2015 Lexus RX 450h AWDPosted on August 19th, 2015
Midsize hybrid crossover gains refinement for 2015
By Nina Russin
Buyers who want the mileage benefits of a hybrid along with the cargo versatility of a gas-powered crossover need look no further than the Lexus RX 450h. The 450h is the gasoline/electric sibling to the RX 350: the automaker’s highest volume crossover that competes in the midsize segment.
What makes the RX 450h so appealing is the invisibility of hybrid technology to the driver. Aside from some subtle badging and bamboo wood interior trim, it doesn’t look like a hybrid. Performance is equivalent to if not better than the RX 350.
The passenger cabin and cargo bay are the same size as the gas-powered version, with second-row seats able to fold flat and extend the cargo floor. The nickel metal hydride battery pack is packaged under the floor for this reason.
Engineers wisely incorporated an electronic air conditioning compressor that works as well with the ignition off as when the gasoline engine is running. In areas with extreme heat such as the desert southwest, the ability to maintain consistently cool interior temperatures is a very big deal.
Power for the all-wheel drive model comes from a 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle gasoline engine and electric motors on both axles. The rear-axle motor gives the all-wheel drive model better zero-to-sixty acceleration than the front-wheel drive model: 7.4 seconds as opposed to 7.8.
Pricing for the 2015 car starts at $48,845 excluding the $910 destination charge. Options on the car include ventilated front seats, rain sensing wipers, 19-inch alloy rims, Mark Levinson audio system, navigation, park assist, blind spot monitoring, leather upholstery, bamboo trim, power folding side mirrors and roof rails, bringing the final MSRP to $58,315.
Test drive in southern Arizona
I drove the Lexus RX 450h for the past week throughout the Phoenix, Scottsdale and Chandler metropolitan areas as well as on a road trip south to Tucson. Covering close to 500 miles, the test included some brutally hot temperatures, monsoonal rain and elevation gain, all of which the RX hybrid handled with aplomb.
The 2015 model is essentially carryover from 2014 with an all-new car rolling out next year. Refinements include a new convenience option that adds a special interior and the 19-inch rims, larger center stack screen standard on all models, revised remote touch interface for the navigation system and available high-intensity discharge headlamps.
The RX hybrid has gained in sophistication and performance since it was first introduced as the 400h in 2004. Engineers have eliminated the nose-heavy feel of the original model, added significant power, more sophisticated infotainment and more appealing styling. The car has also increased significantly in price, due in part to the addition of expensive options.
When the original car was introduced, product planners justified its high MSRP by offering the RX only as a fully loaded model. The RX 450h remains a significantly more expensive vehicle than the RX 350 with a base MSRP that is almost $7,000 higher. Option packages add another $9,000 to the test car.
But for those who can afford it, Lexus’ midsize hybrid crossover is almost perfect: quiet, powerful and stylish, with the ability to carry five passengers and their gear plus 3,500-pound towing capacity.
Because electric engines develop peak power at very low speeds, the hybrid reaches peak torque at a tip of the throttle, making for excellent acceleration off the line and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use merging into high-speed traffic.
Lexus has long been known for interior quiet and the RX 450h is no exception. This is especially noticeable on longer road trips such as our trek to Tucson.
A four-wheel independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a compact double wishbone setup in back that allows room for the battery pack without impinging on the cargo area.
Electric power steering is a necessity for hybrids since it has to remain operational with the ignition off. The system on the RX is rather numb: acceptable but leaving room for improvement on the upcoming model.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the crossover in firm, linear fashion.
The standard rearview camera eliminates large blind spots created by the D pillars when the driver shifts into reverse, making it easier to monitor cross traffic. Blind spot monitoring on the test car illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots.
The high intensity discharge headlamps on the test car do an excellent job of lighting the path ahead. Driving to the trailhead in a remote part of Tucson before dawn, we found it easy to see the road as well as any pedestrians and/or animals in peripheral areas.
The bamboo trim on the Lexus 450h interior is a perfect example of how gorgeous sustainable materials can be. It’s soft and has the rich colors typical of high-end living room furniture. Designers did an excellent job throughout the interior of making both the seating and controls ergonomic, with excellent lower lumbar support and an intuitive, mouse-type device on the center console for programming infotainment features. The gearshift lever is on the instrument panel to make room for the armrest and mouse control.
Keyless entry and start makes it safer for the driver to enter the car after dark since he doesn’t have to fumble for the key fob. A power liftgate makes it easier to load up the back of the car with large cargo. Lift-over height is reasonably low to accommodate smaller drivers.
The Lexus RX 450h comes with ten standard airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, automatic on/off headlamps, daytime running lamps, tire pressure monitoring, backup camera and Safety Connect including emergency assistance and stolen vehicle location.
The 2015 RX 450h is on display at Lexus dealerships nationwide.
Like: A stylish, powerful hybrid crossover with excellent NVH and good fuel economy.
Dislike: High MSRP and expensive options make the hybrid crossover significantly more expensive than the gasoline-powered RX 350.
Model: RX 450h
Base price: $48,845
As tested: $58,315
Horsepower: 245 Hp @ 6000 rpm (gasoline engine only), 295 net horsepower
Torque: 234 lbs.-ft @ 4800 rpm (engine only)
Zero-to-sixty: 7.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 30/28 mpg city/highway2015, Luxury 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Lexus, performance, pricing, standard safety