Lexus RX 450h 2016 review
The new Lexus RX 450h offers big improvements over its predecessor, but are they enough?
The new RX has improved over the outgoing model in near enough every way. It’s faster, more efficient and more luxurious, but somehow still manages to miss the spot. This top-spec car is eye-wateringly expensive, and it’s still not as good as rivals from behind the wheel. Still, it’s supremely comfortable, and being able to waft around town in complete silence is a boon. To some, this will be the perfect SUV; but for most, it’s not quite right.
With such a vast range of large premium SUVs now on the market, it’s easy to forget about the hybrid-powered Lexus RX. But late last year, the Japanese brand revealed an all-new version of its 4x4, complete with more aggressive styling, a revised interior and more efficient engines.
At first glance, the new origami design strikes an imposing stance, and the gaping grille stunned crowds when it was revealed at the New York Motor Show last year. But back in Britain – with a number plate fastened to the front – it’s lost some of its impact. Still, it’s attracted a lot of attention, especially around our central London office.
Inside, the RX has taken a leap upmarket. The old car wasn’t exactly shabby, but this 2016 model raises the game. There’s leather everywhere you look, and the intersecting dash is an improvement on the comparatively mundane set-up you’ll find in the smaller NX. The widescreen nav looks great, too; it’s just a shame you have to operate it using the fiddly mouse-style controller. The interior isn’t as resolved as the new Volvo XC90’s, but it’s not far off.
Even the steering wheel feels plusher than than in the NX. You can see the creases in the high-quality leather, and the big buttons feel logically laid out. The analogue clock is another recognisable Lexus touch, and it adds yet more class.
The seats are supremely comfortable, too. They offer plenty of support and are adjustable in countless different directions. The wheel is also electrically adjustable, making finding the perfect driving position very easy. Granted, there’s not as much room in the back or in the boot due to that slightly sloping roofline, but knee and legroom are up to class standard.
Given the strong first impressions, we were expecting a transformation in the way the RX drives. The car is available with a choice of turbocharged petrol or V6 hybrid powerplants, and we tried the latter here in the UK for the first time.
Fire it up, and you’ll hear, well, nothing. The powerful electric motor allows you to pull away in silence, plus it will continue for a couple of miles on electric power alone. This makes the car impressively efficient around town, and despite its bulbous dimensions, the Lexus doesn’t feel too cumbersome.
On the open road, however, the RX’s comfort-orientated drive makes its presence known. It feels soft at high speeds, and while that’s great on the motorway, it’s less welcome on twisty roads. The steering is sharp enough, enabling you to place the SUV with a pleasing amount of precision.
The CVT box has improved, too. The more powerful V6 petrol engine makes it feel less strained than before, and the superior shove means you spend less time with your foot on the floor trying to haul around its two-tonne kerb weight. It’s very quiet at 70mph, with little wind or road noise – even on our Premier model’s 20-inch wheels.
However, the impressive urban fuel economy takes a serious hit on longer trips. While Lexus claims you’ll return upwards of 50mpg, we managed a poor 29mpg over a mixture of motorways and A-roads. A conventional diesel-powered BMW X5 xDrive30d will regularly deliver 35-40mpg.
It’s a different story when it comes to CO2 emissions, though. Company car drivers favouring the Lexus will be subject to a 20 per cent Benefit in Kind charge; those choosing the BMW would be looking at the comparatively high 29 per cent tax bracket.
Yet it’s hard to ignore the near-£60,000 list price of this 450h Premier. Sure, it comes loaded with kit – including a heated steering wheel, LED headlamps and a 15-speaker Mark Levinson stereo – but so does an Audi Q7 S line, and that costs £4,000 less.