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2016 Lexus RX 450h Review By Steve Purdy

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2016 LEXUS RX 450h
By Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

We’re testing the new Lexus RX 450h luxury midsize crossover this week but it is a pre-production model so we want to offer a disclaimer. Niggles we may find could be just because it is not fully sorted for production. I must say, though, we’ve found few things about which to complain as this is a wonderful high-end people hauler. We’d find it not only easy to live with but a vehicle we would take great pride in owning as well. The RX line, by the way, has been the brand’s best seller by far since its introduction in the 1990s

Here is another disclaimer: Our own daily driver is a second generation RX 330 and we previously had a first gen RX 300, so you’ll know that I’m fond of the RX generally.

Let’s start with exterior styling and design – bold, brash, eye-catching and cool - a long way from the conservatively styled first RX 300 that pioneered the class of car-based SUVs in 1998. That genre later become known as crossovers. Lexus’ ever more exaggerated spindle grill with zig-zaggy cheek vents scream ‘look at me.’ Sharply creased body lines extend around the side and the rear. While a bit less dramatic these details also catch one’s eye including a floating rear roof line that adds to the modern, edgy look. Big 18-inch alloy wheels help with the dynamic profile and stance. Twenty inchers are optional.

The striking interior of our test car features rich red leather seats and trim, high-zoot materials on every surface and an elegant, if a bit busy, dash and console layout. Being the F Sport model the front seats are extra bolstered for those times you just can’t resist charging around corners as if you’re on the race track. Lots of thoughtful little features contribute to the RX’s special ambiance like the turn signal clickers that sound just like my grandmother’s big old wall clock with a gentle tick-tock. The bottom of one of the cup holders retracts for taller drink vessels and springs back to normal depth with the push of a button.

Displays and controls cause little confusion and are reasonably easy to manage. I had some trouble finding the adjustment for the adaptive cruise control and scrolling through the information displays took some experimentation to find what I wanted. I love the little floating mouse gadget we use to manage the big 12-inch multifunction screen. Toyota has been using this little controller that has both auditory and haptic feedback for a few years now. Some reviewers have criticized it as too cumbersome. I disagree.

The RX 450h F Sport is powered by a 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle V6 mated to a sophisticated CVT and augmented by an electric motor that is fed by a substantial battery pack hidden in the rear. While they call it Lexus Hybrid Drive it is essentially the same as parent company Toyota’s Synergy Drive. Total system output is rated at 308 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque making for a decent 7.9-second 0-60 time with this 4,700-pound vehicle. Combined fuel mileage is expected to be 30 mpg using premium fuel. In our week of testing, including about half highway and half urban driving, we netted just 24.5 mpg, and that is without engaging the Sport mode much.

Under normal driving conditions you would likely not notice it has a CVT (continuously variable transmission) because it has artificial shift points electronically programed in. Under hard acceleration you’ll notice it right away. This powertrain is quite efficient adding 30% or more to fuel economy under ideal circumstances and it is especially good at romping quickly up to passing speed from say 50 or 60 mph. That boost of electric power is instantaneous. Regenerative braking adds a few electrons back into the battery pack, so we get a bit of whine on braking and deceleration and for some reason our brakes felt like they were sticking a bit when we backed up from a standing start. That could be a pre-production issue.

We did not get pricing information on our particular test vehicle but the RX450h starts at $52,235 and the F Sport version at $55,645. The regular, non-hybrid RX350 starts at $41,900 for the front-wheel drive version and $43,330 with all-wheel drive. Standard are the 12-inch screen, automatic hatch, push-button start with start/stop feature, moon roof, dual-zone climate control and lots of other content. The Hybrid and Hybrid F Sport come with much of what the higher trim level vehicles would have.

In terms of driving dynamics we give the RX450h F Sport high marks. While a performance enthusiast would likely prefer the BMW X5 or the Audi Q5 most drivers will be happy with this Lexus. While steering, suspension, power and overall handling will be more gentle, or shall we say gentile, in the Lexus, the comparable Germans would certainly whip it on a race course. So, F Sport just means wonderfully bolstered seats, adaptive variable suspension, an electronic engine sound generator and some special trim – in my subjective opinion well worth the few grand extra on the price sticker.

That electronic engine sound generator makes a comforting noise particularly noticeable at low speed like the purr of a lap cat.

Interior volume increased just a tad with this new fourth generation RX as it gained a few inches in length, although the hybrid needs room for a substantial battery pack and that makes for a higher load floor in the rear. You’ll find plenty of room for luggage to accommodate four travelers on a weeks-long road trip.

Lexus’ new vehicle warranty covers the whole car for 4 years or 50,000 miles and the powertrain for 6 years or 70,000 miles.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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