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2013 Lexus RX 450h Rocky Mountain Review By Dan Poler

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2013 Lexus RX 450h

By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountasin Bureau
The Auto Channel

When we think hybrid, we think Toyota. As a pioneer in the space, no automaker has gone farther to enable a wide range of vehicles with this technology, providing fuel-saving options for consumers. This week we take a look at one of Toyota’s top end models in this space – the Lexus RX 450h.

On the outside, the RX 450 has been restyled for 2013 receiving the new corporate grille and look, which the RX wears well – the corporate grille adds a aggressive and upscale look to the vehicle. A few other updates are visible throughout, such as a new Sport mode which can be activated via dashboard menus. Ground clearance is a bit lower relative to the non-“h” RX, reduced by about 2/5 of an inch.

Our tester came very nicely equipped with a variety of luxury options such as radar-guided cruise control, an upgraded Mark Levinson sound system, rear seat entertainment, and a blind spot monitor. While the features are wonderful to have and perform well, they inflated the already-high-because-it’s-a-hybrid base price of $47,310 to a whopping $64,339.

Inside the vehicle, we find signature Lexus luxury. Comfortable seats with good legroom and headroom. Storage spots abound, such as beneath the center console, and door pockets for the front seats that flip open revealing their contents. Visibility from the driver’s seat is good forward and to the sides, but significantly obstructed to the rear corners due to the rear seat headrests, even when lowered.

Some may not care for the asymmetrical nature of the A/C controls, but they are easy to get used to. Other controls, however, are not as easy to live with – many controls are placed below and around the instrument cluster and as such are blocked by the steering wheel, making them challenging to see and manipulate, such as those for the HUD, instrument panel brightness, steering wheel heat, and the blind spot monitor.

The instrument cluster is logical and easy to see – being the hybrid variant, the tachometer is replaced by a gauge intended to give some sense of what the vehicle is doing, organized into sections for CHARGE, ECO, and POWER. Of course, the traditional Lexus display showing power flow to or from battery, engine, and wheels is also available and can be placed on the infotainment display or on the instrument cluster – a nice touch.

The RX Hybrid comes equipped with Lexus’ Remote Touch interface, providing a mouselike control to manipulate phone, audio, navigation, climate, and other vehicle controls. We’ve previously observed that Remote Touch is a love-it-or-hate-it system. It’s possible that in time drivers will get used to it and become pros, but we find it complex and distracting – it’s a challenge to operate even for simple operations.

Driving the Lexus RX Hybrid is a comfortable experience. Noise, vibration, and bumps are pleasantly muted, creating within the cabin a feeling of isolation, as if the road is merely an abstract concept, out there, someplace. Power from the 3.5-liter engine and electric motors is smooth and reasonably responsive, although there is pronounced “hybrid lag” akin to turbo lag – put your foot down and it’ll take a moment before the gas engine joins the party. That engine can get a bit noisy when the driver’s foot is to the floor as the continuously-variable transmission maintains high RPM, but not unbearably so.

The driver will find that they need to adjust a few habits as with any hybrid – coasting can be a challenge as the vehicle will slow more quickly than a non-hybrid as power is taken to charge the batteries, and braking distances can be a bit on the longer side due to the regenerative technology. Additionally, the vehicle will roll back ever so slightly when starting on an incline as the motors engage, providing a feeling almost like driving a stick shift. The Sport Mode provides better responsiveness and steering feel, but takes digging through dashboard menus to activate.

By far our largest concern in driving the RX 450h for a week relates to its traction and handling in less-than-ideal conditions. As we have discovered in other Toyota vehicles, the RX 450h’s traction control is needlessly aggressive and cuts power off far too early. Our week testing the RX was in the middle of Rocky Mountain Winter, with snow, snowpack, ice, slush, and sand on the roads; we found that the combination of the aggressive traction control with the Dunlop Grandtrek all-season tires on the vehicle led to numerous situations where the vehicle felt as traction was lost and power was simply eliminated to all wheels – a scenario which can make a bad situation worse. We would be hesitant to recommend such a setup in a climate such as ours.

Despite this shortcoming, the Lexus RX 450h is a well-mannered on-road vehicle. Its pricetag represents a substantial premium relative to a non-hybrid Lexus RX, but for that price, we were able to return a combined fuel economy of 27 mpg, impressive for a vehicle of its size and performance. If you’re in the market for a no-compromise luxury SUV with this kind of fuel economy, the Lexus RX 450h is undoubtedly a top choice.


2013 Lexus RX 450h

Base Price: $47,310.00

Price as Tested: $64,339.00

Engine Type: 24 Valve DOHC V6 with VVT + Front & Rear Electric Drive Motor with Lexus Hybrid Drive

Engine Size: 3.5-liter

Horsepower: 295 (total system)

Torque (lb-ft): N/A

Transmission: Electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission with intelligence (ECVT-i) with Sequential Shift, Sport and Snow modes

Wheelbase / Length (in): 107.9 / 187.8

Curb Weight: 4,652

Pounds per HP: 15.8

Fuel Capacity (gal): 17.2

Fuel Requirement: Premium unleaded


Brakes: Four-wheel power-assisted discs with Electronic Controlled Braking (ECB), four-sensor, four-channel Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist, and regenerative function

Suspension, front/rear:

Ground clearance (in): 6.9

Drivetrain: All-wheel Drive

EPA Fuel Economy - MPG city / highway / observed: 30 / 28 / 27

Towing capacity (lb): 3,500

Base Trim Price: $47,310.00

Options and Charges

Comfort Package: $825.00 (Rain-sensing wipers; driver/passenger heated & ventilated seats)

Entertainment/Audio: $4,920.00 (Dual-screen rear seat entertainment w/wireless headphones, audio/video inputs, 120V AC power outlet & navigation with voice command, Lexus Enform w/Destination Assist and eDestination, app suite (1-yr subscription incl.), Lexus Insider, Sirius XM NavTraffic & NavWeather, backup camera, & remote touch controller)

Luxury Package w/Blind Spot Monitor System: $6,135.00 (Semi-aniline leather interior trim, one-touch open/close moonroof, power-folding electrochromic heated outside mirrors, heated wood & leather steering wheel & shift knob, 19” alloy wheels w/all-season tires, roof rails, auto recirculation, driver’s seat/steering/mirror memory, illuminated scuff plates, headlamp cleaners, blind spot monitor system

Mark Levinson premium surround sound, single DVD/CD player, HD radio with iTunes tagging, 15 speakers: $995.00

Intuitive parking assist: $500.00

Pre-collision system with radar adaptive cruise control: $1,500.00

Heads-up display: $1,200.00

Cargo net: $59.00

Delivery: $895.00

Price as tested: $64,339.00