Lexus RX 450h engines, drive & performance

The Lexus RX 450h is a luxurious and cosseting cruiser, but rival SUVs are more fun to drive

The Lexus RX 450h horsepower numbers are pretty impressive, and performance in a straight line is certainly respectable. However, enthusiastic drivers will find little to encourage their efforts behind the wheel – the big Lexus prefers to make stately progress.

Lexus RX 450h hybrid engine, 0-62mph and acceleration

There are several key components in the self-charging hybrid powertrain that give the Lexus RX 450h its environmentally sound credentials. At the heart of the system is a powerful 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine offering up to 262bhp, which drives the front wheels only with the help of a 167bhp electric motor. A second 68bhp motor sits on the back axle to power the rear wheels – there’s no drive at all to the rear wheels from the engine. The front wheels get their drive through a constantly variable transmission (CVT), which is a type of automatic gearbox with the equivalent of eight gear ratios.

When you put your foot down, everything works together to provide a maximum combined power output limited to 308bhp and results in a potential 0-62mph time of 7.7 seconds (or eight seconds for the heavier 450h L). Unfortunately, although the RX 450h's performance looks good on paper, the CVT gearbox makes it feel sluggish and the engine seem uncomfortably strained. A gentler driving style is much more rewarding, when the powertrain is quiet and refined.

There’s an EV mode for electric-only driving, but this is only possible in short bursts due to the limited battery capacity. An Eco mode is also available; this smooths out clumsy driver inputs to maximise efficiency of the hybrid powertrain, while Sport mode makes the engine and gearbox a little more responsive – although in reality the differences are hard to notice. The RX 450h's top speed is quoted at 124mph for all versions.

Handling

The latest version of the Lexus RX handles with a little more panache than its forebears, but it's still some way off the standard set by more driver-focused SUVs from the likes of Audi, BMW and Range Rover.

Once again, the RX 450h responds best to a more leisurely driving style, as pitching it into corners too hard makes the body lean considerably. The steering doesn’t have very sharp responses either, and even if you choose the optional adjustable suspension, its sportiest settings don’t turn the Lexus into a fun ‘driver’s car’.

Drive at a more leisurely pace though, and the Lexus’s refinement and cosseting ride shine through, making the RX 450h a fine long-distance luxury cruiser.