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In the beginning, Lexus created the 1998 RX 300 -- the first luxury crossover SUV -- and it was good. More than 20 years later, the RX is Lexus's best-selling model, but also finds itself in a market crowded with compelling premium and luxury SUVs. The fourth-gen model offered solid performance and comfort, but awkward and outdated technology had become the Lexus' Achilles' heel. Thankfully, the refreshed 2020 Lexus RX, which debuted earlier this year, aims to shore up that weakness with a much-needed update to the dashboard and safety technology.
Much of what's new for 2020 happens beneath the sheetmetal, where the RX's chassis has undergone significant stiffening. Lexus tells me that there's been a tenfold increase in structural adhesive in and new "laser screw weld" technique that allows the automaker to squeeze in twice as many welds points without damaging the chassis' metal due to overheating. The result is a firmer platform, which allowed Lexus' engineers to stiffen the dampers, roll bars and other moving bits for a claimed improvement in handling.
On the road, the changes the driving dynamics are subtle enough that I had a hard time noticing any improvement with a back-to-back ride in the 2019 model. Turn-in feels a hair sharper and more responsive, but overall this still feels like the same RX as before. New "active corner braking" stability control should aid at near the limit handling, but there wasn't much of that during my fairly relaxed day of driving.
However, I did notice a much larger reduction in cabin noise at speed. There's a lot less road and wind noise and the thump over bumps is also less pronounced, which makes the SUV a much more relaxing commuting cocoon.
Externally, the RX's design has been sharpened and simplified with a host of tweaks to the front and rear fascias that have improved the aesthetic of the the still aggressively styled SUV. The optional LED headlamps have new look and the grille's design has been cleaned up a bit. Lexus' design language has started to grow on me and this refresh is a step in the right direction, but it's still not quite my cup of tea.
My favorite new improvement to the 2020 RX formula is the available 12.3-inch split-screen display on the dashboard. It's now touch sensitive and sits closer to the driver for easier reach. (The old, set-back infotainment design was just awkward and left the dashboard feeling huge and empty.) The larger, closer screen also appears to have a higher resolution and more vibrant colors that pop more clearly in daylight.
In addition to touching the screen, drivers can also use the Remote Touch Pad on the center console to control the infotainment system. I find this useful for clicking around while driving as the pad falls nicely at the hand at my driving position, but other members of Roadshow's staff have found the touch pad to be more distracting than helpful.
The Lexus Enform software and its menu structure have slightly improved. Drivers also have the option to connect to Apple CarPlay to bring their own apps on the road. The 2020 RX is also the first ever Toyota/Lexus vehicle to support Android Auto and one of the first vehicles I've seen to support the new widescreen support for Google's smartphone software. Both phone mirroring technologies are standard on all RX models, even with the base 8-inch display that I was unable to test.
Speaking of new standard features, the Lexus Safety System+ 2.0 is also now standard equipment across lineup. In addition to pre-collision detection and automatic emergency braking, this generation of the automaker's driver aid suite upgrades with new road sign detection, daytime bicyclist detection and low-light pedestrian detection.
Lane-keeping steering assist has also been upgraded to Lane Tracing Assist, which helps keep the RX centered in its lane rather than ping-ponging back and forth between the markings. The system is now able to use a leading car as its guide for lane keeping if road markings are missing or not visible. The system works well with the distance-sensing adaptive cruise control all the way down to stop and go speeds.
Pretty much the rest of the Lexus RX experience is unchanged for this 2020 model year refresh. Interior volume for people and cargo is also unchanged for 2020 and the SUV is still available in five and seven-passenger configurations. Lexus expects that the three-row RX L models will make up a larger percentage of sales for this generation, but that's a change in customer behavior.
The RX 350's 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 engine has gone untouched and rocks the same 295 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque as before. It's still available in front- or all-wheel drive configurations, returning 23 and 22 combined miles per gallon, respectively. Meanwhile, the hybrid-powered RX 450h continues with the 3.5-liter V6 and dual electric motor all-wheel drive setup. Output is steady at a combined 308 horsepower and fuel economy steps up to 30 combined mpg.
The 2020 RX models should hit the road in fall 2019. The update keeps intact its smooth powertrain options and even improves its comfortable, quiet ride. And infusion of tech -- for both infotainment and safety -- helps to keep the luxury SUV competitive for a few more years while Lexus works on a bolder replacement for its most popular model.
Pricing shouldn't stray too far from the current $44,845 starting price for the RX 350 and $47,270 for the RX 450h, but expect more concrete figures closer to launch. If you're on the fence about the 2019 RX right now, it'll be worth the few months' wait for the slightly improved 2020 model.
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