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 Tahoe has three available powertrains.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

When I write car reviews, I don't typically say very much about the engine and drivetrain unless there's something particularly interesting or unique about it.

I believe most car buyers don't really care about things like zero to 60 mph times or how many gears a transmission has. Those are features and statistics, and they're an imperfect measurement of an automobile.

I'm a fan of the Good-Better-Best school of cars, and it looks a bit like a bell curve. There aren't any genuinely terrible new cars sold today, so at worst, you're getting something that's Good. I'll call that the bottom 20 percent of the market. Sometimes these cars have engines that really are too weak and should probably be avoided, and I'll mention that in my review.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel-powered versions of the Tahoe look just like gasoline-powered Tahoes.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Then there's the class of Better, or the middle 60 percent. When I review these cars, I'll include a throwaway line about the engine or drivetrain as it's not worth mentioning in depth. They get the job done, but there's nothing to get excited about.

Then there's that top twenty percent where the magic happens. Whether it's the perfect majesty of a Rolls-Royce V12, the throaty bark of a Lamborghini V10, or even the brilliance of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid's effortless 52 miles per gallon — these are engines worth discussing.

And so it is again with my test car this week: the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. We've already reviewed two of the Tahoe's sister vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Despite being from the same family, they're definitively different branches.

But under the hood of the Tahoe is an engine that is so firmly lodged in the Best category that I can't help but write hundreds of words about it. It's the 3.0-liter six-cylinder "baby" Duramax turbodiesel that was in the works at GM for more than a decade.

It gives terrific fuel economy (for a giant truck, anyway) and fantastic torque in everyday driving. I find it far preferable to the extraordinarily thirsty 6.2-liter V8 that I had in the Yukon and the Escalade and heartily recommend it to anyone buying a GM full-size SUV or half-ton pickup. That's even more impressive because the 6.2-liter V8 is already an upgrade over the smaller 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard in most Tahoe trims.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel The engine is a mighty six-cylinder.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It sports 277 horsepower, which doesn't sound like a lot, but horsepower is a poor quantifier of engine performance. Because it's a diesel and because it has a turbocharger, the baby Duramax has gobs of torque with which to pull away from stoplights or accelerate on a hill, or when you're trying to pass someone and you need to accelerate from 55 to 75 mph as quickly as possible.

The Tahoe's diesel engine excels in all these scenarios while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined in the RWD trim that I drove. That's a healthy improvement over the 16 mpg combined from the 6.2L and four-wheel drive-equipped Yukon. It's worth noting that the four-wheel drive diesel fares a little worse, getting 22 mpg combined, but that's still far better than the traditional gasoline engine.

It does all this, and it can even tow up to 8,200 pounds when properly equipped, but most people will never tow anything heavier than a small horse trailer or a boat with their full-size SUV. If you're hauling that much weight on the regular, you've likely opted for a heavy-duty pickup.

The irony of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is twofold. For one, some were pulling similar testing shenanigans that Volkswagen was — it's just that VW was the first to get caught. And second, those VW diesel engines were fantastic. They were torquey and excelled in everyday driving, pesky pollution aside.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel Tahoes are branded with the Duramax name.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

There's a dirty secret to the horsepower numbers that most carmakers cite: they peak at very high RPMs that average drivers will never reach. But torquey turbocharged engines like this baby Duramax? It generates 95% of its 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,250 RPM, and then peak torque runs all the way from 1,500 to 3,000 RPM. That means you're in the prime torque band nearly continuously.

In plain English, that means it's way better to drive. It's more fun, it's more efficient, and thanks to all manner of fancy technology, diesel engines aren't weird and finicky anymore.

Yes, you should probably plug it in if you park it outside in frigid weather. But other than that one minor caveat, this diesel is nonpareil.

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The Ford Explorer Timberline joins the 2021 Explorer King Ranch as a new model for 2021.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Following in the footsteps of the Raptor and Tremor versions of Ford trucks, the 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline debuts with a host of new equipment designed to make the popular SUV a more capable off-roader. Like what Subaru is doing with its Wilderness packaging, Ford will carry over the Timberland trimmings to multiple models.

"Ford is delivering on more capable SUVs with Timberline. Consumer data has shown us that now more than ever, customers want to get outside and explore nature with friends and family," said Kumar Galhotra, president, Americas & International Markets Group, Ford Motor Company. "Timberline hits a new sweet spot with these customers who want an ideal combination of passenger space, moderate off-road capability and great manners around town."

The Explorer Timberline has a new Forged Green Metallic exterior color. It has a blackout treatment on the headlights and taillamps, as well as the Ford oval. Timberline badges feature on the C-pillars and lift gate. Red Ember tow hoods are at the front and rated at 150 percent gross vehicle weight.

2021 Ford Explorer Timberline

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

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LED fog lamps, a Carbonized Gray grille, and dealer-installed Ford Performance auxiliary lights with a 160,000-candelas output come on the vehicle.

The 2021 Explorer Timberline comes standard with four-wheel drive with torque vectoring technology that works to distribute the right amount of torque to each wheel. It also has a Torsen limited slip rear differential, which helps prevent wheel spin.

Ford's Terrain Management System is also standard, allowing drivers to select between seven drive modes depending on road conditions. The Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport have a similar system. Hill Descent Control is also standard.

Steel skid plates line the front and rear underbody of the vehicle protecting the engine and transmission. Ford has given the model a 0.8-inch ride height increase and heavy-duty shocks that were originally developed for the Explorer Police Interceptor. Steering calibration, stabilizer bars and springs are specially tuned for Timberline – including an exclusive front rebound spring that helps prevent sudden jarring off-road.

The new Explorer has an approach angle of 23.5 degrees and maximum departure angle of 23.7 degrees, plus minimum ground clearance of 8.7 inches.

The rig rides on high-sidewall Bridgestone Dueler P265/65R-18 all-terrain tires with a tread pattern designed to balance off-road traction and on-road quietness. The shoes are wrapped around high-gloss painted aluminum wheels that feature a laser-etched Timberline logo.

Explorer Timberline is powered by a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine that produces 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. It is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

For customers who need to tow RVs, ATVs and boats to their adventures, the standard Class III Trailer Tow Package brings 5,300 pounds of towing capability.

The interior sports a Deep Cypress color way that is matched with an Ebony headliner, overhead console, pillar trim, grab handles, visors, and moonroof shade. The instrument panel has a Stone Mesh appliqué while other colors feature elsewhere. Satin Silver Twilight is on the center stack, steering wheel bezel and door armrest trim; Deep Cypress on door trim panel inserts; Deep Tangerine stitching on the seats, steering wheel and door trim; and Timberline logos on the front seats.

Rubber floor liners are standard and ActiveX cloth seats inserts are designed to be cleaned easily and keep bottoms in place on rough terrain.

Standard Ford Co-Pilot360 and Co-Pilot360 Assist+ technology features that include Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go and Speed Sign Recognition, Lane Centering, Evasive Steering Assist and voice-activated touch screen navigation. A 360-degree camera also comes on the model.

Buyers can choose three Outfitters packages – Outfitters SkyBox, Outfitters MegaWarrior and Outfitters FrontLoader. All three packages combine all-weather floor mats, crossbars and the selected Yakima rooftop accessories for customers to take even more equipment with them on their next adventure.

The 2021 Ford Explorer Timberline is available to order now and arrives at Ford dealers this summer joining the Explorer King Ranch and new Platinum grades in the company's lineup.

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