The Lexus 2015 RX 450h hybrid offers utility, luxury and impressive fuel mileage

Even from the back, the 450h looks smooth and snazzy

The Lexus 450h hybrid SUV offers not only utility, but luxury, comfort and impressive fuel economy.

For friends who read this review and know, I must mention that my wife owns a 2008 RX350, but I pledge to remain impartial.

As the first luxury hybrid SUV that debuted over a decade ago, the competition has grown a bit. But the Lexus 450h stands out for its quality, smooth ride, hybrid experience (i.e.. Toyota Prius) and luxurious accommodations. As such, it remains a top pick in its hybrid class.

The 450h AWD is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that, when coupled to three electric motors, generates a total of 295-hp. This powertrain routes power through a special CVT transmission (Continuously Variable Trans). The combination provides EPA mileage ratings of an impressive 30 city and 28-highway mpg. For a 4,870-pound SUV, the 450h is relatively quick as it was 0-60 tested at 7.6 seconds.

With this system the 450h offers four selectable driving modes of Electric-only power at low speeds; Normal mode that blends performance and efficiency; Sport mode for more responsive acceleration; and Eco mode that favors pure fuel economy. And unlike some competitors, the vehicles battery doesn’t impinge on cabin or cargo space, says Lexus, as the battery pack is positioned under the cargo floor. Even with this, cargo capacity (40 cu/ft) is the same as the non-hybrid RX350 model. And when folding the 40/20/40 split rear seats, cargo capacity doubles to 80.3 cubic feet.

If opting for the FWD version, it uses two electric motors with one serving as a starter generator, while the other powers the front wheels.

After a mere 19-inch step-in into the posh cabin, you’re treated to comfortable and sensibly supportive perforated leather seats, the fronts of which are heated and cooled. A nice low dash with real wood trim provides excellent forward visibility. Lower down on the stack, HVAC controls are easy to operate. A console mounted mouse controls GPS nav, app selection, audio (including XM radio) and climate direction. It requires, however, momentarily taking the eyes off the road. The 7-inch display is nicely tunneled for easy viewing even in sunlight. And it offers a split-screen view.

The shifter sets high up on the vertical stack, which is somewhat uncanny for those accustomed to using a console mounted automatic trans shifter. There’s also a nifty under console opening to stow a purse or other small items out of the way, yet readily accessible.

Back seats are soft, comfy with manageable leg and ample headroom. They slide fore and aft, recline and split 40/20/40, which when folded allows carrying long items (like skis) while allowing two rear seat passengers. They fold by pulling two levers in the cargo area or handles on the outer edges of each seat.

Cargo space is spacious as mentioned but more meaningful, it measures 38 inches deep, 45 wide and 29 high. Flip any portion of the rear seatbacks and depth extends to 68 inches.

The ride is typical Lexus smooth and quiet on Michelin 19-inch all season tires. Handling too feels secure and composed through sharp turns and cloverleaf’s.

Lexus offers a long list of standard features like sunroof, Safety Connect with automatic collision and stolen vehicle notification plus much more. There are also option packages of Comfort, Luxury and Premium, all of which have selected amenities that you may or may not want. Unfortunately, you have to take and pay for the entire package, you can’t pick and choose.

The test car came with the Comfort package that requires buying either the Premium or Luxury package, the latter was included for a pricey sum of $6,115. This added such goodies as leather, heated steering wheel/shift knob plus outside mirrors, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED head and fog lamps with cleaner and much more. Folks with compatible iPhones can use the voice operated Siri Eyes Free app.

Then there was an accessory connector for $100, the nav system with voice control and Lexus Inform infotainment system, and more, for $1,195, Intuitive Parking Assist ($500), towing prep package ($245) and delivery of $910. That took the base price from $48,845 to $59,709.

The 450h garnered good government safety ratings as it received a perfect 5-stars for overall crash and side impact protection; 4-stars for frontal impact protection, while the Institute for Highway Safety gave it their highest “Good” rating for moderate-overlap-offset, side impact and roof strength protection.

As the forerunner for hybrid SUVs, and despite the new competition,the RX 450h maintains high sales numbers even without a third row seat.

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