Updated: Aug 23, 2020
In the fall of 1998, just in time for the 1999 model year, Lexus introduced the oddest-looking SUV, the RX 300. I was all of a year into my automotive journalism career. I called it the Lunar Rover. It looked like nothing else on the road.
But soon, as it turned into a best-seller and a money maker for Toyota's luxury division, a lot of other things on the road started trying to look like it.
It's been 22 years now, and the only thing unusual about the RX for most of those years has been that you could not get a third row of seats. Lexus addressed that last year, with the introduction of the RXL series---available with a gasoline engine as the RX 350L, or as a gasoline-electric hybrid as the RX 450hL.
It was a simple fix---just stretching what's between the rear axle and the rear bumper, allowing room for a third row. And, as a bonus, when you don't need those seats (which fold up and down at the touch of a button, you get considerably more cargo room than in the two-row RX 350.
Our tester was the RX 450hL---the hybrid. It's a 308-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine paired with an electric motor. It runs on purely electric power at low speeds under the right conditions, but most of the time, it relies on computers to determine the proper mix of gasoline and electric power for the moment and for fuel economy. The EPA estimate is 29 miles per gallon city, 28 highway, which might not sound like a lot, but the gasoline version of the RX is 19 city/27 highway. That extra 10 miles per gallon around town adds up over the course of a year, to say nothing of over a lifetime of ownership.
The RX 450hL is all-wheel drive, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The base price for the 2020 Lexus RX 450hL is $50,460. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see the full list, but among the standard equipment is 18-inch aluminum wheels, a nine-speaker Lexus multimedia system, rain-sensing wipers and automatic three-zone climate control, with controls and vents for the third-row passengers.
Our test vehicle had a lot of extra-cost options---$12,160 in all. Again, the window sticker is at the end of this review, but the biggest-ticket items were $3,365 for a navigation system and an upgraded 15-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system with a 12.3-inch screen, $1,865 for blind spot monitoring with intuitive parking assist, a panoramic view mirror and rear cross-traffic braking, $1,775 for triple-beam LED headlamps, cornering lamps, front LED turn signals and fog lamps, $1,580 for the Premium Package, which includes a moonroof and wood trim, and $1,130 for 20-inch dark silver alloy wheels with machined finish.
With $1,025 delivery, processing and handling fee, the as-tested price of the 2020 Lexus RX 450hL came to $63,645. That's not insignificant, but it's also unlikely to cause too much heartburn for a typical Lexus owner. And given the demographic for these vehicles, and the length of time many owners keep them, that third-row seat is likely to be a strong selling point. There probably won't be a lot of young families buying the RX 450hL or the RX 350L, but grandparents absolutely will.