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2020 Lexus RX 450h Review: The Thrifty Uncle

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Auto123 reviews the 2020 Lexus RX 450h.

The Lexus RX has been on the luxury vehicle market for about 15 years now, and it has for most of that time been a trusted choice in the segment of mid-size premium SUVs. Now in its fourth generation, the model getting a few cosmetic and technological updates. Most notably, the 2020 edition finally gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, which will please many potential buyers. It's about time Toyota/Lexus caught up with the rest...

See also: The Lexus RX as Magic Carpet: a Travelogue (My Costa Rican adventure aboard a 2020 RX)

What changed between 2019 and 2020?
Nothing major, actually. On the outside, the front fairing is more massive, and the fog lights have moved to the lower part of the front grille and are in a horizontal position. At the rear, the changes are almost imperceptible; the lights have been changed very slightly, and the exhaust outlets are now hidden under the rear skirt. Lexus also made a few changes to its suspension system, resulting in better vehicle stability.

The interior

2020 Lexus RX 450h, interior
Photo: Lexus
2020 Lexus RX 450h, interior

Here, the huge central screen will likely not leave you indifferent. In the hybrid model we tested, the 12.3-inch screen offers a variety of display types and sizes (unlike the base 4.2-inch screen). First of all, there's a "home" screen that divides up the radio, GPS or any other information such as fuel and energy consumption, phone, etc. on the display.

You can approach the multimedia system in more than one way, either with the new Trackpad touchpad (which does requires a few days of acclimatization) or simply with your fingertips, directly on the screen. However, its general use is still difficult and takes some time to master. Might it even put off some buyers who are less tech-oriented than average? Maybe. Basically, once configured, you don't touch it anymore.

Seat comfort is as regal as ever; the leather is supple and the door trim and materials used are all of very high quality. It's easy to see why this vehicle is so popular with buyers for whom comfort and refinement is important.

2020 Lexus RX 450h, 2nd row
Photo: Lexus
2020 Lexus RX 450h, 2nd row

As for the powertrain, the 3.5L V6 engine still produces 295 hp and 268 lb-ft of torque in the base model. Our hybrid version uses the same powertrain, but adds three electric motors. The first two work on the two front wheels and the third is for both rear wheels, for a total output of 308 hp.

That kooky CVT...
The transmission, an 8-speed automatic unit on the base version, is switched out for a CVT on the hybrid version. There’s no denying, this part of the 450h really disappointed us. Every time you accelerate with any purpose, the engine can be relied on to scream - which obviously makes the experience of coming off the line rather unpleasant. So best to avoid pushing this vehicle unnecessarily and go instead with a cushy, thrifty and comfortable ride to avoid any nervous breakdowns on the part of the engine, or the driver.

The good news is we managed to register fuel consumption under 10.0L/100 km in winter conditions, weathering two snowstorms in a row along the way. That's pretty good, especially compared to the 16.0L/100 km compiled last year during our test of the stretched RX L model.

2020 Lexus RX 450h, front
Photo: Auto123.com
2020 Lexus RX 450h, front

Safety
As you would expect, when you're talking about a Lexus, safety is taken seriously in the 2020 RX. An array of traction and directional control systems in place to ensure perfect stability on twisty or uneven roads are standard on the 450h model (or optional on the 350).

All 2020 RX models come standard with a blind spot monitor, no fewer than 10 airbags, the Lexus 2+ safety system that includes automatic headlights, dynamic cruise control with radar, lane keeping and pre-collision alerts with pedestrian and cyclist detection. And that’s not to mention traffic sign detection and lane keeping assist that helps you stay between the lines; if there are no visible lines on the ground, the system will follow the vehicle in front.  

On the options side, there are four packages available. They include a variety of choices, and you will have to spend between $7,900 and $13,800 to get them. Apart from the 20-inch wheels that give the vehicle a very nice look, the other options are more tech-focused and are more or less essential depending on their importance to you.

2020 Lexus RX 450h, with hybrid system
Photo: Auto123.com
2020 Lexus RX 450h, with hybrid system

The drive
The Lexus RX experience is one of great peace and quiet, even impressive silence, thanks to the excellent soundproofing of the cabin as well as the great comfort delivered by the environment. This comfort obviously comes from the high-quality seats and the level of refinement of the interior, but also from the suspension system, tuned with the precise goal of making all the unpleasantness of our Canadian roads disappear from your mind.

You just have to be gentle with the throttle to avoid making the engine scream. It's possible, via the centre console, to modify the settings a little by choosing Sport or Sport+ mode. The latter effectively kickstarts the powertrain, and then you get a more spirited performance - still under the constraints imposed by this CVT, it must be said.

Otherwise, the RX is relatively nimble on the road, and it doesn't drive like a big brute; the steering is precise, although it lacks a bit of firmness for our taste. True to Lexus tradition...

2020 Lexus RX 450h, three-quarters rear
Photo: Auto123.com
2020 Lexus RX 450h, three-quarters rear

Conclusion
The hybrid model is an interesting variant considering that the RX 350 starts at $58,640 and the hybrid version is only slightly more expensive, at $61,390. This $2,750 difference makes the switch to a hybrid a good option, and not too painful in terms of cost.

The big news for this Lexus in 2020 essentially boils down to the addition of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. This luxury SUV is a smart choice if you're looking for a reliable, comfortable, safe vehicle with enough room for five occupants and their luggage and you can afford a 60k vehicle. The Lexus RX 450h will give you value for your money while maintaining excellent resale value.

2020 Lexus RX 450h, rear
Photo: Auto123.com
2020 Lexus RX 450h, rear

We like

Quality of construction
Refinement
Comfort and silence on board
Fuel economy of this hybrid version

We like less

The CVT
The touchpad
Unnecessarily complex multimedia system

The competition

Acura MDX
Audi Q7
BMW X5
Cadillac XT5
Infiniti QX60
Jaguar F-Pace
Land Rover Range Rover Sport
Lincoln Nautilus
Mercedes-Benz GLE
Volvo XC90

2020 Lexus RX 450h, three-quarters front
Photo: Auto123.com
2020 Lexus RX 450h, three-quarters front

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