Are you looking to throw down a cheeky hundred-thousand dollars on something big, comfy and luxurious? Your list of options is populated mostly by the usual suspects, and most of them German. A thorn in the side of a Teutonic monopoly, other than the odd British or Swedish incursion, comes in the form of Toyota’s luxury spin-off brand, Lexus. The RX is its large SUV, and this particular model is the 2020 RX350 Sports Luxury.
Although it sits below the massive 200 Series-based LX, the RX is still a fulsome vehicle. Based on a platform shared with the Kluger, the RX350 is 4890mm long, 1895mm wide, 1690mm tall, all sitting on a 2790mm wheelbase. Those are undoubtedly large-SUV numbers, but the RX is doing its best non-SUV impression: there’s a downward-raking roof line, floating above an intriguing C-pillar design. Up front, the grille has almost completely taken over the entire front end.
It’s worth noting you can also opt for ‘L’ designation with RX, which adds some 190mm in overall length. The wheelbase remains the same, but Lexus squeezes seven seats into that model. Ours gets away with five, but you’re not left wanting for any more space, either in the front or rear. There’s enough leg room to go around for even the taller folk amongst us, and save for whoever might be in the middle back, the seats are comfortable in all of the right places.
As a five-seater, the Lexus RX’s boot measures in at 506L.
Above the 2.0-litre turbocharged RX300 and below the petrol-electric hybrid RX450, RX350 denotes a 3.5-litre petrol V6 under the bonnet. It’s used in a variety of other Toyota and Lexus product, but in this application it’s making 221kW at 6300rpm and 370Nm at 4600–4700rpm.
That naturally aspirated '2GR-FKS’ runs through an eight-speed automatic gearbox to all four wheels. That gives you the means for an 8.0-second 0–100km/h sprint, if you are so inclined.
Fuel consumption is listed at 9.6 litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle, 7.3L/100km on the highway and 13.5L/100km around town. Our time mostly mimicked these figures, with a number sitting at 9.2L/100km thanks to the long drives we took between Canberra and the Blue Mountains. If you spend plenty of time in town, that number will certainly creep northwards.
Lots of little changes have been made to the RX’s chassis, body and suspension for 2020, in a quest to tighten up the dynamic nature of the RX. While I haven't driven the previous RX, our prior testing did indicate the “wafty ride translating to noticeable body roll in the bends. It’s a similar story through the steering wheel, which can feel a little vague and boat-like, though you could argue it suits the vehicle’s relaxed personality”. That was James Wong's review of an RX350 Sports Luxury back in August 2019.
Such critiques haven’t fallen on deaf ears, it seems. Lexus has been chasing a stiffer chassis and more dynamic ride, adding 4.2m of adhesive and 36 spot welds to the body, along with retuned dampers and steering.
The RX hasn’t transformed into something honed, tight or begging to be driven. It still plays to its strength of a wafting, soft ride, and is most happy at a relaxed gait. The steering certainly feels tight and responsive off-centre, but anything beyond that is a mostly typical SUV experience (with a premium finish). While body roll does feel mostly reined in, it’s still there, as the RX leans in fast corners and holds onto the road like a cat clawing up a flyscreen door. It’ll go around a corner pretty quickly, but it doesn't make you really feel like doing it again and again.
What you don’t mind hooking into, however, is a long-legged run down long highways and along ambling country roads. There’s no boatiness or bloatedness in this experience, rather just good old-fashioned comfort. The overall ride is top-shelf. The engine is quiet and relaxed at low revs, kicking down a ratio or two when needed for overtaking or merging. It’s quiet, too. Impressively quiet.
And when the gearbox does spring into action, the 3.5-litre petrol engine is only happy to rev out enthusiastically, pushing the 2085kg of kerb weight well enough to not feel slow. You can see why the likes of Lotus are fans of this engine.
Standard inclusions are undoubtedly Lexus’s strong suit, with a short options list on our tester. So short, there’s only one thing: the $1500 Khaki metallic paint.
Starting at $99,870 (plus on-roads), our Sports Luxury moves to $101,370 before on-road costs. For reference, the range starts at $71,920 for an RX300 Luxury, and tops out at $111,070 for the RX450L Sports Luxury.
What’s included in our starting price? Plenty: hands-free power tailgate, cornering LED headlamps, smart key, electrically adjustable steering column, rear privacy glass, back guide monitor, automatic headlamps and wipers, automatic high beam, 10 airbags, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert brake.
The Sports Luxury scores more: 20-inch alloy wheels, 14-way power-adjustable front seats with driver and passenger memory, semi-aniline leather, heated second-row seats, and heated and ventilated front seats.
F-Sport and Sports Luxury specifications get something new in the headlights: Blade Scan technology. These are adaptive LED headlights that use a spinning blade mirror, rotating at 12,000rpm, to help the direction and intensity of the 10 LEDs in each headlamp. Lexus says this is a world-first technology.
What’s the end result? There is 10 per cent more brightness, the vehicle and driver are able to pick up pedestrians faster in the dark, and there is now the ability to cast more light on areas like road shoulders and intersections.
Lane Trace is Lexus talk for a more advanced form of lane-keep assist, what you could call semi-autonomous driving. It worked mostly well on a round trip from Sydney to Canberra and back in a day, although it had a strange meltdown on what I thought was a well-marked, straight piece of dual carriageway. The RX350 couldn’t settle into a happy place in the lane: pulling right across to the lane’s port side, before mildly freaking out and veering across to starboard. Left to its own devices, the Lexus kept doing it over and over again.
Another bugbear is the traffic sign recognition, which seems to be too accurate for its own good. When cruising along the highway, the system will pick up the changed speed limit on the off-ramp you’ve just passed, or on the back of a bus, or variable speed limits for inclement weather.
Despite these hiccups, safety is a strong standard feature for the RX, as well. There are more acronyms than you’ll know what to do with: LSS+ (Lexus safety system, PCS (pre-collision safety), traffic sign recognition (which I have already mentioned), RACC (radar active cruise control), BSM (blind-spot monitor), RCTA (rear cross-traffic alert), LDW (land-departure warning), LKA (lane-keep assist), AHB (auto high beam) and AHS (adaptive high beam system).
Helped by 10 airbags littered throughout the cabin, the RX has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, which it scored back in October 2015. It scored 83 per cent for adult occupants, 81 per cent for child occupants, 79 per cent for vulnerable road users, and 74 per cent for safety assist.
The interior design is unique, and undeniably Lexus in many ways. Some of the design is reminiscent of other Toyota/Lexus product. I can see similarities with the Camry interior: a certain driver orientation, with lines running from side to side for an asymmetrical design. It all feels quality to the touch, although there is a little bit of parts-sharing that creeps in. The cruise-control stalk is shared with plenty of other (less premium) Toyota product, for example.
There are soft-touch materials just about everywhere inside, and the semi-aniline leather seats are soft and resplendent to sit in, for front and rear users alike.
The 2020 Lexus RX gets a new 12.3-inch display (up from 8.0 inches) that sits large and proud atop the dashboard, like Moses’s stone tablet atop a Sinai of soft-touch materials. It has moved a little closer, and now has touchscreen ability as well. It’s still a fair reach forward for the driver, however, so using the touchscreen ability is either awkward at a standstill or bordering on dangerous while driving.
Infotainment functionality is not really helped by the haptic touchpad in closer reach, which can only yield a flawed experience. It’s difficult to control, leaving navigation of the infotainment a real hit-and-miss affair.
This new infotainment system does now support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with digital radio, native mapping, voice control and a Qi wireless charging spot for your phone. So, at least if your phone is able to play ball, you can lean on intuitive voice controls to get what you need.
The sound system is epic: Mark Levinson by name, crisp and loud by nature. There’s a 360-degree camera system, as well. It’s a decent system, but not as good as other systems in markedly less expensive vehicles. The BMW X5, Holden Acadia and Kia Sorento spring to mind as superior systems.
This new 2020 Lexus RX350 is continuing to play to its strengths of good value and inclusions, with luxury finishes and a unique look, both inside and out. There are fiddly shortcomings, like the infotainment control and some parts of the active-safety regime. If left to play to its strengths, the interior provides a comfortable space to soak up that quiet, refined ride and smooth driveline.