First drive: the new Lexus RX450h

What’s that?

 

The new Lexus RXToyota’s posh, X5-rivalling SUV – tested here in popular 450h form.

 

H means hybrid, no?

 

H does indeed mean hybrid. The RX is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 plus an electric motor on each axle (it’s the rearmost motor that gives you on-demand AWD). Total system output is a little over 300bhp, which makes for an only adequate 7.7second 0-62mph time and a 124mph top speed.

 

It’s not a plug-in, the 450h, so all the energy is regenerated from the powertrain. And while it is capable of running on electricity alone, it can’t go very far or very fast without the engine kicking in. This means the RX is actually more economical around town than it is, say, on a long, motorway cruise at a sustained 70-something mph. Not ideal.

 

Why?

 

Because there’s an awful lot of people who do not live in towns or cities. Lexus claim 51.4mpg (and 127g/km of CO2), but a largely traffic-free 100-mile blat around the M25 and up the M4 yielded an indicated 34mpg. A diesel-powered Land Rover Discovery would probably have done about that, an X5 or Q7 maybe a little more.

 

And then there’s the fact the RX is actually pretty good at covering distance. The seats are particularly excellent – not figure-hugging but soft and squidgy – and the drivetrain doesn’t make much noise. Refinement is right up there. Our ‘Premier’ test car had air suspension, and it did a reasonable job of smoothing out most road surfaces.

 

Can I have a normal engine?

 

Yes. The conventionally-propelled 200T, with its 2.0-litre turbo four, is a couple of seconds slower to 60. But it is cheaper, and you do get a normal automatic gearbox – not the fun-sapping CVT of the hybrid. We haven’t had a go yet, but we wouldn’t count on it being any more economical. And because this is a Lexus, there’s no diesel.

 

No good, then?

 

We wouldn’t go that far. It’s great at covering distance – as we’ve mentioned – the interior feels brilliantly upmarket and well-made, and at £57,995 for a full-fat RX with all the trimmings, it’s not half bad value. Pretty much everything comes as standard bar the panoramic roof – a similarly specified X5 would no doubt run into the sixties.

 

Space is at a premium, however. The RX has always been an awkward, middling size, and even though this new one is longer, wider and therefore more spacious than the car it replaces, the boot is still a bit shallow. You can slide the rear seats fore and aft to up the length as needs be, but a less left-field SUV would deliver more practicality.

 

Should I buy one?

 

Depends. The RX’s chief downfall is not in way it drives (inoffensively, even with the CVT, but without any real verve) or the way it looks (you might like it, we do not) but that in all the years Lexus has been building the RX hybrid, it hasn’t really moved the game on all that far. With the likes of Audi, BMW and Volvo doing clever things with their big SUVs – and let’s not forget the admittedly more expensive Tesla Model X – the Lexus feels a bit old hat in comparison. No doubt Lexus has improved upon its technology over the years, but it needed to do more.

 

An improvement on the old RX, no doubt. Existing owners could do worse than to upgrade, but we suspect if you made a conscious decision not to buy the last RX, you won’t be interested in this one either. 

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