suspension) and spiffs the exterior with unique front and rear fascias, plus F Sport labels.
You’ll like the AVS’s ability to further smooth out the RX 350’s ride. In milliseconds AVS can read the road conditions (think Wisconsin crumbly), and automatically adjust the shock dampening to smooth its ride and improve handling. You’ll never know the system is working, except for the exceptional ride you’ll experience.
I’m a stickler for performance when a vehicle claims to have it, and I could barely feel a difference between acceleration in the Sport (S) drive mode and S+, but a firmer wheel feel is the most obvious change. I’d like to see the acceleration boosted further. Plus if this is a sporty crossover, give me a flat-bottom steering wheel.
Can’t argue with overall performance though. The strong 3.5-liter V6 delivers 295 horsepower, five more than the L versions, which only have a single exhaust.
Power is delivered smoothly via a silky 8-speed automatic. With that I got 19.7 miles per gallon while the EPA says to expect 19 mpg city and 26 highway. If you want better mileage and a lot less acceleration, shift to the Eco mode and prepare to see some hand gestures from those behind you at stoplights.
Or, if you want to do your own shifting (like you’re driving a manual transmission) you can use the now standard paddle shifters behind the power tilt/telescope steering wheel. I tried them out, but the automatic, like F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen, knows what it’s doing, so generally is the better option.
Handling is somewhere between soft and easy, and precise. Again, turn the knob for S or S+ mode if you prefer a firmer wheel feel. This one also came with AWD, a $1,400 up charge on the non-hybrid RX models.
Inside, the silver test crossover looked spectacular. Several riders raved about the RX 350’s look, and rightly so. Seats were a deep but bright red leather with black inserts while the dash was black and doors were too, except for exciting red armrests. Trim was a satin chrome. All the leather was soft and well-padded too, aiding in quieting any road or engine noise. The interior was whisper quiet.
In addition to the spectacular look and feel, the first thing you’ll notice in the F Sport is its giant infotainment screen, a full 12.3 inches. It’s easy to see. Plus it’s a touchscreen, which helps make up for the funky touchpad Lexus still insists on using for some screen tuning, like moving to the navigation screen, etc. Can’t wait until the touchpad goes bye-bye.
The large screen is part of a $3,365 option package that includes a spiffy 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system. If you’re an audiophile this is a good optional combo, if you can stretch your budget a bit.
You also may notice the panoramic sunroof ($500), which has a power sun shade that extends over the second row seat. Only the front portion of the sunroof opens to the sky.
Seats are powered and include three memory buttons for the driver’s seat. I found the seats comfy and supportive enough to make for a good long-distance drive, but the butt pocket seems tighter than in the past. Make sure it fits your derriere comfortably prior to a purchase.
The front seats also are heated and cooled, with three temperature settings each. Rear seats are not heated, which seems a bit odd on a luxury crossover.
But this one came with a color head-up display ($600). I could live without it, but it’s quite bright and easy to see. What I didn’t see though was a wireless phone charger, which I’d expect on a luxury vehicle. These are mostly optional still on lower-level cars and crossovers, but becoming standard on higher priced vehicles. There are plenty of places to plug in electronics though.
Lexus wisely includes its Safety System 2.0 as standard equipment, with 10 airbags, brake assist, Smart Stop technology, pedestrian and bicycle detection, lane departure and lane tracing systems, smart cruise control, Safety Connect (including an SOS system) for 10 years, plus road sign assist, which seemingly magically reads upcoming road signs for you.
An add-on though is a blind-spot monitor with intuitive parking assist plus panoramic view monitor and rear cross-traffic braking. That’ll run you an additional $1,865.
A bevy of other small add-ons, including a touch-free power hatch and thick rubber floor and cargo mats, plus attractive running boards brought the F Sport model from its $52,775 starting price, including delivery, to $60,785. One note on the running boards. They likely would help kids crawl aboard, but are sort of a half-step height. Many adults would not need them and using them made me feel I had to then bend down to enter the crossover, so a bit awkward. If you have a young family the $640 boards may be worth it, otherwise not.
While on the topic of families, the RX 350 excels at carrying five folks as it’s roomy, plus has 18 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seat. Or drop that seat and get slightly more than 56 cubic feet of storage. Oh, and there’s a little hidden storage under the floor next to the spare tire too.
If less sporty is fine with you, and you’d like to save some major coin, consider the base RX 350 that starts at $45,175 with front-wheel drive. Add AWD for $1,400 or move up to the 450h hybrid model that comes with AWD and gets better fuel economy. It starts at $48,000 and delivers 309 horsepower when you combine its electric power with the 3.5-liter V6.
The L version of either the RX 350 or RX 450 adds a third row seat, which is cramped for anyone other than small kids, and is a bit more than four inches longer than standard RX models.
But again, it’s all those choices and the fact that the RX delivers on styling, comfort, power and ride that keep it near the top of sales charts, where it has been since shortly after its introduction in 1998. The 2020 model is the best RX yet.
Hits: Great looks, quiet interior, good power, handling and ride, plus two Sport modes, and AWD. Stylish interior, giant sunroof, head-up display, heated/cooled front seats, heated steering wheel and huge 12.3-inch touchscreen.
Misses: Somewhat tight butt pocket in front seats, no wireless phone charger, needs flat-bottom wheel, still using touchpad for some info screen tuning.
Made In: Cambridge, Ont.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 295 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Weight: 4,222 lbs.
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 192.5 in.
Cargo: 18/56 cu.ft.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 19/26, 19.7 (tested)
Base Price: $52,775 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Blind-spot monitor w/intuitive parking assist, panoramic view monitor, rear cross-traffic braking, $1,865
Cold weather package (windshield wiper deicer, headlamp auto-leveling and cleaners), $315
Color head-up display, $600
Panoramic moonroof, aluminum roof rails, $500
12.3-inch nav system screen, Mark Levinson 15-speaker premium audio system, $3,365
Touch-free power hatch w/kick sensor, $150
Door edge guard, $140
Mud guards, $155
Running boards, $640
All-weather floor liners and cargo mat, $280
Test Vehicle: $60,785
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.