For the first time in a decade, the luxury hybrid SUV market may be moving beyond the reach of the car that created it: the Lexus RX.
With a trio of plug-in hybrid rivals from Volvo, Audi and BMW about to be launched, and an equivalent Porsche Cayenne already on sale, the new RX450h suddenly looks a bit old hat – and, moreover, a bit off the pace on claimed CO2 emissions and fuel economy compared with what your premium 4×4 money might otherwise buy.
But you’d be ill advised to pre-judge this car on that basis. Lexus’s experience with hybrid powertrain technology is unsurpassed, after all, and combined with a clearer understanding from Lexus of what SUV buyers want and an acceptance, perhaps, that the RX can’t do it all, it has turned the new RX450h into a more complete car than any of its predecessors.
What’s the Lexus RX450h like inside?
Bigger, better laid out, more flexible and even better appointed and constructed than ever. Pretty impressive, in other words.
The car has had quite a large growth spurt, putting on 120mm in overall length, half of which comes between the axles. Sliding back seats add to the impression of significantly improved second-row leg room, which is now as good as almost anything in the class – although head room in both rows will be scant for very tall adults.
A new high-rise centre console dominates the fascia, clad in some classy-looking polished trim and featuring a useful variable-depth cupholder. The stereo controls above it are now better distinguished from the climate control buttons and knobs, while the widescreen infotainment system included with full-house Premier trim level looks great and is packed with useful features.
It could be easier to navigate, with the mouse-like Remote Touch controller continuing to feel fiddly and inaccurate while you’re driving. Wireless charging for your phone is standard on upper-level models, and there’s a handy storage pocket for a tablet on the passenger side of the centre console.
The boot is relatively small by class standards, with the car’s hybrid batteries taking up space that might have been available below the floor – but compared to a broader mark, it seems a decent size. It’s certainly big enough to take a baby buggy longways, is wide enough for a set of golf clubs and has bag hooks and lashing points.
What’s the Lexus RX450h like to drive?
Very refined. Aerodynamic efficiency was at the heart of Lexus’s approach to the car’s body design, which has produced particularly good wind noise suppression. The car’s V6 petrol engine, which drives the car with the help of an electric motor on each axle, is hushed and smooth when running and spends plenty of time shut off at low speeds.
While the engine is off, there’s just enough electric propulsion power to keep up with heavy urban traffic – and when it’s running, there’s plenty of total system power to allow fairly effortless slip road accelerating and overtaking.
There’s little fun to be had in spiriting the car along quickly though, because the hybrid powertrain often struggles to do exactly what you want it to, exactly when you want it to do it. The system’s responses are, however, smooth and proportionate enough to make less enthusiastic driving easy.
The car’s ride is quiet and mostly supple, with only bigger lumps and bumps interrupting the suspension’s calm semblance of control. Only the very best large SUVs are more comfortable. Body roll is present during cornering but it’s well reined in, and the car steers quite neatly, with matching weight and directness in the steering rack to make the RX easy to place. Grip levels are a bit limited, with the front wheels running wide quite early on if you hurry the car too hard – but handling is stable and safe at all times.
Should I buy one?
If buying a company car, you should give it some serious consideration. The RX450h’s pricing and equipment level is competitive, and the benefit-in-kind saving compared to a more conventional six-cylinder diesel rival could easily run into three figures every month.
Interested drivers should probably continue to direct their attention elsewhere, but those who prefer their luxury 4x4s plush, well built, well equipped, well mannered and practical – and frankly wouldn’t mind if the car drove itself – will find plenty to like here.
What Car? says…