Lexus offers its RX450h hybrid for the buyer wanting a luxury SUV, but looking to escape the mileage penalty typical with that vehicle class. The RX450h does offer a significant improvement in economy over the base RX350, but it comes at a price. The RX350 (AWD) has an EPA rating of 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway, while the AWD RX450h tops it with a city rating of 30 mpg city/28 highway, and starts at $46,825 (a $6,350 premium over the base RX). Realistically, the owner would have to keep the vehicle for the better part of five years to pay for the difference in fuel savings, which makes the hybrid a tougher sell on just numbers alone, but there are other reasons to like the RX450h. It’s smooth and quiet ride is enhanced by a comfortable interior with top safety scores as a bonus. The government’s newer, more strenuous crash testing procedures earned the RX450h four out of five stars. It got four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for overall side crash protection.
The AWD RX450h has a 3.5 liter V6 with three supplemental electric motors; one acts as a generator while the other two power the wheels. Total power output is 295hp, which routed through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) motivates the RX450 from 0-60 in 7.6 seconds. One trait of the hybrid powertrain does take a bit of getting used to – and that is the engine shutting down when the vehicle comes to a stop. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, but releasing the brake pedal starts the car rolling on battery/electric power until the accelerator is pressed which starts the engine allowing the vehicle to accelerate smoothly under engine power. The transition from electric to engine power is seamless and virtually silent which is quite impressive. An “EV” mode allows electric-only power for low speeds over short distances.
The RX450h is available in either front wheel drive or all wheel drive variants. The vehicle tested was the AWD version with the Comfort ($825) and Premium ($2,400) packages as well as the Navigation System upgrade ($2,465). The extra options added just over $8,500 to the MSRP, and included the kind of luxury features buyers have come to expect in a Lexus. Heated & ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, a 12-speaker premium audio system with 6 disc CD changer, LED headlamps with Lexus’ Intelligent High Beam system and headlamp washer, XM satellite traffic and weather information, Intuitive Parking Assist, backup camera, emergency assist button and hard disk drive navigation system. The Premium Package included one-touch opening/closing sunroof, auto-dimming heated outside mirrors, power rear hatch open/close, and a driver’s seat/steering wheel/mirror position memory with three settings.
The RX’s standard safety equipment list is extensive, and includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front and rear seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and dual front knee bags. Lexus’ Safety Connect, a driver assistance service similar to GM’s OnStar offers automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator and emergency assistance button is also included. An optional pre-collision system packaged with adaptive cruise control determines when an accident is unavoidable and tightens the front seatbelts and initializes brake assist.
Upon climbing into the RX450h, the aroma of leather is almost overwhelming. The car’s upscale appointments and high quality interior materials exude luxury and give the look and feel of a much more expensive vehicle. An interesting option is Lexus’ Remote Touch interface, which controls the audio system, navigation system and heating/ventilation/air conditioning. It resembles a computer mouse with a flat-topped joystick controller and operates with haptic feedback, allowing the driver to “feel” the buttons on the screen. The system is well thought out and intuitive, and did not require much trial and error experimentation to operate. Rear passenger seating is roomy and comfortable thanks to reclining seatbacks and a sliding seat adjuster. Cargo space behind the rear seats is generous at 40 cubic feet which doubles to 80 cu. ft. when the seats are folded down.
The RX450h offers a smooth ride with impressive quietness, even at highway speed. The suspension soaks up small ruts and uneven pavement with aplomb, while the sound insulation isolates passengers from road and wind noise. Normal driving maneuvers exhibit little body roll, and engine noise is only apparent during full-throttle acceleration. This Lexus occupies a small market niche; both Porsche and Volkswagen offer hybrid SUVs, but for a considerably higher price and without the RX’s fuel economy. It’s hard to find much fault with the RX450h; a luxury SUV that returns better mileage than most luxury sedans at a competitive price.