We drove the new Lexus RX 450h: a favorite star on the SUV firmament…

Did you know that the Lexus RX 450h has been for many years now the absolute top choice in the luxury SUV segment? As Lexus states: “Not only it is the world’s bestselling luxury hybrid SUV and all-time best sold Lexus model, but it is also the world’s first luxury SUV that has created its own segment back in 1998.”

Indeed, it has been popular the world over, and this for all the (very) good reasons. Mechanical perfection, smoothness, performance, economy, superb finish, comfort, reliability, combined with its ease of use, and last but not least ample standard equipment. Need we say more? Maybe, after this test, we might come up with some more good experiences. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

The Lexus RX series SUV is indeed a worldwide winner. Indeed, its looks are good, and hardly needed any changes over de last few years. It breathes the typical angular yet fluent styling language we have grown accustomed to in the Lexus model range, with pleasing proportions and an overall size which many find “just right”.

The RX is not overly generous when it comes to luggage space – but rest assured – Lexus has the right RX for you. More spacious than ever before, the RX “L” has also evolved into a seven-seat model. It is effectively a new model, with body length extended by 110 mm and the back window set at a steeper angle to ensure those sitting in the rearmost seats are as comfortably accommodated as other passengers.

Returning to “our” RX, it does offer enough room for its occupants. It seats easily four, and we can tell you it offers ample legroom in the back, you can even cross your legs effortlessly. The third passenger in the back suffers somewhat from lack of headroom, and comfort is somewhat impaired, as he/she sits on the big central, foldable armrest.

Silk smooth hybrid progress…

Under the hood of the Lexus purrs a 3 litre V6, coupled with the Lexus Hybrid system. This means a total system power of 312 PS or 229 kW at your disposal, enough to propel your Lexus in some 8,2 seconds to 100 km/h and hurtle further to a governed top speed of 180 km/h. But when you drive and own this car, it is not pure performance you are looking for. It is comfortable, whispering, vibrationless progress. And here the RX delivers. Beautifully. Via the continuously variable transmission both engines deliver the computer calculated ideal mix of power to the wheels, and the result is a smoothness in propulsion which you have to experience to believe it.

On the open road at higher cruising speeds, the efficient V6 gets into its own, and delivers honest economy. But it is in slow and tight stop and go urban traffic that the hybrid system excels. The onboard computer will choose E power more often than not, putting the combustion engine to work to either recharge the battery and/or help the E-motor, but – and that’s also the cleverness of it – doing this at an ideal rpm/throttle opening combination which lets it reach its ideal thermal efficiency.

All this without the slightest shock and with only the gentlest hum being heard when the V6 engine sets in. It is this hybrid system which Toyota has introduced in … 1997 for its first Prius, and which it has perfected ever since.

We have applauded this system already many times in these columns, and when it comes to smoothness combined with slow speed economy, we find it still among the very best.

Depending on your driving style, economy can be truly astonishing when you let the system use the E-power in the driving cycle. Urban errands driving with anticipation and restraint will not cost more than 7 litres/100 km and even less in this big 2090 kg SUV. Driving with verve on winding open roads at varying speeds will let de consumption vary between 7 and 8 litres/100 km. CO2 emissions are quoted by the manufacturer at 134 g/km. All these values are excellent, but it’s the sheer smoothness and refinement of progress which truly stands out.

For those who are interested, we can tell you here that the V6 engine develops 262 PS/193 kW at 6000 rpm, with 335 Nm of torque at 4800 rpm. The electric motor in front develops 167 PS.

As usual in a Lexus, you can chose between eco, normal and Sport (even Sport+) driving. The virtual instrumentation places then a big rev counter in your central line of vision, and drivetrain/steering responsiveness are up a notch.  

Comfort in the cabin and on the road

The seats are excellent, and will not tire you even after many hours, and the same can be said of how this RX floats over the road. Potholes, ridges, everything is nicely swallowed and hardly reaches the passengers. Add to this the excellent sound insulation and you understand that driving and travelling in this RX is a very relaxing affair. The Levinson sound system is a chapter on its own and lets you make the voyage in the most exquisite sound atmospheres.

The screen and infotainment system are also honed to perfection, eminently practical and useable. Lexus has left the central mouse knob for a touchpad system, and some find this better. Personally, we are very found of the mouse in our Lexus CT200h, but when the majority of users want another setup, why shouldn’t you change?

The Lexus RX driver gets all road info, driving assistance and infotainment he can wish for, even considering Apple and Android audio are now also thrown in.

For the 2021 model year, the Lexus RX 450h comes with a Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) as standard across all vehicle equipment levels. We also found the overhead display also one of the best we have come across…

The RX is eminently practical too, with chargers fore and aft for your electrical equipment, large bins for bottles, beverages and small items, it is all very well thought out to make everyday a joy to drive this RX450h.

Conclusion

We said it, a top car in its segment, and it has everything to stay in this enviable position. It impressed us again, as a gentle, powerful everyday companion, built to soothe and relax you when you move from A to B, be it 5 or many hundreds of kilometers or miles, and this for years to come… with style, reliability and economy to match!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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