Lexus RX 450h

Hybrid newcomer mixes low running costs and impressive performance

The new RX 450h is the car charged with kick-starting a hi-tech hybrid revolution at Lexus. The Japanese firm has declared its entire line-up will be powered by petrol-electric drivetrains in future, and the bold SUV is the first model to benefit from this radical philosophy.

It aims to blend premium car luxury and desirability with low running costs, by combining a clean-burning 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with two electric motors – one for each axle. Yet while the RX’s drivetrain is cutting edge, its styling is anything but.

The newcomer takes its design cues from the old car, which can trace its roots back to 1998. With a steeply raked windscreen and tailgate, the RX looks more like an inflated hatchback than an upright off-roader. Subtly flared wheelarches, a bold chrome grille and eye-catching LED headlamps boost its visual appeal, but it can’t match the BMW for road presence.

The firm’s designers have tried to inject some excitement inside, with mixed results. While the dashboard features sweeping curves and striking shapes, the finished result looks messy, and the garish wood trim of the SE-L won’t be to all tastes. The material quality is first rate, though, and the standard leather upholstery, sat-nav and superb fit and finish back up its premium image.

Cabin space is excellent, with occupants in the rear getting bags of head and legroom. Only the small boot compromises the RX’s versatility – its 446-litre capacity is 174 litres down on the cavernous BMW.

What the Lexus lacks in practicality it makes up for with performance, thanks to a combined petrol/electric output of 295bhp.

At the track, the hybrid covered 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds – three-tenths faster than the X5. Its real-world pace is equally impressive, while the V6 unit delivers a surprisingly sporty growl on the move.

In town, the Lexus is virtually silent. Use the throttle pedal carefully and you can rely largely on electric power once you’re in motion. The RX’s city credentials are further boosted by its commanding driving position and comfortable ride. Entry-level SE models use ordinary coil springs, but our flagship SE-L’s air-suspension offers composed handling in bends.

We just wish the steering wheel gave more feedback. Torque steer can also be an issue as the RX is essentially front-driven, with the electric motors kicking in to power the rear wheels only when needed.

This set-up also impacts on the vehicle’s ability in the rough stuff, making it useful only for light off-roading duties. For the majority of owners, that will be more than sufficient, because it is on the road where the Lexus can show off its latest-generation hybrid drivetrain most effectively.

In everyday use, the system works well, delivering 27.1mpg in our test – 3.6mpg more than the slower oil-burning BMW. Factor in the RX’s low CO2 emissions, decent driving dynamics and lengthy kit list, and it’s clear the X5 has a serious fight on its hands.


Chart position: 1WHY: There’s no longer a conventional engine option on the RX; the range is hybrid only..

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