Lexus RX 450h review
The Lexus RX is the fourth generation of a popular luxury SUV 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 uses hybrid power technology first developed for the Toyota Prius.
A facelift for the 2020 model year has introduced a raft of improvements, with the exterior styling and infotainment system undergoing changes. The latter area has taken a vast leap forward, although the car's weak points remain.
Unlike the Prius, which has a petrol engine and electric motor working together to power the front wheels, the RX has a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine driving the front wheels only through a CVT gearbox. One electric motor helps the engine drive the front wheels and another on the rear axle drives the rears. The battery is stored under the boot floor and is charged by a combination of the engine and regenerative braking.
Available only as a hybrid, the RX faces competition from a handful of luxury SUVs offering petrol-electric power. These mainly include 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 can’t store nearly as much power as those 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 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.
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 RX 450h L accommodates seven thanks to a longer boot with more upright tailgate, which allows an extra row of seating in the rear.
Both the RX and RX L ranges kick off with an entry-level Premium Pack model that gets 18-inch alloys, smooth leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a 12.3-inch infotainment screen, DAB digital radio, front and rear parking sensors and smart entry. The F Sport is offered in five-seat RX guise only and feature touches like an F Sport spindle grille, aluminium pedal set, F Sport seats and steering wheel and adaptive suspension.
At the top of the range, the RX and RX L Takumi get 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. The latest version of the RX now comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity too, while a new touchscreen is much easier to interact with than the now-supplementary touchpad. The menus could still be a little clearer, mind.
On the road, the RX 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 – despite suspension tweaks on the facelifted car – the Lexus still 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. Wind and road noise is nicely suppressed, but the engine revs will soar noisily for all but the subtlest of throttle inputs.
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 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, read on for the rest of our in-depth review.