What is it?
The Lexus RX 450h is a petrol-electric premium large SUV.
Hybrid drivetrain, top-quality interior, good safety package
The Lexus RX 450h is a quality premium SUV with the very worthwhile extra element of the economy and efficiency of its hybrid drivetrain.
The recent addition of an F Sport trim level adds an extra performance element, and to the overall appeal of a model that should be a serious consideration against the Audi Q7 or Volvo XC90.
The buyer seeking a large, upmarket SUV has quite a choice these days, with more new models consistently expanding the options available. But for many years, the Lexus RX offered something no rival could – a hybrid drivetrain.
Now, however, both of the perceived closest rivals to the Lexus, the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90, also include versions with electric motors. But both are plug-in, as opposed to traditional, hybrids – while boasting fuel economy in treble figures and CO2 emissions in only double, and thus the resultant tax advantages, they also cost a lot more to buy; £8,000 for the Volvo, £13,000 for the Audi.
So for those wanting a hybrid, but with not-too-deep pockets, the Lexus remains the prime choice. Is it a good one?
Buying and owning the Lexus RX 450h
The Lexus RX has been around since 1998 and the fourth-generation model launched in 2015. It was on a new platform with a longer wheelbase, freeing up more interior space, and the comfort and luxury elements expected in a premium SUV were improved.
Visually the car makes quite a statement. The Lexus signature ‘spindle grille’ dominates the front end, with the angular styling and lots of chrome detailing ensuring the RX is easy to spot in the company car park.
At a time when petrol is reasserting itself over diesel, the Lexus RX 450h offers a major advantage – better than 50mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 127g/km are the sort of figures one would expect from a diesel version of a vehicle this size. This is a big petrol SUV that a company car driver can seriously consider.
Trim levels for our RX 450h range across four – SE, Luxury, F Sport and Premier. Generally, the Luxury has been considered the best value for money, but the recently released F Sport has added a new element to the range – it’s pitched as a more performance-orientated model, the major addition being self-levelling air suspension.
Our test car is to F Sport spec – visually it gains some bespoke detailing, a black finish to the mesh grille and satin chrome bits. And it sits as standard on 20-inch wheels, more purposeful than the standard 18-inch rims.
More importantly, the F Sport includes adaptive variable suspension, or AVS, as standard. Each damper is individually electronically controlled according to road conditions – soft and smothering on rougher surfaces, firmed up to keep the car upright when cornering at speed.
F Sport also adds a couple of extra settings to the driver-controlled Drive Mode Select – configuring a number of parameters across the car including suspension damping, engine output, the response from the throttle.
On SE and Luxury versions the Drive Mode Select options are Normal, Eco or Sport – they act as their names suggest. F Sport (and range-topping Premier) models add Sport S and Sport S+ modes.
Sport S makes the accelerator react even quicker than in Sport mode, the hybrid system biasing itself towards performance, while Sport S+ also sharpens up the power steering and further stiffens the suspension.
When crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2015, the RX clocked up a top-notch . It comes as standard with the Lexus Safety System+. Its suite of active safety systems includes autonomous emergency braking, which on the range-topping Premier models is also part of the rear cross-traffic alert, so stopping a driver reversing out of a space straight into the path of a car, or a pedestrian.
Also included are the other systems that are fast becoming the norm these days – adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, auto high beams, traffic sign recognition and on Premier models a blind-spot monitor and parking sensors upgraded to include bird’s-eye view panoramic camera.
The system also includes a ‘sway warning’ which detects if the car is moving about its lane, perhaps because the driver is becoming drowsy, and sounds an alert.
Inside the Lexus RX 450h
The new platform of the fourth-generation RX adds some 12cm to the car’s length, and 5cm of this is in the wheelbase. That means more interior space, particularly as the RX is only available as a five-seater, unlike the XC90 or Q7 that can be had with seven. To match those, Lexus now offers the RX L – a longer version of the RX with two additional seats.
It is a spacious interior – particularly in the rear where the floor has been lowered to increase the headroom. Even if you don’t slide back the rear bench seat to free up more room you will travel in supreme comfort, especially as you can recline the rear seats too. The boot, at 453 litres with the seats up and 924 litres with them folded, is not huge but more than adequate.
If there is one aspect that Lexus is renowned for, it is the quality of its interiors. The RX cabin is very h indeed, beautifully put together, and on the F Sport extending to perforated leather on the upholstery, steering wheel and gear lever (including a white version should you desire), and sporty details such as aluminium drilled pedals.
In fact, there are lovely details throughout the interior – a favourite of this reviewer is the centre console holder that can be adjusted in depth between 7cm and 11cm to suit both cups and bottles.
Our F Sport gets the 12-inch touchscreen in the centre console (SE versions make do with an eight-inch screen). It’s effective in use, the navigation system easy to program and follow, while it also controls the optional and quality-sounding Mark Levinson hi-fi system fitted to our car.
Driving the Lexus RX 450h
The powertrain of the 450h matches a 3.5-litre V6 engine driving the front wheels to a pair of electric motors – a 123kW version up front and a 50kW equivalent in the rear, providing the all-wheel-drive system.
It’s refined system, particularly when moving at slow speeds when the electric motors take care of things and the RX glides along almost in silence. However it takes very little acceleration for the engine to cut in, and even relatively restrained depressing of the right-hand pedal results in lots of engine revs, and a noticeable, if not particularly intrusive, audio note.
Still, acceleration itself is refined and reasonably swift, passing 62mph in 7.7 seconds. Mind you hauling around electric motors and battery packs makes the Lexus a heavyweight vehicle, more than two tonnes in all, and so it is not as quick as the electric versions of the Audi or Volvo.
Once up to speed, the RX rides in a very comfortable manner indeed; a relaxed cruiser for eating up motorway miles.
Point the car at a succession of corners and it copes well, to a degree. It stays reasonably upright (particularly if one makes use of the extra drive modes to stiffen up the suspension). With the electronic dampers of the AVS working hard, it effectively leans into the corners in a controlled fashion. The steering feedback is not as sharp as on some rivals, but it is all very controllable.
Many buyers see the Lexus as a standard bearer for hybrid powertrains in the premium market – after all, the brand and its Toyota sister have been doing “the H word” for a long time.
Where some potential buyers are mistaken, however, is in thinking the Lexus is, as a result, a bit of an oddity. It is instead a worthy contender in the upmarket SUV sector, performing all aspects of what most buyers would require in such a car very well.
That the Lexus RF450h is a hybrid, with its petrol engine but un petrol-like economy and efficiency, is a very worthwhile extra.
|Make & model||Lexus RX||Audi Q7||Volvo XC90|
|Specification||450h F Sport||3.0 TDI e-tron quattro||Momentum T8 Twin Engine AWD|
|Engine||3.5-litre petrol electric motors||3.0-litre diesel electric motors||2.0-litre petrol electric motors|
|Power||308 hp||373 hp||390 hp|
|Torque||335 Nm||700 Nm||640 Nm|
|0-62mph||7.7 sec||6.2 sec||5.6 sec|
|Top speed||124 mph||143 mph||143 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||51.4 mpg||156.9 mpg||134.5 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||127 g/km||48 g/km||59 g/km|
|Euro NCAP rating||5 stars (2015)||5 stars (2015)||5 stars (2015)|