by Frank A. Aukofer

Though they don’t rack up huge sales numbers, luxury crossover utility vehicles like the 2020 Lexus RX450hL operate in a highly profitable, and therefore competitive, place in the market.

In that territory, the Lexus RX continues as the best-selling nameplate. The addition of the 450hL, a midsize gasoline/electric hybrid with six- or seven-passenger seating, should help maintain that distinction.

2020_Lexus_RX450hL_02_B419CCEE05FD93C1324D9F072A2231E3087A74001Lexus, the luxury division of Japan’s Toyota, also is the best-selling brand among luxury manufacturers that sell SUVs and crossovers.

In 2019, the Lexus nameplates — UX, NX, RX, GX and LX — had total sales of 217,139 in the United States. Mercedes-Benz of Germany had a slightly larger total of 218,148 but two of its eight nameplates — the Sprinter and Metris vans — are commercial vehicles that together had 41,635 of those sales. For counting purposes, luxury crossovers and SUVs are classified as trucks.

The Lexus RX came on the market back in 1998, right after Mercedes-Benz introduced what was widely regarded as the first luxury SUV, the ML320. But the RX was a crossover, built with a unit body like a car, while the original ML320 was designed like a truck with body on frame construction. It has since converted to a crossover design.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_03_8EBCB13234463AD450880174D2F5FDEBA45450DC1The 2020 RX450hL’s forte is silent running in plush comfort, with a suspension system that absorbs nasty road surfaces while still delivering decent handling, though it’s not the sort of vehicle you’d want to enter in an autocross.

It comes with a host of standard and optional equipment to testify to its luxury status, including such items as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring with parking assist, rear cross-traffic braking, an informative head-up display that shows the compass, tri-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming and heated outside mirrors, motorized glass sunroof, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power hands-free tailgate, SXM satellite radio and Mark Levinson premium audio.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_06_2B21FFCA34432D4CE1D52CBFB37344C9A67EF2E71An annoyance is the fussy console-mounted touchpad that controls infotainment and other functions on the center screen. It requires focused attention and should not be used while under way.

The RX450hL doesn’t come cheap, though it is less expensive than some of its luxury crossover competitors. Base price of the tester, including the destination charge of $1,025, was $57,485. With options, the bottom line suggested delivered price came to $65,340.

The hybrid system consists of a 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine connected to two electric motors — one for the front wheels and the other for the rear wheels. On the tested all-wheel drive model, the system’s 308 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, gets to all four-wheels through Toyota’s gear-driven continuously variable automatic transmission.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_13_5086ED6AAE7EDB539987485C444F6D26FAAB40B11There are no shift points. You sense rather than feel that the engine seamlessly controls rpms to provide maximum power and efficiency. Even using the steering wheel paddles to drive in manual mode, which mimics a six-speed automatic transmission, there’s almost no sensation of shifting.

To broaden the RX’s appeal, Lexus introduced the L model in 2019 but stretched it by four inches over the five-passenger version to make space for a third row of seats. The L can accommodate six with captain’s chairs in the second row or seven with a second-row bench seat.

But it’s a squeeze, and even more so in the hybrid 450hL hybrid version. Where the gasoline-engine RX350L has 121 cubic feet of passenger space and 19 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row, the hybrid RX450hL has 114 cubic feet for passengers and just 8 cubic feet for cargo.

2020_Lexus_RX_450hL_16_0BC25A96F8C13A59D5201AD12FB94E9F10BC0F451The culprit is the hybrid battery pack, which resides underneath the second row of seats. That raises the floor, which stretches into the cargo area. (A compact spare wheel and tire are stashed outside). Even with about eight inches of second-row seat travel, it’s not enough to adjust passable knee room for passengers in the second and third rows.

On the tested six-passenger RX450hL, the two second row captain’s chairs delivered luxurious space and comfort when pushed all the way back. But that virtually eliminated knee room for anyone in the third row.

So it’s best to simply touch the power button to fold the third row and keep it tucked away, which expands the cargo area to 24 cubic feet. But the seats still are available for emergency transportation of backpacks, watermelons or the family dogs.

2020_Lexus_RX450hL_012_A0E1C49D26B5F0BCCB1666042FC5BC14A865885D1Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Lexus RX 450hL AWD Lux hybrid four-door, three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motors: 3.5-liter V6 gasoline with two electric motors; combined 308 hp, 247 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 114/8 cubic feet. (23, 34)
  • Weight: 4,905 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 29/28/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $57,485.
  • Price as tested: $65,340.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Lexus_RX_450hL_01jpg_25CC5457FD664F12CABA89FF8F8AC3BC60E51A6BPhotos (c) Lexus