Lexus RX 450h review
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The Lexus RX is the fourth generation of a popular luxury 4x4 launched in the late '90s, and is a successor to one of the first SUVs to be offered with a hybrid powertrain all the way back in 2005. Lexus is owned by Toyota, and the RX shared hybrid power technology first developed for the Toyota Prius.
Unlike the Prius, which has a petrol engine and electric motor working together to power the front wheels, the Lexus RX 450h has a 3.5-litre petrol V6 driving the front wheels only through a CVT-style automatic transmission. One electric motor helps the engine drive the front wheels and another on the rear axle drives the rear wheels. The battery is stored under the boot floor and is self-charging when the engine is running.
When it first arrived on the scene, the hybrid version of the RX was just one of a range of more traditional engine options. Nowadays, the Lexus RX 450h comes as a hybrid only, and faces opposition from a handful of luxury SUVs offering environmentally-conscious powertrain alternatives. These mainly include the newer breed of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) such as the Range Rover Sport PHEV and Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine.
Relying exclusively on engine charging for its battery means the RX 450h can’t store nearly as much power as those PHEV rivals, so it can’t offer electric-only commuting or the bigger tax breaks associated with zero-emissions driving. Yet for higher-mileage users, the fact you don’t need to charge the RX 450h from a plug is a major benefit, and the combination of 3.5-litre V6 engine plus electric-motor assistance means performance is punchy when you need it, and economical – at least for a big SUV – when you don’t.
All versions of the RX 450h come with five doors and share the eye-catching ‘floating roof’ and wide spindle-shaped grille that help the car to stand out so effectively in a crowd.
There are two body lengths: the standard 450h is a five-seater, while the 450h L accommodates seven passengers thanks to a longer boot with more upright tailgate, which allows an extra bench seat in the rear. We've reviewed it separately.
Trim-level options are the same whichever version you choose: both the RX 450h and RX 450h L ranges kick off with an entry-level model that gets 18-inch alloys, smooth leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, eight-inch sat nav, DAB digital radio, front and rear parking sensors and smart entry.
With the RX F Sport, you get a heated steering wheel and powered tailgate with hands-free sensor, along with the F Sport spindle grille, aluminium pedal set, F Sport seats and steering wheel and adaptive suspension.
At the top of the range, the RX Takumi gets power-folding heated rear seats, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo, a colour head-up display, 360-degree camera, semi-aniline leather upholstery, 10-way powered front seat adjustment, memory settings for the front seats, steering wheel and door mirrors.
On the road, the RX 450h majors on comfort and refinement, which will appeal to anyone unimpressed by the sportier characteristics of some of its rivals. Audi, BMW and Range Rover SUVs all offer sharper, more responsive handling, and in comparison the Lexus leans more in corners.
The ride is smooth and comfortable, though, and the plush and beautifully finished interior – loaded with ‘extras’ even in entry-level SE trim – means driver and passengers alike will feel cosseted.
The big Lexus is as roomy as you’d expect, too, apart from in the rear, where boot space is more constrained than most SUV rivals due to the batteries under the floor. It wins points back as the electric-motor-driven rear axle means there’s no transmission tunnel encroaching in the rear footwells.
There’s a comprehensive array of safety features, including 10 airbags, and the RX 450h performs well in Euro NCAP crash tests. Lexus reliability is the stuff of legend, too.
In short, the RX 450h is an attractive proposition for buyers who like its eye-catching looks, luxury and refinement, and want a car that’s more environmentally sound than a traditional diesel SUV. For more detailed look at the Lexus RX 450h, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.