A week in just about any Lexus is a treat, and although there may be some quicker, more sporting models in its lineup, the company’s new for 2010 RX450h is a very nice vehicle to drive. An evolution of the upscale company’s RX350, the 450h offers more room, more power, some nifty amenities and hybrid power all wrapped up in a sporty, sleek body. Safety and reduced effect on the environment seem to be the mainstays of the 450h, and despite its size the claimed 32-mpg city and 28-mpg highway are lofty to be sure.
|1. The RX450h is rated at 32/28 mpg (city/highway) for the front-drive model and 30/28 mpg for the AWD model. Gasoline models get 18/25 and 18/24 mpg respectively.
2. As a full hybrid, the RX450h can operate using either electric power, gasoline or a combination of both.
3. Pricing starts from $42,110, a roughly $5,000 premium over the gasoline version.
THE MOTIVATING FORCE
The front-wheel drive version that we tested came with the 3.5-liter V6 engine and the single hybrid electric motor. An all-wheel drive version is also available with two electric motors, one at each end of the vehicle. Total system output is rated at 295-hp for both models, which provides ample acceleration for the 4,600 lb SUV, even when mated to the standard Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (ECVT).
Although I’ve never been a fan of such cog turning systems, in this particular application, the transmission choice works well and provides seemingly seamless and linear acceleration. With Lexus’ ever-present eye toward green with the 450h, the ECVT also seems to be exceptionally efficient.
Acceleration is rated at 7.8 seconds to 60 mph in front-drive models, which breaks from the Lexus tradition of having hybrid versions as more performance-oriented vehicles. A typical gasoline model makes the sprint in 7.4 seconds.
Although throttle response is somewhat weak when the RX is in ECO mode, a system that is charged with ensuring a reduced carbon footprint, a quick flick of the steering wheel mounted buttons immediately provides both crisper response to depressions of the right pedal, and more urgent overall acceleration. There is even a noticeable difference in climate control fan speed when switching the Eco mode on and off. I spent the majority of time driving with the Eco mode on, turning it off only briefly to observe the effect, or when acceleration was at a premium.
LOOKS LIKE A WINNER
The RX body style has always seemed to place an emphasis on a sportier look, and the 450h continues with that theme. A high waistline dominates the side profile, accentuated by narrow side windows and softly curved front and rear fascias. However, the almost comically enormous side view mirrors mar an otherwise pleasing exterior. The Cerulean Blue on our test vehicle was a bit too pastel for my tastes.
The interior of the 450h is typical Lexus, exhibiting a commendable level of refinement, use of quality materials, and comfortable ergonomics. Perhaps short of sumptuous, the Lexus interior is more than inviting. Sounds of the outside world are almost completely shut out once the large doors are closed with a pleasant and seemingly airtight thud. The optional Mark Levinson surround sound stereo is excellent and further isolates the occupants from the hustle and bustle of those outside. It is truly a serene experience in the SUV/Crossover world.
The cabin is practically devoid of the use of hard plastics, and there are several large storage areas including the large glove compartment and the cavernous center console bin that also houses the MP3 plug and USB audio plug. There are cupholders aplenty, although those in the rear seating door area are small and enclosed in one of the few areas of hard plastic found inside the cabin.
UNIQUE GAUGES AND DISPLAYS SHOW YOU AND HELP YOU TO DRIVE EFFICIENTLY
The driver and front passenger have ample leg and headroom and the heated/ventilated front seats offer excellent support and comfort. The gauges are clear and easy to read with a dark blue accent light illuminating the top of the cluster. The tachometer is replaced by a speedometer sized dial indicating driving efficiency. A light blue segment of the dial is marked as Charge indicating regenerative braking. When the thin white needle stays in the green segment of the dial, the driver is adding throttle in an eco friendly manner, and when greater acceleration is required with a firmer press on the throttle, the needle advances to the white section so labeled as Power.
Drivers can also keep close tabs on where the 450h is drawing its power by activating the easy to use and intuitive center dash navigation display that is driven by an ergonomically placed center console mouse. Selecting the Energy tab shows power paths from gasoline engine and electric motor. Each path is color coordinated with its source and has as an arrow showing direction of power flow. The graphic seems to be a way for Lexus to remind owners that driving habits have as much to do with ultimate fuel economy and eco effect than any other single element.
GOOD PASSENGER AND CARGO ROOM – BUT COMPARED TO WHAT?
Rear legroom is excellent, especially when the rear seats are moved back via the manual adjustments, and passengers have little to complain about comfort-wise with the reclining rear seats. Although billed as a five-passenger vehicle, the rear seating area is decidedly more bucket than bench style, and the middle passenger does sacrifice some comfort especially on longer jaunts.
The cargo area behind the rear seats is adequate, although the 80 cubic feet of total cargo space as measured from behind the front seats is a bit short when compared with vehicles of similar exterior dimensions. In addition, the lack of a third row seat does weigh heavily in terms of value on the $52,000 as-tested Lexus. Still, you can’t get any of those as hybrids, nor can you get hybrid versions of the RX’s traditional competitors like the Q5, X3, GLK, etc.
The RX 450h also abounds with standard safety features including a copious number of airbags, front pretensioning seatbelts activated by a front mounted radar system and active headrests for the front passengers. The four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution are also standard and offer reasonable stopping power and predictable confident pedal feel.
The single most prominent area detracting from the 450h is the price of options packages. At $1,600 for the Levinson stereo, $1,800 for the excellent LED headlights, $2,400 for the hard disk navigation and $2,400 for the “Premium” package with various luxury appointments, the $42,110 MSRP ended up at over $52,000. Again, all without the availability of a third row seat. That said, the options, while certainly an augment to the 450h, are hardly required costs of entry to the level of refinement that this Lexus represents, and one could still enjoy.
The RX450h is unique in that it has very few, if any, competitors. While its non-hybrid sibling, the RX350, is also a bit of an odd fit for its class with much larger dimensions, the 450h, gets two more distinguishing traits. The first is its impressive fuel economy, while the second is the resultant price – which then puts it in a class against much larger (and much less fuel efficient) vehicles. The only remotely similar competitor is the Mercedes ML350 BlueTec diesel, and even that starts at almost $8,000 more.
Usually at this price point you’re paying for size and suffering with fuel economy, although with the RX450h you might be paying for fuel economy and suffering with the SUV’s size.
But if it’s a more reasonably sized luxury crossover that you’re after and you don’t mind spending to get fuel economy, then the hybrid RX has it all. We strongly suggest taking a look at this impressively engineered vehicle, especially for those who have already discovered its gasoline-powered sibling.