2015 Lexus RX 450h first drive review
Lexus has cornered the market in comfortable and refined hybrid SUVs, but can the latest RX take on the new breed of plug-in hybrids from Volvo, BMW and Audi? We find out.
- Fourth-generation RX is most efficient version yet
- Available with hybrid or petrol power, with CO2 emissions from 120g/km
- On sale now, priced from Â£39,995 on the road
This new version, though, arrives at a time when Audi, BMW and Volvo have all launched their own high-riding plug-in hybrids, pushing the boundaries for all-electric range, dropping CO2 emissions figures further than ever before, and giving buyers a choice if they want a switch from diesel.
However, Lexus says this technology is too expensive and only suits a small number of buyers, so the latest RX is still powered by a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine (this time with direct injection), plus electric motors on each axle for additional boost and, when needed, four-wheel drive.
Choose an entry-level SE and that means CO2 emissions of just 120g/km - significantly lower than anything you can get from similarly-priced diesel rivals - and a combined economy of 54.3mpg.
The other option is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol with 235bhp, but its fairly prohibitive tailpipe output of 181g/km means it'll make up just a tiny fraction of the sales here in the UK.
The edgy exterior design, enormous grille, sweptback LED headlights and invisible C-pillars all suggest a cutting-edge machine, and the RX certainly stands out; but, once you settle down inside the smart new cabin and get moving, you soon grasp that this is a traditional luxury car.
That means big, comfortable and supportive seats, which are electrically operated, heated and ventilated on all but the base model. Classical trappings of glossy wood, soft leather and a big analogue clock combine with a massive 12.3-inch infotainment screen, plus an optional head-up display which is bright and clear.
The rather awkward 'mouse' pointer controller remains a bugbear, as it's overly sensitive, but new on-screen shortcuts have been added to make the system a little more user-friendly and intuitive than it was before.
This new version is also bigger than before, with most of the extra space shoehorned between the wheels to improve the passenger space on board. It's worked, too, with enough head- and legroom to accommodate tall adults, even with the optional panoramic roof fitted to the car we drove.
The RX also has a nice flat loading bay, which can be accessed automatically simply by waving your hand across a sensor fitted inside the Lexus badge on the tailgate. However, the boot doesn't cater for luggage as well as the cabin looks after the passengers.
Unfortunately, the luggage bay is quite shallow, while the sloped glass tailgate robs even more room; and, with only 453 litres of space with the seats up, the RX falls well short of the Audi Q7 (650 litres), BMW X5 (650 litres) and Volvo XC90 (775 litres).
Working in tandem, the big V6 and electric motor produce a healthy 308bhp, so despite the RX weighing in at an almost Bentley-esque 2.2 tonnes, it'll still reach 62mph from rest in 7.7 seconds. However, if you get greedy with the throttle when overtaking, especially up an incline, the CVT gearbox sends the revs soaring. It settles down once you do get up to speed, but makes the power delivery feel somewhat all-or-noting, especially compared with the in-gear flexibility of a V6 diesel engine.
On the plus side, the level of refinement in the RX far exceeds that of any diesel. There is only a faint whisper of wind noise around the windscreen pillars on the motorway, and road- and tyre noise are both significantly lower than what you get from other large, sporty SUVs at this price.
Keep your inputs smooth and deliberate, and the RX remains steady and composed through sweeping corners; but, there is a penalty to pay for all this comfort and refinement. In tighter turns, there is a dramatic amount of body lean, and it pushes into squealing understeer at anything more than modest speeds. Mind you, there is no real reward to be had from driving the RX this way; drivers wanting BMW X5-like agility should look elsewhere.
Traditionally strong residuals, an enviable reputation for reliability and award-winning customer satisfaction are all part-and-parcel of the Lexus ownership experience, too; and, while the pricing is in line with its premium rivals', Lexus includes a tremendous amount of kit as standard.
In mid-range 'Luxury' spec, this includes: Premium navigation, DAB radio, a wireless phone charging tray, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control and no less than 10 airbags. Very few rivals (bar the XC90) come close to this kind of generosity.
So, as an ownership prospect, the RX has a lot going for it. But, the limited practicality, lack of genuine off-road ability, average real-world economy (we never managed more than 30mpg on our test) and some dynamic shortcomings mean that this SUV won't be everyone's cup of tea.
- Model: Lexus RX 450h F Sport
- Price: £52,995
- Engine: 3.5-litre V6 petrol with electric motor, e-CVT auto
- Power/Torque: 308bhp/247lb ft (combined)
- 0-62mph: 7.7 secs
- Top speed: 124mph
- Economy: 51.4mpg
- CO2: 127g/km
- BIK tax liability: 20%
- Boot space seats up/down: 453/924 litres