Behind the Wheel

2020 Lexus RC 350 F Sport Review: A bit of personality but not much pizzaz

The coupe is a comfortable car whether commuting, running errands, or diving into corners on rural roads.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Every automaker, whether through millions of dollars in marketing spend, through design, or simply through the type of people who buy their cars, has an image.

Ferrari is for folks who are passionate about racing heritage, soul and emotion. McLaren is for people who are enamored with technical wizardry and an uncompromising attention to detail and precision. Lamborghini is for... people who like scissor doors and showing off.

2020 Lexus RC 350 F-SportThe car features many of the same design characteristics as other models in the Lexus lineup.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Stereotypes can be a bit unfair, but there is often more than a bit of truth underlying the basic premise. That's why it's easy to think of Lexus as the boring, reliable luxury car brand — because it is.

You know what you're going to get when you walk into a Lexus dealership. Impeccable reliability, terrific engines, exceptional comfort, and not a lot of thrills. A Lexus is like a fancy Toyota, right? A way to get from point A to point B quickly and easily in something beige, bland, and boring.

Not so fast.

The Lexus RC 350 F Sport, my test car for this week, would like to have a word about this particular stereotype. My first clue was when I opened the door and my optic nerves were assaulted with brilliant yellow accents on the seats. Think of the most yellow thing you can imagine, then make that a bit more yellow, and that's what this color was.

2020 Lexus RC 350 F SportThe F Sport variant of the RC includes more performance-focused equipment and tuning.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

But it was subtle. It wasn't overwhelming. It was like walking into your grandmother's sitting room and seeing a Moooi Horse Lamp standing there — something so out of place, but yet so perfect, that you can't help but smile.

(The Horse Lamp is a life-size black horse statue with a lamp sticking out of its head. You might have run into it at the British Airways First Class Lounge at Heathrow. It's bonkers and wonderful and costs as much as a decent used car.)

Back to the car. The Lexus RC is a grand tourer, with 2+2 seating and, naturally, the rear seats are totally and utterly useless except for maybe holding an overnight bag. My test unit was the RC 350 AWD F Sport, meaning it sported a larger engine (3.5-liter V6 making 311 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque) and all-wheel drive. Rear-driven variants are available if you don't anticipate needing the extra traction.

It's not particularly fast, going from zero-to-60 mph in six seconds, but it's also not particularly slow either. It's also extraordinarily heavy, tipping the scales at nearly two tons. Yet even with the bulk, it handles superbly on the road. The engine (and I love Lexus engines) is always responsive and it makes a lovely purr when you wind it out. But again, it's subtle. It doesn't shout or bark like some other sports cars might.

The suspension is firm but not intolerable. The seats are supportive but still comfortable. The exterior is sporty but not shouty. It's still a Lexus after all.

The large center infotainment screen sits high above everything else, easy to see, but far out of reach. There's no touchscreen here which means you're forced to use the awful trackpad. Newer Lexus models are adopting touchscreens, which is good, but this RC is a bit too old for that. No matter. You have CarPlay (which is even featured in the press shots for the car, suggesting Lexus might know how bad its infotainment system is), and that's fine. There's no good place to put your phone, however.

2020 Lexus RC 350 F SportThe car is available with fun upholstery colors.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Then there's the weirdest thing of all: there's a large hump on the floor of the driver's side, inconveniently placed right where your right leg should be. It's only on the all-wheel-drive variant, thanks to the placement of the transmission and the front drive shaft. But why would it be in the worst place possible for the driver?

And then, of course, I remembered that Lexus is a Japanese company and the Japanese drive on the right. The hump was out of the way if the driver is on the right side of the car. But here it was, giving me a place to rest my calf in the U.S.-spec car. At first I was annoyed, but the hump grew on me. Much like the yellow accents all over the interior.

This car had a bit of personality after all. It was a boring, beige luxury car. It had a bit of flair. Sure, the RC 350 is a Lexus — but don't fall for the stereotypes. There's more than a bit of excitement to be found in this beast.

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The Hyundai Palisade got a mild refresh for 2023.

Hyundai

Earlier this year, Hyundai announced changes to the Palisade for 2023. The list includes a new front fascia, an updated grille with new headlights and daytime running lights, a 12-inch touchscreen with navigation, and more. A new XRT trim joined the lineup as well, bringing brawny off-road styling and dar exterior trim. Today, Hyundai announced pricing for the SUV, which starts at a little more than $32,000.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeA new XRT trim adds rugged styling. Hyundai

The Palisade's powertrain carries over from 2022, which includes a 3.8-liter V6 that makes 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. Inside, the SUV got several new and updated technology features, including a more powerful wireless device charging pad, an updated digital key system, and a larger infotainment display.

As Hyundai's flagship SUV, the Palisade edges on luxury territory, with plush leather upholstery and a serene cabin that offers excellent noise cancellation and comfort. Captain's chairs and seven-passenger seating are available, but a second-row bench comes standard and brings eight-passenger capacity to the SUV.

Muscular SUVs are more popular than ever before, so Hyundai gave the posh Palisade an outdoorsy treatment with its XRT trim. The new Palisade XRT builds on the SEL trim with 20-inch wheels, a more rugged bumper and lower body cladding, a sunroof, and leatherette upholstery. To be clear, XRT is an appearance package that does not improve off-road capability to a large degree.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeTop trims border on the quality and design of some luxury brands. Hyundai

Standard safety equipment is generous, and includes forward collision warnings with avoidance, lane keep assist, lane following assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, driver attention warnings, high beam assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Pricing for the base Palisade SE starts at $36,245, which includes a $1,295 destination charge. The top Calligraphy AWD model starts at $52,095 after destination. All-wheel drive is available for all trims as an added-cost option.

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The Ascent got updated styling and fresh tech.

Subaru

Subaru's lineup is full of useful, adventure-ready vehicles, but most are not accommodating for full-size families. The Ascent solved that issue for the automaker a few years ago, and has been a popular family option since. It got a mild update for 2023 with a facelift and new tech. The Ascent comes in five trims: Base, Premium, Onyx Edition, Limited, and Touring. It's expected to go on sale in fall 2022.

The Subaru comes with a new front fascia design that adds a new grille and aggressive styling up front. Lower air ducts help improve aerodynamics, and in higher trims the components come with chrome trim. The SUV's C-shaped taillights got a refresh as well, and now feature a sharper shape to better match the vehicle's overall styling.

2023 Subaru AscentThe new front fascia design is more aggressive than before. Subaru

The Ascent's powertrain remains in place, which is a turbocharged 2.54-liter four-cylinder making 260 horsepower. It sends power to all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission that offers a simulated eight-speed manual shifting mode. Subaru's X-Mode driving mode comes standard, which alters throttle response and other vehicle behavior to maintain traction in slippery conditions. Torque vectoring, which allows the vehicle to shift torque between wheels that need it most, also comes standard.

A new Onyx Edition trim joins the Ascent line for 2022. It brings a standard 11.6-inch touchscreen with navigation, a Harman Kardon sound system, power seats, and a panoramic sunroof. The base Ascent comes with features such as 18-inch wheels, USB inputs, tri-zone automatic climate controls, three rows of seating, and a whopping 19 cupholders. Subaru also offers an optional Cabin Connect system, which allows the driver or front passenger to communicate to people behind them through the stereo using a front-cabin-mounted microphone.

2023 Subaru AscentThe Ascent's interior is available with great tech, such as an 11.6-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Subaru

Subaru EyeSight safety equipment comes standard with every Ascent. The system is improved for 2023 with a wider field of vision and new software. A new wide-angle camera joins EyeSight's existing two-camera setup to provide better pedestrian and cyclist detection when approaching intersections. Blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, and lane change assist are available.

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