Test Drives

2020 Lexus RX review: Taking stiff measures



A mid-life update for the Lexus RX does more for its body than its face

Liberia, Costa Rica – This is the facelifted Lexus RX, a 2020 model that sneaks into Singapore around December, in time for a formal launch at January’s Singapore Motorshow. 

Can’t tell it’s new? Don’t be fooled by the seemingly restrained way it’s been redesigned, because it feels like a different car to drive. It’s sharper on the move because it’s been altered at its core. 

First, how to spot the 2020 model. New lamps are the most obvious giveaway, with those at the back given a more exaggerated L-motif treatment. 

The headlamps have an intriguing new tech that Lexus calls BladeScan; LEDs shine their light on mirrors shaped like curved blades, which rotate at high speed. Lexus says it enables such fine illumination control the lights can throw a much wider beam than normal lamps, without dazzling oncoming cars. In tests, drivers could recognise pedestrians at night up to 75 percent further away with the BladeScan lamps than with normal headlights.

I don’t know about you, but I never would have thought of headlights with tiny spinning blade mirrors in a million years, so even though I never got to try the new lamps (I only drove the new RX in the daytime) I am declaring them a work of genius. 

As for other cosmetic changes, they’ve been carried out with the express goal of making the RX more chiseled. 

No one could accuse this of being a timid looking car to start with, so the new stuff is subtle. The line that runs along the lower body now connects to the bottom edge of the front grille (which is itself new), while the rear bumper has a new diffuser design, and revised exhaust tips. Like I said, subtle stuff, but there’s the new car head-on…

… and for comparison, this is what it looked like before the facelift:

If you want to see more change you’ll need X-ray vision, but what’s under the sheetmetal is worth seeing. Lexus has upped the use of body glue and added more than 16 metres of laser screw welding, which is a colder process than spot welding that gives better joins.

By changing the way the RX’s core is put together, Lexus has given it a stiffer, stronger body that should have better crash performance and less noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). The firmer body is also a more solid foundation for the suspension, which itself sees tweaks like more rigid wheel hubs, stiffer anti-roll bars (1mm thicker but hollow-bodied to save weight) and new shock absorbers.

All that’s on paper. In practice, the RX feels like a car transformed. It’s immediately more responsive to steering inputs and less wallowy through bends, though the long wheelbase RX L does float and weave slightly. Body roll seems better contained, so even though the RX is still a tall car, it feels less like one now. 

It wasn’t possible to assess improvements to NVH on the mostly quiet, well-surfaced roads of our test routes, but the most apparent difference is how you can guide the Lexus through corners with far more precision than before.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a driving enthusiast, the RX’s improved composure should be a welcome change. More so if you pair it with the best engine choice, the 3.5-litre V6 petrol-electric setup in the RX 450hL.

It’s worth pointing out that the RX 450hL has never been sold in Singapore, with the RX 350L being the sole option if you want an RX with seven seats, but our experience with the hybrid model applies to the five-seat RX 450h if that makes it to your shortlist when the facelifted car is in town. 

In either model, the petrol-electric drivetrain displays two personalities nicely – the V6 makes a cultured, muted snarl when you ask it for eager acceleration, and yet the Lexus will tiptoe in near silence at town speeds, where the electric motors do their thing. 

READ MORE > Why we’re fans of the V6 engine in the Lexus RX 350

By now it ought to be clear that the hybrid system in the RX is an engineering masterpiece. Previous versions have been reliable, and it’s no picnic getting two motors and a petrol engine to work like a single well-orchestrated ensemble. And more to the point, the hybrid system does what it says on the tin, in the sense that driving with some care and anticipation should allow you to achieve the fuel economy claims. 

That much was always the case — the 2020 RXs have carryover engines — so maybe you’re curious about what’s new inside instead. 

The cabin still feels like it was put together by a small group of ancient Japanese craftsmen, but it’s been updated for current times. The most meaningful change is that you can now prod at the 12.3-inch infotainment screen, the better to operate the newly-available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto pairing systems.

The joystick-style controller is now a flat touchpad that offers feedback as your finger slides along it to highlight different apps or functions.

Those are worthwhile changes, and so is a new slot for your phone that holds it securely and prevents you from looking at the screen.

I drove the RX L, which has three rows of seats, and you might have heard of a six-seat version with two individual captain’s chairs in the middle row. That’s not headed for Singapore, and our market is sticking with the seven-seat version. That makes sense; carmakers think individual chairs are luxurious, but a seven-seater with six people on board is just as comfy as a six-seater with six people on board, so there’s little point paying extra for the captain’s chairs.

In any case, the third row seats have had an update, too. They now have two positions, letting you play a bit with the amount of legroom for the people you consign back there. They’re still best used by kids, but at least the kids themselves will be more comfy than in the previous model.

Overall the fixes like these and the tweaks to the RX’s handling might seem small, but they also seem as if there were carried out in response to customer feedback since they effectively address what were the previous car’s main shortcomings.

If so, that bodes well for the RX, as well as Lexus itself. If you’re going to get a facelift done, you really want the person wielding the knife to listen carefully to what you want first.

 

Lexus RX 450hL

Engine  3,456cc, V6
Power Not stated
Torque 335Nm at 4600rpm 
Gearbox CVT
Electric Motor 167hp/335Nm (front), 68hp/139Nm (rear)
Battery Nickel metal hydride
System Power 312hp at 6000rpm
System Torque  Not stated 
0-100km/h 8.4 seconds
Top Speed 180km/h (estimated) 
Fuel Efficiency 6.5L/100km (estimated)
VES Band / CO2 NA / NA
Agent Borneo Motors
Price NA 
Available TBC

 

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Leow Julen
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.