Lexus RX Review – An economical luxury 4×4?

Consumers are spoilt for choice in the luxury off-roader market. Whatever your badge preference or ideal powertrain, theres something out there to suit you.
So should your money go towards Lexus? The RX 450h has been on sale since 2009 and introduced the market to the hybrid off-roader. With technology scaled up from the king of green cars – Toyotas Prius – Lexus quotes some impressive fuel economy numbers and low CO2 emissions. Does the RX deliver on its promises?

Exterior

The RX 450h was one of the first Lexus to feature the marques L-Finesse design language and although the car has been on sale for a few years, it still looks modern. Its about to look even more modern, as a face-lifted version has just been unveiled with Lexus new spindle grille design and the option of an F-Sport trim line, offering a sporty option.
The shape is less aggressive than many other cars in the class, which could appeal to some buyers – particularly the sort likely to pick a clean, high-tech hybrid vehicle over a Germanic diesel, for example. The sloping roofline helps with the low 0.33 coefficient of drag – this is a shape designed to slip through the air.
Lexus RX rear
Like several other hybrid vehicles on the market, the front and rear Lexus badges are picked out with blue detailing, as are the rear light clusters. In case you were still left in any doubt of what powers the RX 450h, the word Hybrid is set into the chrome trim at the bottom of each rear door.

Interior

Whatever your size or shape, you shouldnt have much trouble getting comfortable. As is expected in this class, theres plenty of adjustment in the seats – electronic, with memory settings to allow quick changes for different drivers – and the steering wheel electrically adjusts for rake and reach too. To ease entry and egress, the seat and steering wheel actually move further back when you undo your seatbelt, and back to your setting when you buckle up.
Lexus RX seats
The driving position itself cant be faulted. In addition to the huge range of adjustment, the gear selector is mounted nice and high, and the instruments are clear and simple. A power usage dial replaces the usual rev-counter, letting you know whether the batteries are assisting or charging. Our only real quibble is the foot-operated parking brake. Wed expect an electronic item in a car of this calibre.
RX interior
The all-black colour scheme is a bit monochrome, but tasteful too, and importantly most materials feel of high quality. Only the black plastic around the gear selector disappoints a little, but the selector itself is tastefully trimmed in leather and chrome. The seats in our car were heated and cooled leather, and leather also covers the steering wheel and door arm rests.
Lexus RX back seats
Theres plenty of space – only a particularly tall passenger behind a tall driver should struggle for head or legroom. The middle rear seat isnt the most comfortable, but its likely to be the least-used too. The boot isnt as impressive – thanks to the batteries mounted below, theres not as much space as youd expect. At least a space saver spare is supplied, rather than a can of foam.
Some reviewers have complained about the Lexus computer mouse-style interface for the display screen, but we got used to it very quickly and we expect youd do the same. Its also located in a comfortable, intuitive position on the centre console.

Driving

At over two tonnes, theres a lot of weight to the RX 450h and its fair to say that you can feel it. Thats partly down to the steering, which has surprising weight to it once youre moving. In some ways, this is a good thing – it discourages you from driving the RX too aggressively – but some may prefer a lighter feel.
Our car rode on air suspension, rather than coil springs. It wasnt perfect, and harsher imperfections in the road send a shudder through the cabin, but at no point was it outright uncomfortable, and the soft leather seats no doubt helped to cushion the bumps too. On the positive side, the air suspension doesnt float in the way some spring setups do – it seems well damped. Grip levels are good – more than youre likely to need in daily use.
Rx dials
The brakes worked well. Braking has a regenerative effect that charges the batteries, and although they dont offer sports car pedal feel, theyre more consistent than other cars with braking regeneration weve tried – theres little on-off feeling of the electric motor and regular friction brakes swapping duties.

Engine

Predictably, the hybrid system is central to the experience. The engine is a 3.5-litre petrol V6, with a hybrid system that uses a front electric motor, and offers all-wheel drive with a separate rear-mounted electric motor. All that power is put through a continuously-variable transmission. Altogether, theres 295 horsepower on offer, enough for a 0-62 mph time of 7.8 seconds.
The first thing youll notice when starting up, is that very little actually starts – the engine doesnt kick in until needed, and if youre gentle with the accelerator you can pull away entirely on electric power.
RX front
If you continue to be gentle itll give you another mile or so of electric power before the petrol engine kicks in, but itll likely start up sooner if youre to keep up with traffic.
Around town, the drivetrain is incredibly quiet and refined. At anything more than walking pace youre unlikely to really hear or feel the engine kicking in and even when it does, the CVT allows for pretty low revs at city speeds. Hit the motorway or accelerate hard and you start to hear the engine, which turns into a V6 roar if you push the pedal to the carpet. Its not an unpleasant noise, but those unused to regular transmissions may find it a little odd to hear the constant engine note, rather than gear changes.
There are no complaints about the performance though. It steps off the line smartly, and is responsive and powerful at higher speeds too. CVTs may not be to all tastes, but they remove the delay youll experience in regular automatics which need to change down gears.

Value for money

The RX 450h range starts at a little over 44,000. That gets you SE trim, which comes with plenty of equipment. Our test car had SE-L trim, which included the leather trim, smart keyless card, and a clear, high-quality Mark Levinson 15-speaker sound system, among other fancy bits of kit. That model will set you back 54,105. Thats a fair bit of money, and more than several diesel rivals.
Lexus RX back
Ours had only one option, as detailed below:
Metallic/Mica Paint (610) – Paint is essentially a taste thing. Argento Ice (or silver, to most of us) worked well, but other shades are available. The two standard paint shades are Velvet Black and Arctic Pearl (white). All others cost 610.
Road tax will set you back a more than reasonable 130 a year. Insurance grouping is relatively high, at group 41E.
And fuel economy? Well, many will buy the RX 450h on the back of its official 44.8 mpg combined rating. Well spare you the suspense, and say that in our hands, we got nowhere near that figure – and it wasnt for the want of trying.
We got closest to the cars urban rating of 42.8 mpg. Hybrids are most suited to the stop-start of urban conditions, which allows their electric motors and stop-start systems to come into play. Under light throttle the RX can run on electric power only, and when coasting or at a standstill, the engine doesnt run at all unless the batteries are very low.
On two separate urban journeys, we managed 36-37 mpg. For two tonnes of off-roader, thats not bad at all. Even better, on one four-mile trip across town on less-crowded roads, some gentle (but not ridiculous) driving allowed us to spend around two-thirds of the journey without the engine kicking in.
Motorways were less of a success. We struggled to better 32 mpg at 70mph. If you regularly travel at 80mph, then dont be shocked to see numbers starting with a 2. To achieve the quoted 47.2 mpg extra-urban, we expect youd have to spend your commutes on 40-50mph roads, with frequent stopping to allow the engine to switch off and the electric mode to play a part.
Some particularly awful motorway journeys, with frequent 50mph zones, heavy traffic and regular stopping, returned an improved 35 mpg.
The moral here is that hybrids work better in traffic than they do on long, constant-throttle journeys. If your driving takes in the latter, you might be better off with one of the Lexus diesel competitors.
Lexus RX profile

Verdict

Score
Had the RX 450h been capable of better economy on the motorway – even mid-thirties – itd gain an extra point here. We know the issue is more with the way in which cars are tested for economy than it is with the car itself, but we suspect many potential owners will be a little put-off by 30 mpg economy when the extra-urban figure isnt far off 50 mpg. Its even more galling when you consider the higher purchase price next to some rivals.
However, if you expect to use the car mainly in traffic – your daily commute, or a school run – then realistic high-30s mpg is very good indeed (certainly better than diesel rivals manage around town), and may be enough to swing the decision over an equivalent diesel – which arent suited to shorter journeys, and of course, emit more pollutants than cleaner petrol-electric hybrids.
And thats likely something youll base your decision on. While the Lexus is an SUV first and hybrid second, the cars clean image may be just what some consumers are after. And if the looks and image work for you, then with the comfort and equipment levels on offer, there’s not a lot not to like.

What the press think

Here at carwow we aggregate and summarise reviews for every new car on sale.
The reviews are mixed for the RX 450h, and many seem to hinge on the cars economy. Those who managed better figures tend to rate it higher, and those who struggled marked it down. Other complaints included the ride quality and lack of boot space. Still, many liked the depth of engineering and the refinement, and would recommend the car.
Check out our full guide to the Lexus RX. With reviews, user reviews, videos, photos and stats.
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