Road Test - Lexus RX450H

I’m a recent convert to SUV’s. I never really understood them, but having run a Land Rover Freelander now for over a year, I’ve grown to love the space and comfort of these vehicles, and to understand the huge safety benefits in sitting above the traffic.

So it was with real interest that I tested a Lexus RX450H recently over ten days. The promise of this hybrid SUV is that you get petrol V8 performance and diesel economy from it’s unique hybrid drive train.

Lexus 1  Lexus 2

I’ve never thought of the big Lexus as an attractive car – the lines at the rear have always somehow looked awkward, but the addition of the Lexus “Spindle grill” to the new model gives it real presence on the road, and the F Sport trim, which includes black wheels, turns the RX into a striking machine, particularly when teamed with pearl white paintwork.

Engine, performance and economy

If you’ve spent any time driving Lexus or Toyota hybrids, you can become blasé about what is an incredible piece of engineering, controlled seamlessly by computers. The petrol engine is a V6 of 3.5 litres and which puts out 245BHP. That’s coupled with two electric motors, which take total power output up to almost 300BHP. The really clever part is the way they swap and change as required. Set off in a car park and the electric motors alone will be called upon. Cruise at 70MPH on the motorway and the petrol engine will do the work. Floor it for an overtake and everything comes on stream to give you some really impressive thrust. But within a few miles, you won’t even notice all this happening, you’ll simply revel in the smooth progress and the low fuel consumption. The RX can be switched between sport and Eco modes, but I was happy with eco almost all of the time – it suits the car’s nature. There’s also an EV mode, where the car will run on electric power alone – it was a real pleasure to use that for a slow crawl into Brighton in stop start traffic, knowing I wasn’t wasting petrol.

The Lexus is a quick car, with a sub 8 second 0-60 time and a top speed of over 120MPH – that’s some going for a big, heavy machine. But it’s the way the performance is delivered that is striking, when the torquey electric motors kicks in, the car leaps forward, making overtaking completely effortless. In the cruise, it’s exceptionally quiet, but when the engine is revved, there’s a distinctive growl, which does actually sound more like a V8 than a V6.

Economy is the real ace in the RX’s hand, and I achieved over 34 MPG during my time with the car. That’s not close to the official government figure, but it’s bordering on amazing for a car of this size and performance, and allowing for the fact that I wasn’t in “economy mode” in my driving style at all!

Lexus 3  Lexus 4

Comfort and Equipment

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this car is the most comfortable I’ve driven. From the moment I sat on the perfectly proportioned and sprung (for me at least) seat, it felt as though the Lexus had been tailor made for me. The armrests were in the right place, the controls all fell to hand, and the cosseting climate control and heated seats did their job perfectly. If I was planning a cross continental drive, the RX450H would top my list.

As you’d expect from a Lexus, the equipment levels are high, with gorgeous leather, a top end DAB radio hi fi system, satellite navigation and electric memory seats. It’s also fitted with front and rear parking sensors, which are essential as you can’t actually see the extremities, but the front ones are also an irritant as they sound all the time when negotiating multi storey car parks. I’m sure you can disable them, but I took one look at the fearsomely large hand book, and decided I’d live with the beeping.

The Sat Nav worked efficiently, although I couldn’t work out how to simply input a post code, so ended up typing the full address each time. The keyboard and all the functions are controlled through a mouse like device, which isn’t intuitive, as it has “steps” which make it easy to miss your target on screen. Toyota’s touch screen sat nav is much easier to use. My phone hooked up easily to the blue tooth, and I was able to stream music to the stereo.

As you’d expect the car features automatic LED lights, auto wipers and cruise control as standard.

Space and Practicality

There’s plenty of leg room front and rear in the car, and the boot is big, even allowing for the hybrid battery pack under the floor. I wondered if loading height is compromised by the sloping roof – I like that most Land Rovers will take bikes stood up – but I didn’t have a chance to check it. I did find I was conscious of the size of the car while driving it, and even using the parking camera and proximity sensors, I sometimes struggled to park it neatly.

There are plenty of cup holders and places for phones and keys, and the interior never became cluttered.

One feature I loved was the automatic opening and closing rear door – pressing a button on the remote or in the interior activates this, and it means you never have to touch the dirty back door

Price

The model I tested is almost £52,000. Even allowing for the savings you’ll make on road tax and fuel consumption against it’s rivals, that’s a hefty price to pay. But then it’s unique in it’s class, and if you want to smoothness of a petrol engine in a large and roomy car, it’s the only way to do so without facing crippling running costs.

Summary

I loved this car – I’m a huge fan of hybrid drive trains for their efficiency and smoothness, and to find one that gives me that, combined with incredible comfort and Lexus’ legendary reliability, has put it at the top of my “want” list as a personal car. The fact that it has replaced the GS450H at the top of said list speaks volumes about the lead Lexus is establishing over other car makers when it comes to exploiting the potential of the petrol hybrid.

With thanks to Lexus UK for providing the test car.

Other Mike’s Life road tests and car related stories:

1/ Lexus CT 200H

2/ Toyota Prius

3/ Should car manufacturers be selling online?

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"Mike's Life is where you can stay current with the life, thoughts, successes and failures of Mike Cliffe-Jones. Never knowingly ordinary, Mike shares as much as possible about his work as a marketer and in business, as well as his enviable lifestyle on and in the oceans around The Canary Islands."

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