Behind the Wheel

2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Review: Refined, responsive, and hampered by its infotainment technology

The stance and fascia of the model make it more crossover-like and harkens back to original RX design.

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

There is no shortage of SUVs for buyers to choose from. When it comes to luxury vehicles the market is split between sport-centric engaging models and more typical family haulers. As mass market SUVs become more premium and offer advanced technology and high-quality interiors, the cost of going all-in on a luxury model might make buyers question if it's worth it.

The revisions to the 2020 Lexus RX 350 are made to persuade customers that a $50,000 luxury model is still the right way to go. But are the changes enough?

2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Revisions to the car's front end have helped with its much-derided looks.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The exterior of the RX has gotten refreshed to make it less hand vacuum-y and more crossover. That's not a bad thing. It's now more attractive than before though that's not really saying much. This isn't exactly the sales segment for sexy design.

Lexus has improved the model's stability on the road, steering responsiveness, and ride quality. The SUV is a better drive than before though still not in the same room as the conversation being had by Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz models. Its all-wheel drive helped the all-season shoes stick to dry roads with ease.

The RX 350 continues to prove easy to steer and a breeze to park though its A-pillar hampers visibility during turns. That's not an uncommon complaint of SUV drivers regarding a number of models.

The wheel feels good in-hand, but the wheel itself is a bit fat. The car's heated steering wheel feature only warms small sections of the wheel at three- and six o'clock, which is disappointing.

2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport The steering wheel of the model is fatter than what one may expect from the SUV.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Lexus did not update the powertrain of the model as part of the refresh. It still has a 3.5-liter V6 under the hood that delivers a competent 295 horsepower in the 350 F-Sport grade and is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain feels more responsive in this edition than it did in the last. The SUV gets 23 mpg combined, which isn't ideal, but not terrible.

The interior of the RX 350 F-Sport tester featured the new Circuit Red color throughout that garnered several compliments by passengers and passersby during the week-long test drive. The red-covered seats were comfortable, even on extended trips. Four adults easily fit in the two-row SUV.

Still, the overall Lexus drive and ride experience is hampered by the SUV's infotainment system. Lexus wins points for moving its available 12.3-inch screen 5.5 inches closer to front seat occupants. Despite spending a week behind the wheel, it was just easier to not deal with the infotainment system rather than use the awkward touch pad to plug in addresses for navigation and change the radio system.

2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport Some design elements of the RX are outdated, like the cell phone holder.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The Lexus now comes with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Amazon Alexa compatibility but during the test drive, despite several attempts with different cords and a variety of iPhones, the system never worked with the phones.

There are some design elements that are outdated. Its heated/ventilated seat controls appear from a lower-class parts bin while the slot cell-phone holder is from a small period of design history that is best left behind.

As tested, the RX came with a number of safety technologies that are part of the Lexus Safety Suite. None of the included features of the Safety Suite are obtrusive or annoying in their employment.

2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport This car has the new Circuit Red upholstery throughout the cabin.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

The tested 2020 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport has a starting price tag of $47,950.

The Lexus RX 350's closest competition is the Infiniti QX50. Its bests that model by a large margin. With the Nissan Murano getting a bit long in the tooth and Chevrolet Blazer coming in around the same price as the RX with less premium appointments, it's easy to make the argument that the RX is the right model for many buyers.

Still, it faces stiff competition from the spunkier and more agile Acura RDX, which easily earns top accolades for SUVs at this price point and size.

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The 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo is joining the company’s lineup

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

The decision to add a turbocharged engine variant to the Mazda3 was met with praise for those who like getting in a little more excitement behind the wheel. Now It has been announced that the Mazda3's crossover counterpart, the CX-30 is getting the same treatment.

The 2021 Mazda CX-30 will be available with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque when the tank is filled with 93 octane fuel. The performance drops to 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque when owners fill up with 87 octane. Engines with the turbo-four also get standard all-wheel drive.

2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo The body styling is pretty much the same as the rest of the Mazda CX-30 lineup, but it does have unique wheels and other attributes.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

To accommodate the new engine option, Mazda has not had to change the outward appearance of the model In earnest but does add some highlights including 18-inch black aluminum alloy wheels, larger tailpipes, gloss black door mirrors and a "TURBO" badge on the liftgate.

As the most premium Mazda CX-30 model, it comes with a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, black upper dash and chrome finishes. The features list includes a Bose 12-speaker audio system and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen..

The CX-30 2.5 Turbo, as the models with the engine will be known. Also comes equipped with Smart City Brake Support Reverse and rear cross-traffic braking technologies that can sense a vehicle coming into the lane of travel when reversing, warn the driver, and apply the brakes in order to possibly avoid a collision. Additional available safety technologies include a 360-degree view monitor, Active Drive Display, traffic sign recognition, and adaptation front lighting.

2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo The CX-30 debuted just last year.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

The 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo is scheduled to go on sale by the end of 2020. Specific packaging and pricing details will be announced in the coming months

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Volkswagen has chosen a name for its new SUV.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The forthcoming new Volkswagen SUV will be called the Taos after the town in New Mexico. The name was chosen to specifically appeal to North American customers, who are the target market for the SUV, which Will slot below the Tiguan in the VW lineup.

“We're thrilled to announce the name for the newest member of the Volkswagen family," said Hein Schafer, Senior Vice President for Product Marketing and Strategy, Volkswagen of America, Inc. "It was important to choose a name that really embodied the nature of the car and the town of Taos, New Mexico was a perfect fit. It's a small city that offers big things—from outdoor adventure to arts and design and great cuisine."

Taos New Mexico Taos, New Mexico is the namesake for a forthcoming Volkswagen model.Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

"We are excited that Volkswagen has named their sport utility vehicle after the town of Taos," said Taos Mayor Dan Barrone. "It's a great opportunity for our community to share its rich history and culture alongside Volkswagen with its unique and rich history and culture."

Taos, New Mexico is a thriving small town of 6,000 people. It has a 400-year history and a 1,000-year-old Native American community just a few miles from the center fo town. Artists and skiers flock to the city, which is noted for its stunning landscapes.

Incidentally, Taos was also home to John Muir, an engineer turned mechanic, and author of "How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step procedures for the Compleat Idiot." First published in 1969, and illustrated by local artist Peter Aschwanden, this counter-culture guide to Volkswagen repairs quickly developed a popular following. The book, started in Muir's Taos shop, has helped keep countless VW models running, from Beetles and Buses to Type 3 and Type 4 models.

Volkswagen promises that the new Taos “will offer great value, excellent fuel economy, and great packaging, as well as advanced infotainment and driver-assistance features”.

The 2022 Volkswagen Taos will be revealed on October 13.

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