The Lexus RX 450h is the first hybrid vehicle I have had the chance to test here at Motokure.com. I had some pre-conceived notions as to how the vehicle would perform. The idea of a sluggish yet fuel efficient vehicle with many creature comforts, but little in the way of character is where I expected to rest my opinion. Thankfully, the Lexus 450H is much better than I anticipated. Lexus has done a very interesting thing that tickles my car-brain when I look at the vehicle lineup. Many car makers place hybrid technology vehicles completely in left field of their performance models. Thus, many of us (including myself) start to think of hybrid cars as the killers of fun and performance. The increased cost of any vehicle as you move upward in the model line is usually padded with luxury features and added power. With green cars on the other hand, you pay a high cost but receive a vehicle that’s about as fun as a baked potato. While baked potatoes are very trendy and popular at the moment, many of these vehicles have yet to turn an actual profit for the companies that manufacture them. For luxury brands this is a harder sell, my hypothesis is that someone willing to pay $50,000 for a new SUV is not exactly worried about the cost of fuel. Especially if increased fuel economy comes at the behest of luxury amenities and performance. So, Lexus has done a very smart thing. If you want the very best performing RX 450h that Lexus offers, you will be buying a hybrid. If you want the best performing Lexus GS….well….you will be buying another hybrid. These two strong sellers in the US market means that Lexus could help turn around the stigma of dorky green vehicles and expose their audience to a blend of luxury and efficiency that’s hard to turn down.
The Lexus Interior
The interior of the RX 450h is spacious for a SUV with a mid-sized footprint. Font passenger and driver legroom was more than expected, I found myself comfortable with room to spare. The rear seating area was equally impressive with plenty of gear storage in the cargo area. The Lexus interiors tend to shine when it comes to ergonomic design and layout. Driver’s position is good, but the large a-pillar tends to make you a little more cautious when maneuvering in parking lots and tight spaces. This vehicle should absolutely be purchased with all of the parking assist doo-dads possible to avoid paint swapping with other vehicles. The asymmetrical dash design leads to some interesting button configurations yet remains overall intuitive. The model we tested was slightly stripped down in the gadget department, but everything remains on par to other vehicles in the Lexus lineup.
I really wanted to like the exterior of this vehicle; I just can’t quite see the fluidity of the design. The overall “egg” shape loses any symbolization in regards to sleekness or performance. The front clip is narrowed as if to enhance approach angles for off-road clearance, but that’s a road less traveled (pun) for those who would purchase this vehicle and gave me mixed signals as to the cars design direction. I feel that SUV’s can only come in two flavors, rugged and off-road capable or sleek urban grocery getter. Mixing the two can lead to vanilla blandness. The RX450 lineup is obviously in the second camp and thus I would like to see more seductive and performance oriented lines for such a vehicle.
While not a rocket of a vehicle, the RX 450h has good power for a vehicle over 4,500lbs. The trade off comes in the fuel economy department; the added weight of the hybrid system also increases MPG considerably over the much lighter and less powerful models. Horsepower was increased to 295 to handle the extra weight, couple this with competent handling and AWD system, the RX 450h becomes a nice family luxury package. During city driving I averaged between 26 and 30mpg. These are similar to the MPG figures of the Chevy Sonic I tested in comparison.
The hybrid function of the car allows for intermittent usage of the electric motor to increase the efficiency of the gasoline engine. You can drive as you normally would and the integration of the system is seamless once you get past the novelty of driving with zero engine noise up to 25mph. We did notice some additional driveline noises when shifting gears and when the engine starts while your underway, nothing alarming but just a bit more noise than other vehicles.
The Lexus RX450h is a good purchase for a luxury SUV seeker who is conscious of fuel economy. It offers great legroom for its size and performance is acceptable even with added weight of the drive systems. The exterior design is the weak link, it does not convey the nature of the vehicle and curb appeal is much more important for luxury brand shoppers.