Lexus marks its 30th anniversary globally this year, but the Japanese brand has already marked several major milestones in its brief history. Twenty years ago, it launched the world’s first luxury crossover – the Lexus RX300 – and now it’s back with the 2020 RX.
“The 1999 Lexus RX was the antithesis of the big, heavy body-on-frame SUV. It was nimble. It was aerodynamic. It was plush. The crossover term that’s synonymous with a vehicle of this type had not been coined [at the time]," says Michael Moore, national manager of product marketing in North America for Lexus.
Another major release came in 2005. The RX400h was the world’s first luxury gas-electric hybrid, went from 0-100 km in 7.3 seconds, achieved 33 per cent better overall fuel economy and 67 per cent better fuel economy in the city than its gas-powered sibling. It also had a faster acceleration time than its counterpart – a half-second quicker.
After 20 years, the RX is still going strong. It’s the best-selling model in the Lexus lineup in Canada, having sold 24,111 vehicles according to a report by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. For 2020, the RX gets refreshed with exterior and interior design tweaks and more connectivity and technology features than ever before.
While the engines are a carryover and changes to the exterior styling are minimal, noticeable improvements can be found inside. The new centre displays – there are 8-inch and 12.3-inch options – now have touch capability, which is a welcome improvement over last year’s remote touchpad on the centre console. The touchpad is still available, but I wouldn’t recommend using it. It’s fickle, frustrating and distracting.
The cabin is luxurious and beautifully appointed with well-crafted materials. Inside, you can opt for either a two- or three-row configuration, the latter dubbed RXL. The third-row seats are actually usable – even for adults. Two different seating positions in the back row offer more leg room. The second-row captain chairs are comfortable and supportive, making it easier to enter the third-row seats. When not in use, the third row drops effortlessly with the press of a button located in the cargo area. It also automatically lowers the headrests so you don’t have to fiddle with removing them every time you lower the seats. When down, the third row forms a large, flat cargo surface, which is handy for hauling longer items. Accessing the cargo area is easier now, too, thanks to a new power-operated system that lets you kick under the bumper to automatically raise the tailgate. Sure, it’s not the first brand to offer it – Ford and Mercedes-Benz have similar features – but it’s nice to finally see it on the RX.
Another distinct feature that sets the RX apart from many of its competitors is its Canadian connection. The RX rolls off the line in Cambridge, Ont. - the only plant outside of Japan to build the RX. The human touch also weighs heavily in the production process. “I think you’d be surprised by how much manual labour and how little automated work is done in the plant. We use automated labour to do things that are unsafe for humans to do, like welding and painting. That’s done by robots. But virtually everything else on the line is done by a human,” says Paul Williamson, head of global marketing at Lexus International. He tells me this from the backseat of a 1999 Lexus RX300 I’m test driving; after all these years, it’s still an impressive ride that was way ahead of its time.
The 2020 RX goes on sale in the third quarter of 2019. Prices are not yet available.
- Base price: TBC
- Engine: 3.5-litre DOHC V-6 with 295 hp or 3.5-litre DOHC V-6 with two electric motors, for a combined total output of 308 hp
- Transmission/Drive: 8-speed automatic (RX350) or CVT (RX450h, hybrid); AWD
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km city and highway): TBC
- Alternatives: BMW X5, Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, Infiniti QX60, Lincoln Nautilus, Cadillac XT5
The RX’s exterior gets minor tweaks – only a keen eye will spot the differences between the 2020 version and the 2019 model. The subtle changes include a restyled spindle grille with a diamond-insert pattern, new front LED headlights, fog lights and rear taillights. Eighteen-inch and 20-inch wheels are redesigned, too.
A lavish, sophisticated and comfortable interior with more technology than ever before. The new touchscreen makes it easy and quick to access the entertainment, navigation and infotainment systems. And new connectivity features, such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Alexa integration, are welcome additions.
The engines are a carryover from 2019. The RX450h has a 3.5-litre V-6 paired to an electric motor, which pumps out 308 hp. Sure, it’s not a jaw-dropping number, but it’s more than enough to haul kids to school. The ride is refined, smooth, quiet and returns respectable fuel-economy numbers. Over a full day of test drives, the 450hL averaged 8.6L/100 km combined driving by day’s end – not bad for a vehicle of this size. The other engine option in the RX350 is a 295-hp, 3.5-litre V-6.
The RX comes with a package of bundled safety technology dubbed “Lexus Safety System+ 2.0.” It includes a more advanced precollision system, which can detect a preceding vehicle or pedestrians in low-light conditions and even bicycles in the daytime. Also part of the package is Lane Trace Assist, which keeps your vehicle centred in the lane, and active high-beams that automatically dim if there’s another car coming at you on a dark country road. An extra bonus? The package is standard; no need to cough up extra cash for it.
The RX450hL’s cargo area is spacious, even with all three rows in use. The third-row seats drop easily by pushing a button. A new feature makes it a cinch to access the cargo area when your hands are full – simply kick under the bumper to automatically raise the tailgate.
The verdict: 8.5
After Lexus launched the world’s first luxury crossover two decades ago, the Canadian-made RX is still going strong. It’s luxurious, fuel-efficient, and loaded with new conveniences and safety technology.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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