Until not so long ago the RX450h was the worlds first and only hybrid SUV. As you may or may not know, Lexus does very well in the United States, and for quite some time, it outsold its competitors Mercedes and BMW. The SUV is obviously very popular with the yanks, and so putting two and two together, the Lexus RX is the best selling luxury SUV over there, and I can see why.
The RX is in its 3rd generation and the model on test was the 450h LXE (R805 100). Now before you stop reading and think that’s a horrendous amount of money for a car, let me tell you that it’s worth every single cent and more.
There’s two main things that sets the RX apart from its competitors.
- The amount of standard specifications
- No doubt, the hybrid drive train
I’ll get into more detail on those later, so let’s start with the exterior styling. Styling is always really a personal matter, however the move to less clunky SUV and more “raised car” look helps this Lexus look a lot smaller than it actually is. The model I had came in a very attract pearlescent white finish, and seems to be quite a popular colour for this model. The hybrid model is distinguished from the regular models by the blue tint Lexus badge, rear lighting and hybrid nameplates under the doors, but that’s about it. No in your face I’m driving a hybrid stuff. You’d never know, until of course it sneaks up on you in the underground parking lot. Then you know.
Moving inside, things are on another level. The only level of sophistication and utter opulence close to this would be the Porsche or Range Rover. Its direct competition cannot compare on fit, finish, quality materials and ergonomics of the Lexus. Standard equipment levels are incredibly high and the car is literally bursting with technology. The Lexus multimedia interface is one of the best systems on the market today. It’s intuitive because it works the same as the common “Mouse”. It also features HUD (heads up display), smart access that not only locks and unlocks but also switches on the exterior lighting when the driver and key gets close to the car. Heated and cooling seats, an excellent Mark Levinson sound system with 40gig HDD and voice activation, and the list goes on. It’s a fantastic place to be inside. One of the little things I really appreciated was that the cabin was 100% dedicated to RHD. So many international cars see the switch over to RHD but certain buttons are left out of reach and hard to come by because the car was designed with LHD(left hand drive) in mind. There’s no indication of this here, with every button in the “right” place. The seats are superbly comfortable, with quite a bit of rear head and legroom, and still considerable room in the rear.
The LXE model I drove also featured active bi-xenon headlamps, sunroof, 10way adjustable driver and passenger electric seats with memory function and an electrically powered tailgate.
The hybrid RX features a 3.5litre V6 mated to two electric motors (On fore and other aft). It’s hard to quote exact figures but there is around 220kW and just over 670Nm of torque on offer. This is obviously a flat torque curve as the e-CVT gearbox brings the power to the front or all wheels depending on what is needed. Lexus has been perfecting their hybrid drive train for quite some time now and it is probably the best in the business. Added technology to help efficiency is an exhaust heat recovery system to reduce engine warm up periods. Provided the car is warmed up, the vehicle can run on full electric mode up to 45km/h. If you’re in eco-mode (There are 3 modes, ECO, EV and ‘ECO Off = Sport’) and you pull off from the traffic light I found myself trying not to get the engine to kick in however eventually you’ll have to plant the pedal and get moving as those behind you get impatient. When you do plant your foot there is plenty of power and torque to get this beast up to 100km/h in just over 7seconds.
As usual, with the hybrid drivertrain the only thing the driver really has to get used to is the flat torque and constant engine note when accelerating. Surprisingly the V6 can get quite throaty when pushing on, not something I expected! My combined consumption (40% highway 60% city traffic) saw just on 11l/100km which in my books is excellent for a SUV of this size and considering I didn’t doodle around. Claimed is just around 7l/100km, which I’ve heard is actually achievable.
Ride and handling is excellent considering the hybrid seat up. The 3rd generation model replaces the MacPherson strut rear suspension set up for Double Wishbones, greatly improving handling. The car feels planted when pushing on, yet supremely comfortable on every day speed, which is probably the more important of the two. Braking on a hybrid as always sees less pedal feel as always you can feel the brake regeneration working, but you’ll get used to this soon enough. This said, there’s no issue with the effectiveness of the brakes, and the RX sees a host of other safety features (VDIM – Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) such as VSC (vehicle stability) ABS, Hill assist, TRAC (Traction control) and front active head rests as well as 10 airbags.
There was not a person that didn’t get into the car that was not immediately impressed. There is a certain heir of quality within and out that puts it above the X5/6, ML and Q7. I would probably rather compare the Rx against the Cayenne (the only model here to also feature a hybrid) and the Range Rover Sport (or HSE Discovery), considering the exclusivity and trim levels.
Lexus prides themselves on offering near everything standard and the Rx isn’t left out of the party here. The website even supplies a vehicle comparison calculator which adds up what the extras would cost on the competitors (not named) vehicles, and really does show that even though the Rx is sold at a premium, it’s WELL worth the extra money in comparison.
Currently Porsche is the only other manufacturer to offer a hybrid luxury model to compare (however it does not offer the technical specification under the hood that the Lexus does). I would then have to compare it to diesel models that offer similar balance of efficiency and performance. When you go and look at that, the Lexus trumps on value hands down. It definitely doesn’t offer the driving or off-road dynamics of the X5 or Range Rover, but they don’t offer the incredible technology and let’s be frank, there aren’t very many of those models that ever see a dust road.
Overall it’s an incredible vehicle, however pricey, it offers more value than its competitors at the same price, has one of the most luxurious interiors I’ve ever been in, and an incredible hybrid drive train. If you’re shopping in this price range it’s definitely worth a look.
More info on www.lexus.co.za