2013 Lexus RX 450hPosted on April 17th, 2013
Gasoline/electric hybrid five-passenger crossover
By Nina Russin
It would be easy to be perfect in a perfect world. In an imperfect world, it’s a lot harder.
Say, for example, a parent wants to leave the world a better place for his children. It would begin with minimizing his environmental footprint. But because he and his wife have children, the family needs a car with a lot of room. A crossover, with its tall vertical cargo bay, would be ideal.
Unfortunately, cars with a two-box architecture are like bricks in the wind. Fuel economy is not their forte. Is it possible to solve the family’s transportation needs without carving another hole in the ozone’
It is, thanks to hybrid technology. The Lexus RX 450h utilizes the same gasoline/electric hybrid system found in the Toyota Prius, to boost the car’s fuel economy. The hybrid RX all-wheel drive model averages 29 miles-per-gallon in combined city and highway driving according to the EPA, putting its fuel economy on par with the average compact sedan.
Base price for the RX 450h is $47,310, excluding the $895 destination charge. Options on the test car include rain sensing wipers with heated and ventilated seats ($825); a dual screen rear entertainment system with navigation, Lexus Enform, satellite radio and a rear backup camera ($4920); heads-up display ($1200); blind spot monitoring, semi aniline leather trim, power moonroof, power folding outside mirrors, heated steering wheel, 19-inch wheels and roof rails ($6135); Mark Levinson sound system ($995); intuitive park assist ($500); and pre-collision with adaptive radar cruise control ($1500). Final MSRP is $64,280.
The power of eight cylinders from a V-6
Engineers utilized three electric motors working in tandem with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine to give the RX the power and performance of a V-8. A nickel metal hydride battery pack is recharged on the go utilizing regenerative braking. A digital display in the gauge cluster tells the driver whether the car is running on pure electric power, using the gasoline engine, or both.
The driver can choose between three driving modes: eco, normal or sport. The eco mode extends fuel economy by modifying throttle mapping and the continuously variable automatic transmission to keep engine speeds low. The sport mode maximizes power with a more aggressive throttle.
Test drive in Phoenix
Having just driven the Lexus RX 350 F-Sport, I was anxious to compare that car’s performance with that of the 450h. I drove the 450h on the same stretch of two-lane highway east of Phoenix that I had used for the F-Sport test drive, as well as similar sections of highway and surface streets in the Phoenix area.
Although the 450h develops more 25 more net horsepower as compared to the RX 350, the continuously variable transmission can’t match the performance of the eight-speed automatic in the RX 350 F-Sport. Curb weight for the two cars in almost identical, although weight distribution is different due to the hybrid system on the 450h.
Zero-to-sixty acceleration is the same for the two cars. But the RX 350 F-Sport is, in this writer’s opinion, more fun to drive.
The shift paddles on the F-Sport steering wheel enable the driver to keep the engine in its sweet spot by holding onto the gears. Although the power mode serves the same purpose on the hybrid model, shifts aren’t as crisp with the CVT box as the stepped eight-speed unit. The F-Sport model’s slightly lower ride height and modified suspension also improve its cornering performance.
However the 450h is a great alternative for buyers who want the benefit of better gas mileage without sacrificing power. The three mile-per-gallon difference in average fuel economy is significant, not only for its environmental implications, but also its effect on the cost of ownership.
Front-to-rear weight balance is much improved over the original RX 400h. The newest model lacks the nose-heavy feel that the original car suffered from, which is especially noticeable on hilly roads.
The four-wheel independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a double wishbone setup in back. The compact double wishbone design maximizes cargo space, which is especially important in a crossover. Large vented disc brakes in front and solid rotors in the back stop the RX in firm, linear fashion.
Visibility around the exterior is pretty good. I had no problems monitoring traffic in adjacent lanes on the highway. The blind spot monitoring system warns the driver when vehicles are passing through his blind spots by illuminating LED signals in the outside mirrors. It’s especially helpful on the RX, whose thick D pillars create large blind spots in the rear corners.
The rearview camera projects a wide-angle view to the back of the vehicle when the driver shifts into reverse, so he can see objects below the rear glass. The camera also makes it much easier to monitor cross traffic in a parking lot.
The electric power steering system has plenty of assist at low speeds for maneuverability, while maintaining a pleasantly heavy feel on the highway.
The RX has the quiet interior Lexus in known for, making it easy for both rows of passengers to converse on the highway.
Engineers packaged the battery and electric motors so they don’t impact the passenger or cargo bays. The RX 450h interior looks and functions the same as the gasoline-powered RX 350.
Keyless entry and start enables the driver to enter the car, fire the ignition and relock the vehicle upon leaving without removing the key fob from his pocket. Once inside, memory settings for the driver’s seat make it easier for multiple family members to share the vehicle.
Lexus uses a mouse device on the center console to control infotainment functions. It is intuitive to operate for anyone familiar with personal computers, and eliminates a clutter of knobs and buttons on the instrument panel.
Designers did a good job of equipping the RX with the amenities active families need, including cup and bottle holders. There are multiple 12-volt power points. The 120-volt outlet enables second-row passengers to use games or computers.
Because the RX doesn’t have a floor tunnel, there’s a decent amount of room in the second-row center position. An average-size adult should be comfortable around town and on shorter road trips.
Second row seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor, so the RX 450h meets our bicycle-friendly standards. The all-wheel drive model tows up to 3500 pounds: our ALV minimum standard.
The power liftgate makes it easier to load large items in back. Lights and a power point in the cargo area come in handy on a camping trip. Optional roof rails enable the owner to add a cargo carrier up top.
The Lexus RX 450h comes with front, side, side curtain, driver and passenger knee airbags, daytime running lamps, antilock brakes, stability control and tire pressure monitoring.
Lexus Safety Connect automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision.
The RX 450h is on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.
Like: The Lexus RX 450h combines the fuel economy of a compact sedan with the power of a V-8 engine. New eco and power modes enable the driver to adjust throttle mapping and shift points according to his needs.
Dislike: Expensive option packages significantly increase the cost of the vehicle.
Model: RX 450h
Base price: $47,310
As tested: $64,280
Horsepower*: 245 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque*: 234 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 7.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 30/28 mpg city/highway
Comment: Horsepower and torque figures are for the gasoline engine only.2013, Green Hybrid, Luxury 2013, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Lexus, performance, pricing, standard safety
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