2015 Lexus RX 450hPosted on April 20th, 2015
Fuel-thrifty crossover is big on luxury
By Nina Russin
Bamboo wood steals the show. While it might seem trivial, the bamboo wood trim inside the Lexus 450h hybrid crossover says a lot about the car and its mission. Bamboo is technically a plant. It grows faster than trees: therefore the wood is sustainable. Toyota and Lexus use bamboo wood trim inside their hybrid vehicles to give their message of sustainability a face.
Bamboo wood is also gorgeous and wonderful to touch. The bamboo wood steering wheel inside the Lexus RX 450h crossover feels like satin. The typical consumer probably won’t spend much time staring at the hybrid’s Atkinson cycle engine or electric motors, but he or she will see and touch the bamboo wood steering wheel every day.
Although the 450h is the smallest member of Lexus’ crossover/SUV family, it’s a fairly large vehicle with seating for up to five passengers. Power comes from an V-6 engine and electric motors, giving the car equivalent performance to a V-8. Four hundred fifty cubic inches is the size of a gasoline engine that would offer similar horsepower and torque to the car’s hybrid powertrain.
Pricing for the all-wheel drive test car starts at $48,845. Options include heated and ventilated front seats, rain sensing wipers, 19-inch alloy wheels, Mark Levinson premium audio system, leather trim, intuitive park assist, blind spot monitoring, a moonroof, driver’s seat memory settings and roof rails, bringing the final MSRP to $58,315.
Test drive in Phoenix, Arizona
This week I drove the Lexus RX hybrid on surface streets and highways in Phoenix and east valley cities as well as a section of the Gila River Indian community south of town. Although the RX was one of the first compact crossovers to become available as a gasoline-electric hybrid, the segment has grown significantly since the first model was introduced over ten years ago. I wanted to see how the newest RX stacks up in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
A lot has been said about Lexus sticking with nickel metal hydride battery technology as opposed to lighter and more compact lithium-ion. While it might not be the latest and greatest, the nickel metal hydride works. It seems to withstand all of the weather-related elements that can cause problems, heat being foremost among them. The fact that taxicab fleets choose Toyota Priuses as opposed to other hybrid models speaks volumes. The technology in the Lexus RX is essentially the same as that in the Prius.
The biggest difference between the two vehicles is the way in which the electric power is used: to boost fuel economy in the Prius, but to increase power as well in the Lexus RX. Because electric motors develop peak torque at very low speeds, they are an effective way of boosting low-end power: something that is very important in a crossover that might be used for towing. In the all-wheel drive RX electric motors drive the rear wheels, giving the car better acceleration than the front-wheel drive model with no sacrifice in gas mileage.
Changes to the 2015 RX hybrid are subtle, including a larger redesigned center stack screen. The RX acquired the spindle grille that has become the new face for the brand when it was redesigned for the 2013 model year. The powertrain is basically carryover from 2010, but it’s a powertrain that works, with 295 net horsepower and 30 mile-per-gallon average fuel-economy.
The hybrid technology works so well that is essentially invisible to the driver except when the car is running purely on electric power. Lexus uses an electronic air conditioning compressor so owners don’t have to worry about their cars heating up in the summer when they stop at a traffic light. The continuously variable automatic transmission works seamlessly with the engine to deliver solid acceleration throughout the power band.
The driver can select from eco, normal and sport-driving modes to change throttle mapping and shift points to match his driving style. The eco mode offers the best fuel economy while sport mode boosts power on the low end for more aggressive performance.
Blind spot monitoring on the test car makes it much easier to weave through rush hour traffic. The system illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. The RX has fairly large blind spots in back due to its thick D pillars. Blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera make this a non-issue.
The electric power steering system provides ample assist on the low end for maneuverability. On-center response is soft, as it is on all Lexus vehicles. Engineers have improved tuning of their EPS systems over the years, but it could still be better.
The four-wheel independent suspension features a double wishbone setup in the back. The compact suspension design makes room for hybrid components under the floor without impinging on the cargo area.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the RX in linear fashion.
The RX 450h interior includes the amenities such as Siri eyes-free, premium audio quality, navigation, real-time traffic updates, etc., that luxury owners expect. Lexus interiors are also known for superior fit and finish: the RX 450h is no exception.
Keyless entry and start saves the owner from fumbling for the key fob. The optional Mark Levinson audio is of comparable quality to high-end home systems. I found the seat adjustments easy to use and had plenty of lower lumbar support during my test drives. The memory settings make it easy for multiple family members to share the driving.
The new center stack screen is bright and easy to read. Passengers should find ample storage areas and power points. Rear seats fold flat to make the RX bicycle friendly. The optional roof rails enable owners to add a carrier up top. The all-wheel drive model tows up to 3500 pounds: our ALV minimum standard.
The Lexus RX 450h comes with ten airbags, daytime running lamps, Safety Connect with automatic collision notification and stolen vehicle locator, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, tire pressure monitoring and hill start assist.
The factory warranty includes complimentary maintenance for the first two services as well as 24-hour roadside assistance and lodging for events occurring more than 100 miles from home.
Like: A luxurious crossover vehicle with four-season capability, excellent power and fuel economy.
Dislike: Soft on-center response from the electric power steering system. Expensive option packages add significant cost to the vehicle.
Model: RX 450h
Base price: $48,845
As tested: $58,315
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: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 30/28 mpg city/highway
Comment: Horsepower and torque ratings are for the gasoline engine only and do not account for the electric motors.2015, Luxury 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Lexus, performance, pricing, standard safety
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