DETROIT — Let us start with the upside of the 2020 Lexus RX 350L AWD.
It is a luxury crossover in every sense of the word.
With a 3.5-liter V6 engine under the hood and an eight-speed automatic transmission, this Lexus RX had enough oomph to handle the speed needed to navigate an urban expressway and the spurts of power required to get out of harm’s way quickly. Our test vehicle had paddle shifters which we never used.
For 2020, the RX has been equipped with Android Auto and a new, what they say was a user-friendly, touchscreen with a “dynamic voice” and navigation. It also had Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa. Since we did not need the 12.3-inch navigation screen in our hometown, we have no idea whether it was dynamic.
They also said the driving dynamics and improved steering response made for a smoother ride. Indeed, the RX was smooth, handling was easy and, of course, it was quiet. About the only gripe we had in that department was that the climate-control fan was a little loud.
It is hard to believe but the Lexus RX has been around for 20 years. We remember being at the Chicago Auto show when it was introduced. This year, the spindle grille has become the signature of the lineup; thus, it was prominent on the RX 350L.
Lexus said the hand-drawn angles of the grille-surround are repeated at each corner of the bumper to smooth the visual flow. The driving dynamics were altered for this model year. Both the front and rear stabilizer bars are now hollow to reduce weight, yet their thicker diameters and reinforced bushings help reduce body roll and improve steering response. The shock absorbers have been re-tuned to work with the stiffer roll bars, while upgraded dampers feature a new friction control device that helps to control high-frequency vibrations for a smoother ride.
We do not remember any yaw or sway in the RX during our week-long test drive. It was so smooth we often forgot that the RX was a crossover and not a large luxury sedan.
A stiffer suspension design reduced the noise and vibration from the road. On turns, the added active corner braking helped prevent understeering by braking the inner wheel and providing more stability to the vehicle’s handling. We have no idea whether this did what it was intended to do, but we know that the RX was one of the most stable crossovers we have test-driven.
Additional rigidity was achieved through additional spot welds and the use of adhesives.
All that sounds great, but as a designer once told us, luxury is conveyed in the interior of a vehicle. And Lexus interior designers did an admirable job.
The RX 350L luxury crossover haptic lock and unlock, a moonroof, extenders on the front seats that were heated and cooled as well as pushbutton start-stop. There was also a heated steering wheel. Our test vehicle had a two-tone interior, a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel and 12-way power front seats and a head-up display.
Lexus’ Enform app suite is always useful; it had the Amazon Alexa Integration. Streaming off our smartphone could be done via Bluetooth and it did not require that we do anything extra.
The build quality was impressive. And the second-row captain’s seats were heated. All the seats were soft, there was an ambience of luxury and the RX 350L had the sturdiness that comes from excellent craftmanship, a Lexus strong point.
There were three ride modes: eco, normal and sport. The RX 350L had an analog clock in the middle of the climate vents which were under the infotainment screen. The instruments were a combination of analog and digital readouts. There was a TFT screen between the speedometer and the odometer.
Like many automakers, with an abundance of features, the RX 350’s controls for many of them were on a menu and could be opened on the TFT screen and turned on or off.
There was a surround camera, running boards, a 15-speaker premium audio system package, blind-spot monitor with intuitive parking assist, a panoramic view mirror and rear cross-traffic braking.
The RX 350L was a top-notch luxury crossover — until we got to the third row. It was just inadequate. And that is being kind. Quality and material were fine. But getting into the third row was a challenge for anybody approaching normal size.
Headroom was nonexistent — heck, the deployed headrest touched the headliner. It was that tight. Getting out of that row was so daunting that we opted to climb through the gap in the captain’s seats and exit through the rear doors.
It appears the three-row RX 350L was an extension of the regular two-row version, an afterthought, and designed to take advantage of the crossover demand in the market. The best thing we could say about the third row could be the seats were power-folding up and down.
If you need a third row and have small kids, the vehicle could work for you. The 2020 Lexus RX 350L we tested was $63,540.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.