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Lexus RX 450h F Sport 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
6
Craig Jamieson road tests and reviews the Lexus RX 450h F Sport with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Craig Jamieson road tests and reviews the Lexus RX 450h F Sport with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

With the original RX400h of 2005, Lexus claims to have invented the 'luxury hybrid vehicle'. And it was quite a revelation, considering that when it debuted, the only other hybrids on offer were the distinctly pious Prius and the first-generation Honda Insight, a car that looked like it had driven off the set of a Japanese sci-fi film.

It could, of course, be argued that the world needed a luxury hybrid like a fish needs an umbrella, but the car industry always believes it knows what's best for us.

Eleven years on, with Lexus hybrid sales sailing past the one-million mark and the RX model entering its fourth generation, it's safe to say the luxury hybrid vehicle is a concept that works. But with the formula pretty well screwed-down by now – and on offer from almost every luxury manufacturer – how does Lexus keep things fresh for the dressed-up hybrid?

In the case of the new RX450h F Sport, the answer is actually what it says on the tin.

Design

So, what does it take to turn a lumbering, two-tonne hybrid into anything resembling sporty? Well, attractive 20-inch alloy wheels and a unique front and rear bumper take care of the athletic look, while adaptive suspension, "sport-tuned" steering and selectable 'Sports/Sports +' driving modes offer the trousers to match the mouth, as it were. 

Lexus does offer a pair of toned-down versions on either side of the F Sport: the $88,000 Luxury, and the top-tier, $106,000 Sports Luxury, for the less hard-core buyers who, to be fair, make up a reasonable proportion of Lexus customers.

Moving inside, there are a more than a few sporty accents – steering wheel, seats, pedals, gear knob – that are unique to the F Sport. A high level of interior quality is immediately evident; everything feels as solidly constructed as a stone bridge, with a handsome, muted design across the dashboard that's a very Japanese take on Euro premium style.

The huge, widescreen media unit is still accessed by an infuriatingly obtuse joystick and button arrangement.

Only a few niggles persist in an otherwise luxurious cabin. The centre console is far too wide, which takes up space that should really be the purview of the driver's left leg, not an expanse of plastic. There are also one or two instances where Lexus has raided the Toyota parts bin, such as the starter button, which can take some of the shimmer off the 'premium luxury' vibe. And the front passenger seats, while heated and vented automatically, feel coarse in their adjustment. It's nitpicking, yes, but it's the sort of thing that Lexus usually gets right.

The main niggle, however, is that the huge, widescreen media unit is still accessed by an infuriatingly obtuse joystick and button arrangement, which feels like it may have been modelled on a Commodore 64 unit. 

How such a finicky, fiddly and arcane system ever made it past the engineering, ergonomics and marketing teams at Lexus is truly a mystery. It's not just that the interface itself is clunky, the menus and pages aren't logical, and the system locks you – and your front passenger – out when the car is in motion. It's understandable that Lexus doesn't want you ploughing into the rear of the car in front because you're trying to fine-tune the treble response on the Mark Levinson stereo. But there are such things as passengers, who aren't engaged in the business of driving and are suitably miffed when they can't access the suite of toys and tech..

Moving on, finally, to the cargo area, you'll find that although it's wide, it's about as deep as an Adam Sandler movie, offering just 461 litres. The Nickel Metal Hydride battery pack and 50kW electric motor are at least partly responsible, as both are mounted where you'd otherwise store your groceries. 

As an aside, it is a shame that Toyota and Lexus persist with environmentally damaging, comparatively inefficient Ni-MH cells, as opposed to the current gold standard of Lithium Ion.

In better news, the Qi wireless phone charger is a fantastic feature and is placed exactly where most people would throw their phone on a daily basis. Also wondrous is the addition of directional rear-seat ventilation. And, being a Toyota product, there are storage spaces tucked everywhere. To get your kids to clean the car, it'd be as simple as hiding $20 in the cubby hole that looks like a palm rest and telling them that what they find while cleaning the car is theirs.

About town

Rolling around in full-electric mode, it's easy to wonder why all city cars aren't electric. Sit and think for a moment about just how pleasant and blissfully silent life in the big smoke could be if everything on the road was electric. Of course, we'd also have to confiscate the car horn, but that's something worth doing anyway.

Unfortunately, should you try to keep the RX450h in all-electric mode, you'll need to have the soft touch of a keyhole surgeon and the patience of a saint. And, to be honest, you won't make any friends among your fellow drivers at the glacial pace EV driving requires. Luckily, should you push into petrol-electric mode, the transition is seamless and instantaneous. The CVT can make the big V6 sound a little gruff under hard acceleration, but it's not all the engine's fault; there's an 'engine noise enhancer', which delivers extra intake sound.

The best way to describe it would be that it's a supremely comfortable tourer with a turn of speed.

Where and how you drive this car will make a big difference to your fuel economy, and if you're mainly sitting in stop/start traffic you may get even better than the claimed 5.7 litres per 100km figure. Our on the highway, on the other hand, you might not get that low.

Whereas the base RX200t's under-damped suspension struggles to keep up over speed bumps, the 450h's firmer dampers do a much better job of controlling the spring rebound. It's less crash and more composed, basically.

You do tend to notice its size when manoeuvring around the city, where a full 1895mm of width plays against you, and it can be like threading a cruise ship down a canal. It must be said, however, that it's a quiet and refined ship to be piloting.

On the road

It may wear a sports badge, but you're unlikely to confuse the RX450h F Sport with a hard-edged racer. The best way to describe it would be that it's a supremely comfortable tourer with a turn of speed. And out-and-out thrust isn't the RX450h's forte, anyway. Acceleration isn't what you'd call electric, even though the journey from zero to 100 is over in less than eight seconds.

The steering is pretty direct for a big SUV, which lets you feel confident as you turn into corners. And, despite its massive 2.2-tonne bulk, the RX takes bends well, up to the point where your passengers will start to ask you to knock it off. If you push past that, the sheer bulk of the RX comes into play and overcomes the tyres.

Speaking of the rubber, there is a bit of road noise, but Lexus's NVH department has done a great job of ensuring that it doesn't overwhelm the cabin, even on coarse roads at highway speeds. Winding up the windows is akin to sealing the door on a bank vault; it really is that quiet.

The brakes can feel a little odd, as the system decides how to mix the regenerative engine braking and the actual steel discs. It can undulate a little in response in hard stops, making the RX pitch back and forth in a kind of brake-hard/brake-soft cadence.

The F Sport's suspension is adjustable via a control wheel on the centre console; in 'Sport' and 'Sport+' modes, the system increases the damper rates to offer better handling. Of course, there isn't a night and day difference between the two modes, nor should there be. The dampers still have to match the spring rates, otherwise the entire suspension system becomes at best uncomfortable and at worst, genuinely dangerous.

Happily, Lexus has kept the shock absorbers well matched to their respective springs and, even though the F Sport tips the scales at a rotund 2210 kilos, everything is controlled nicely.

Verdict

The RX450h F Sport poses a bit of a conundrum, frankly. It's a hybrid Lexus SUV, yet it's festooned with sporting paraphernalia. It's dressed with avant-garde flair from the outside, but it's reserved and handsome inside. It's a full-size SUV, but offers only five seats and cargo space that'll soon struggle to deal with five passengers' luggage. And it's ostensibly a modern, environmentally friendly hybrid, yet it employs battery technology that's wasteful and behind the times.

Conundrums aside, however, it's a comfortable, well-appointed and luxurious family wagon that offers great fuel economy and a laundry list of standard equipment.

Does lexus' 450h F Sport bring sporty appeal to the hybrid SUV formula? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Lexus RX pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$62,990
Based on 41 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$42,900
Highest Price
$79,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
RX450h F Sport Hybrid 3.5L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $71,390 – 82,060 2016 Lexus RX 2016 RX450h F Sport Hybrid Pricing and Specs
RX350 F-Sport 3.5L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $53,900 – 76,500 2016 Lexus RX 2016 RX350 F-Sport Pricing and Specs
RX200t Luxury 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $42,900 – 62,000 2016 Lexus RX 2016 RX200t Luxury Pricing and Specs
RX450h Luxury Hybrid 3.5L, Hyb/PULP, CVT AUTO $62,920 – 72,270 2016 Lexus RX 2016 RX450h Luxury Hybrid Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
6