2014 Lexus RX 450h AWD With 2015 Update Review By Carey Russ
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2014 Lexus RX 450h AWD with 2015 update
Since the debut of the original Lexus RX 300 back in 1998, the mid-sized Lexus luxury crossover has become a class benchmark and the Lexus sales leader.
The RX product range was expanded in 2005 with the first hybrid version, the RX 400h. Which morphed into RX 450h form with the next generation in mid-2009, and then got a freshening for model year 2013. If there have been no major styling changes since then, Lexus has still been busy keeping its most popular offering current.
2014 saw the availability of Siri Eyes-Free Mode technology licensed from Apple, and compatible with iPhone 4S and 5. It reads directions, notes, and calendar entries. 2015 sees further updates with standard Display Audio seven-inch monitor with information systems, an upgraded standard audio system, and standard backup camera. Fog-lamps will be LED, not incandescent for longer life. And there are the usual changes to option packages and their contents.
None of those changes affect the basic nature of the RX, so the 2014 RX 450h that has been my test car for the past week should be insignificantly different from its 2015 counterpart.
As before, it's a full series-parallel gasoline-electric hybrid that can run under gasoline power only, purely electric power, or any degree of combination of the two. My test RX was the all-wheel drive variant, which means that a separate electric motor-generator at the rear provides traction power when the control computer deems that necessary.
As has been the case for some years now, the sometimes non-linear throttle response and noticeable power-mode changes that made early Toyota hybrids feel different from regular internal-combustion cars are long-gone. The only way to tell what's powering this one is to look at the information display.
Befitting a luxury vehicle, the RX 450h is quiet and comfortable whether around town or at speed on the highway. The crossover body has one important advantage for a hybrid compared to a sedan -- the hybrid system battery pack can be placed so that there is no loss of passenger or luggage space. And in the RX 450h there is plenty of both.
On the road, the RX is a contemporary luxury car at heart, emphasizing passenger comfort and a smooth ride over cornering prowess. Still, it's firmer than its ancestors, and capable of getting you anywhere on pavement or perhaps improved forest roads (6.7 inches of clearance is not going to impress the offroad crowd) in total comfort. Fuel economy is laudable for its size, 25 mpg for my week with a bit more highway driving than usual and as little stop-and-go traffic as possible. Which is the opposite of a hybrid's most efficient domain, but still better than most other comparably-sized crossovers. Comfort, cachet, and fuel economy,it must be a Lexus hybrid.
APPEARANCE: Continuity is good, as are detail improvements. A new RX is instantly recognizable as such due to the shape and especially shape of the D-pillars and slope of the rear window. The major change for the current model came for model year 2013, with an early implementation of the "spindle" grille that mirrored the trapezoidal shape of the upper part in outline below that. As with other Lexus (and Toyota) hybrids, blue around the corporate badge in the grille denotes hybrid. There is also badging on the sides and at the rear. Underbody panels are not skid plates, they are for aerodynamic efficiency.
COMFORT: It's instantly recognizable as a Lexus from the inside, with premium materials and close tolerances. The styling motif is neither too conservative nor too radical, with organically-flowing shapes and multiple forms and textures. It looks good, but style never trumps substance. Laminated bamboo serves as the wood of choice here, different from the usual walnut or maple and hardly endangered.
All of the expected amenities will be found, most standard and the rest optional. There is no need to take the "key" fob out of your pocket or purse with touch un/locking and pushbutton start/stop. Sit on leather, power-adjustable with driver's three-position memory in front and optionally heated and ventilated.
The upright, high-eyepoint driving position allows a good view of the road and instruments. Which are the typical Lexus bright electroluminescent type for easy visibility in any lighting. A power-adjustable steering wheel means every driver can find the perfect driving position easily, for comfort and safety.
Audio choices are all current, AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, CD or DVD (sound), USB and auxiliary jack, and Bluetooth streaming if your phone is capable. Navigation, audio, and climate systems are controlled through the trackball-like "Remote Touch" device on the console.
There is an optional dual-screen rear-seat entertainment system. Even without that, the rear seat is still first-class accommodation, with plenty of room for two, or even three as the floor is flat and outboard contouring not too deep.
A 60/40 split of both back and cushion means that when the seatback is folded forward, the cushion moves down and forward for a flat expanded cargo area. Interior storage both front and rear is commendable, especially an open area under the front console. A power tailgate makes cargo access easy, and a space-saver spare tire is found under the rear load floor.
SAFETY: The Lexus RX protects its passengers with a strong structure designed to effectively manage crash energy. There are 10 standard airbags - dual front and front side, rear-seat side, side curtains, and front knee. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, and the Vehicle Stability Control system are all standard. They can be further linked together with the VDIM system. Hill-start assist control keeps the car in place on grades, in forward and reverse. Adaptive front lighting, automatic high-beam detection, and the Pre-Collision System are all available.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The RX's rigid structure and fully-independent strut front, double wishbone rear suspension give the moderately soft but well-damped ride that Lexus drivers expect. Soundproofing is (of course) excellent, for very low noise levels, for a relaxing driving experience. The electric power steering gives a moderate, not too light, touch, for good control. Response to driver inputs is good, as are the brakes.
PERFORMANCE: The 450h is marketed for performance as much as for hybrid efficiency. The combination of 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle V6 and AC permanent-magnet electric traction motor-generator units makes a maximum of 295 horsepower and unspecified but plenty strong torque to give performance equal to what would be expected from a V8, but with V6 or better fuel economy.
The RX is primarily a front-wheel drive machine, with the engine and front motor-generator (and the starter/generator/transmission control motor-generator as well) mounted transversely between the front wheels and blending power via a computer-controlled CVT.
The engine makes maxima of 245 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 234 lb-ft of torque (at 4800 rpm), with the front motor good for 155 hp. Drive to the rear wheels is from a rear-mounted motor-generator with a maximum of 67 hp.
It's quick off the line and can get to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds, so merges are no issue. Neither are hills, on any sort of road. Driven like that, fuel economy will be none too impressive. Driven more moderately but still far from hypermiling road blockage, I got a 25 mpg average. That was with more than the usual amount of highway miles, not a hybrid's best environment for efficiency. That is in slow surface street traffic, which is something to be avoided if possible. And 25 mpg from a 4600-pound, 300-horsepower crossover is nothing to be ashamed of. Towing ability is 3500 pounds, enough for motorcycles, personal watercraft, or small boats or camper trailers.
CONCLUSIONS: The Lexus RX 450h combines comfort, style, fashion, and function with fuel economy and power.
2014 Lexus RX450h AWD
Base Price $ 47,810 (2015: $49,020) Price As Tested $ 62,074 Engine Type aluminum alloy DOHC 24-valve Atkinson cycle V6 with VVT-i variable valve lift and cam phasing Engine Size 3.5 liters / 213 cu. in. Horsepower 245 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 234 @ 4800 rpm Motor-Generator 1 (front wheels): type 650VAC permanent-magnet horsepower 155 Motor-Generator 2 (rear-wheels) type 650VAC permanent-magnet horsepower 67 Transmission CVT Maximum combined system horsepower 295 Hybrid battery pack sealed nickel metal hydride (NiMH) 288VDC, 37kW Wheelbase / Length 107.9 in. / 187.8 in. Curb Weight 4652 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.8 Fuel Capacity 17.2 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires 235/55R19 101V m+s Bridgestone Dueler H/L400 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, VDIM, and regenerative braking standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone Ground Clearance 6.7 inches Drivetrain transverse front engine and motor for front-wheel drive plus rear motor for all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 30 / 28 / 25 0 to 60 mph 7.4 sec Towing Capacity 3500 lbs. OPTIONS AND CHARGES Comfort Package -- includes: rain-sensing wipers, heated and ventilated front seats $ 825 Dual-Screen Rear Entertainment -- includes: wireless headphones, audio-visual inputs, 120VAC power output, navigation with voice command, backup camera, Lexus Enform with Destination Assist and eDestination, Sirius/XM NavTraffic, NavWeather, Stocks, Sports, Fuel Prices, Enform App Suite $ 4,920 Luxury Package -- includes: semi-analine leather trim with driver and front passenger seat cushion extension, one-touch open/close moonroof, power folding electrochromic heated outside mirrors with blind-spot monitor, heated bamboo wood and leather steering wheel and shift knob, 19" alloy wheels with all-season tires, roof rails, auto-recirculation driver's seat, illuminated scuff plates, LED headlamps $ 6,055 Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound Audio $ 995 Intuitive Parking Assist $ 500 Cargo Net $ 59 Destination Charge $ 910
Editor's Note: My wife bought a brand new 2010 Lexus RX 450h and occasionaly she allows me to drive. I agree with Carey's positive words about the RX. It's classy, powerful, comfortable, and delivers performance along with the expected Lexus luxury ride. Over the years I have driven non-hybrid versions of the RX and I am always surprised at the difference in the "ride" between my wife's Hybrid RX and the pure gasoline version, the hybrid rides and drives better. After almost 5 years of ownership our Blue RX is still a head turner, and frankly there is no good reason we can find to trade the 2010 for a mildley changed 2015.