The Lexus RX 450h gas-electric hybrid combines luxury, style, performance and sparkling fuel economy for a fairly large, heavy SUV. The RX 450h’s sculpted lines really make it stand out, compared with conservative rivals. But that’s not to say that the four-door hatchback RX 450h sacrifices utility or luxury for flashiness. It’s about time that more SUVs and crossover vehicles got more flair. After all, they’re outselling cars.
The regular RX 450h I tested lists at $53,035, but there’s a $56,645 “Sport” version with distinctive handling and style upgrades such as a blackout mesh grille, special wheels and a sportier interior.
The popular 2017 RX 450h is the most powerful model in the RX line. It has 308 combined system horsepower for fast acceleration and—importantly—gets an estimated 31 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on highways. Those figures actually seemed a little conservative to me, as the fuel gauge needle seemed nailed to the “F” mark despite several days of spirited driving in the Chicago suburbs and city. The system works seamlessly with a planetary type electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. There’s only a 12.2-gallon gas tank, although it calls for 91 octane fuel.
The Lexus Hybrid Drive system pairs a 3.5-liter V-6 gasoline engine with two high-torque electric drive motor-generators for strong acceleration. Instead of transfer gears and a driveshaft to the rear wheels, the available all-weather drive system uses a second independent electric motor to drive the rear wheels when needed to help maintain optimal traction.
Normal, Eco and Sport driving modes can be selected. I couldn’t tell much difference between the three modes and found “Eco” the most appropriate to use. A fourth mode (EV) lets the RX 450h drive at low speeds under electric power for short distances. I suppose it lets you quietly sneak out of the neighborhood in what some may think is a flashy, gas-guzzling SUV.
The RX 450h handles curves securely, even in Eco mode. Not that it fits into any “sport” category. In fact, my test RX 450h felt rather bulky for the first mile or so. After all, it weighs 4,740 pounds and is 192.5 inches long. It’s also 67.7 inches high, which means extra effort is needed to enter, although door openings are wide with easily gripped handles.
Steering is quick and firm, but could use more road feel, and the brake pedal has a nice linear action. The anti-lock brakes have electronic brake force distribution and a brake-assist feature.
The ride is comfortable, but some road imperfections can be felt because, after all, this is no luxury sedan.
COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE
My test RX 450h’s quiet interior had supportive front seats and a roomy rear seat, although the center of the rear seat is stiff and best occupied by the large fold-down armrest that contains
sturdy rubber cupholders. Those seats slide forward and tilt for more comfort. They also have 40/20/40 split seatbacks, which don’t sit completely flat. In any case, the cargo area is fairly large with all the rear seatbacks in their normal position, although the load floor, though wide, is high because of such things as battery placement. An optional power rear hatch swings up far out of the way.
Occupants sit high, surrounded by nice stitching, wood inlays and soft touch materials.
There’s a pushbutton start and all the usual luxury vehicle features. They include power leather-trimmed heated and ventilated front seats, power-adjustable wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation system with 8-inch multimedia display, and a 12-speaker premium audio system. My test RX 450h had no tachometer, but instead a large gauge with “power,” “Eco” and “Charge” markings. There’s a mouselike controller and interface that called for too much driver attention. But, thankfully, there’s also plenty of dashboard physical buttons and knobs for such things as audio and climate controls.
The RX 450h is loaded with safety features. They include a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, high-speed dynamic radar cruise control, blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking, intuitive parking assist, backup camera air bags and side curtains.
TFLCAR’s TAKE: Despite all the RX 450h’s style, luxury and safety features, what we keep coming to is its impressive fuel economy. Many casual observers might never guess it’s good for a combined 30 city/highway miles per gallon estimate.