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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NXP Semiconductors has two chip plants in Texas that were effected by Winter Storm Uri.

Photo courtesy of NXP Semiconductors N.V.

The effects of Winter Storm Uri are still being felt across Texas and it's impacting the auto industry. Reporting by Reuters tells that chipmakers, like Samsung Electronics, are still weeks away from resuming normal operations in Texas.

Traditionally, this sort of production slowdown wouldn't much impact the industry. There would typically be enough dealership and inventory and automaker back stock to make up for many, if not all of the shortages for a short period of time. However, COVID-19 has put a strain on the chipmaking industry and is already slowing production, limiting sales, and hurting automaker bottom lines.

There's also been increased demand for semiconductor chips as sales of laptops, gaming consoles, and other entertainment and exercise equipment soared as coronavirus-related lockdowns changed lifestyles globally.

Ford and General Motors have both said that their 2021 sales and profits will be hit hard by the shortage. Additional analysis by Reuters says that Toyota has enough inventory to last four months while Hyundai and Kia, which share common ownership, purchased a stockpile of chips when production was going full steam in late December and are thus far unaffected.

Samsung and NXP Semiconductors shut their factories in Texas last month when Winter Storm Uri took hold. Like Lone Star State households, Texas businesses lost access to electricity, natural gas, and water.

Samsung's logic chip plant is located in Austin. It began operating 2017 and makes chips using Samsung's 14-nanometer, 28-nm and 32-nm chip production technologies. The facility is Samsung's biggest logic chip production facility outside of South Korea, where the company is headquartered. The company also has a NAND flash chip facility in Austin.

NXP's plants are also in Austin where the company has its corporate headquarters. While there are nine other NXP offices in the U.S., there are no other manufacturing sites.

Edward Latson, CEO of the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, told Reuters that chipmakers now have the power, water and gas they need to operate, but they need time to restart tools and clean the factories. He characterized the process as being slow and "very expensive".

The one month of lost production is most likely to hit automakers hardest five months down the road, in the third quarter.

Many analysts had been predicting an uptick in new vehicle sales for 2021 after car sales rallied in the fourth quarter of 2020. However, these chip shortages are deeply impacting those sales predictions.

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The Volvo C40 Recharge is a couple-like version of the XC40.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

Earlier this week, Volvo announced that it is going all-in on electric vehicles by 2030. Now it's showing off its latest model, a take on the XC40 Recharge - the 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge.

Taking a note from the Audi playbook, the C40 Recharge is a sloped roof version of the XC40 Recharge. It has sleeker design than its predecessor even though they both ride on the same platform. The face of the model shows off a new design path for Volvo and has headlights with state-of-the-art pixel technology, something also on the Hyundai Ioniq 5.

Volvo has given the car an electric powertrain that consists of two electric motors, one on the front axle and one at the back, which are powered by a 78-kilowatt-hour battery that can be charged to 80 percent in 40 minutes. It has an expected range of 260 miles.

2022 Volvo C40 Recharge

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

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The C40 Recharge offers a high seating position and is available in a large range of color ways. It is the first Volvo model to be completely leather-free. Volvo has given the model its infotainment system, which runs on Android technology. Apps such as Google Maps, Google Assistant, and the Google Play Store are built in. The tech allows for over-the-air updates.

Volvo will only sell the C40 Recharge online and it will come with a care package.

"The C40 Recharge represents the future of Volvo and shows where we are going," said Henrik Green, chief technology officer. "It is fully electric, offered online only with a convenient care package and will be available for quick delivery. Getting a new Volvo was never this attractive."

The XC40 was Volvo's first all-electric car. Volvo promises additional electric models are on their way in the coming years. The automaker predicts that by 2025, 50 percent of its global sales volume will consist of fully electric cars. The rest will be hybrids. To achieve this, Volvo is expected to lean heavily on the Asian and European markets where EVs are more popular with buyers due to government regulation.

The C40 Recharge will go in production this fall and will be built alongside the XC40 Recharge at the Volvo Cars manufacturing plant in Ghent, Belgium.

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