Touted as the worlds most efficient and powerful luxury hybrid SUV, the Lexus RX450h should be a major force in it’s niche market. We agree and -- save for a couple of minor issues -- give it a big fat tick.
The RX450h hybrid system drivetrain is a 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine that puts out 183kW at 6000rpm and 317Nm at 4800rpm, a generator, a 123kW electric drive front motor, reduction gears to the front axle and continuously variable transmission. The hybrid system output is 220kW.
Power is directed to the front wheels via a mechanical path or an electric path or a mixture of both. Power output is in part redirected back to the electric drive motor and is used for engine acceleration. There is another 50kW magnetic motor that powers the rear wheels during take off and acceleration.
Extra urban fuel economy comes in at 6.1l/100km and the SUV emits150g/km of CO2.
With a wider stance and more sculptured rear, chunkier bumpers and flared wheel arches the RX450h is a real presence on the road.
Featuring a number of new design touches, it receives a tight vertical multi-bar grill, 19 inch alloy wheels, blue accents on the headlight lenses and blue Hybrid badging.
With superior aerodynamics in mind the 450h has been built to achieve class-leading drag figures and negligible wind and vibration noise.
A mouse like controller on the centre console accesses up to 20 functions including satellite navigation, viewable on the large display on the dash.
Enhanced climate control, a 12-speaker premium sound system, a handy head up display, a moon roof and in built blue-tooth are all standard. The cabin has door pockets, plenty of cupholders, console and seat back storage, and the rear seats are 40/20/40 split fold flat.
The comprehensive safety list for the Lexus RX450h includes a substantial airbag package, a rear view camera, vehicle dynamics integrated management, active cruise control, pre-collision safety system and optimised body strength.
Having tested a couple of lower and mid range SUVs lately it’s a welcome change to step into a high end unit. It’s not that the other cars are no good – quite the opposite – but its amazing how much better they can get.
From the moment we snatched the keys and got to it in the car park we agreed that it oozed class. It just looked more substantial and had more of a presence than the bulk of cheaper cars. Up close we immediately noticed the quality of the workmanship. All the panel seams lined up - nothing looked or felt tinny or fake.
Then there were the big alloys that perch it nice and high, the smooth, bold front and rear and the sharp purposeful creases.
Climbing in we searched hard for setbacks but again we fell short. It’s just a nice place to be. The soft leather seats are comfortable and supportive and the dash is simple clean and intuitive. The wooden steering wheel is a nice touch too, highlighting the overall prestige feel.
There was plenty of storage space for cups and bottles and the 40/20/40 flat folding split rear seats allow for a tonne or room in the back for big trips.
But we were keen to drive the thing; especially since Lexus claim that it’s “the world’s most powerful hybrid luxury SUV”. Pressing the starter button was a non-event – no guttural roar here, just a couple of lights on the dash indicating something had changed in the last second or two.
Hitting the accelerator was the first time we heard noise, as the parallel hybrid powertrain did its thing. And with the quick knock of a button on the steering wheel, we could see this fascinating system illustrated in front of us on the LCD display.
Sadly, we got more of a kick out of watching that than we did from the throttle. The new, beefier 450h – 150kg heavier than the outgoing 400h – didn’t push us back in our seat so much as gently whooshed us into a mild coma.
We thought it was slow, even for heavy hybrid, but once momentum took hold we quickly found the grunt they were banging on about. At speed the Lexus was responsive and very smooth. Sharp corners were handled like sweeping bends. There was negligible body roll and we remained upright from entry to exit.
Having said that though, the brakes took a bit of getting used to. They were spongy and lacked the immediacy we felt such a big car needed. There were some hairy times when the anchors needed to be stood on to stop quickly enough. We both agreed they could have been a lot better.
On the freeway was where the 450h came into its own. It was deafeningly quiet - leaving us to chat freely without having to shout – and painfully smooth.
Generally, the Lexus RX450h was as prestigious and substantial as it set out to be. It really is a step above the mid-range pack in terms of luxury and the economy figures for such a big car are outstanding. But there were some important points that we felt needed a bit of work.
Price: from $89,788
Engine: 183kW/317Nm 2.0-litre petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual, six-speed auto
Economy: 6.1L/100km combined
Emissions: 150g/km CO2
BMW X5 30d - $88,541
Mercedes Benz ML 300CDi - $84,700
Volkswagen Toureg V6 TDi - $75,990