Lexus RX450h: A great big comfy sofa
Second-hand Style, with Richard Cooke
SEVERAL years ago I wrote about the RX400h, the full-sized SUV from Lexus that was a very early entrant into the hybrid market.
I liked it, and recognised that the hybrid element (a brace of Prius batteries front and rear) was a tax wheeze as much as it was a fuel-saving device.
That 400h, the second generation of the RX, came equipped with a 3.3 litre petrol V6 that could crack maybe 30mpg if you let the battery take over in town. This month I’ve driven the latest, fourth generation RX, which comes with a 3.5 litre petrol V6 that can crack maybe 35mpg if…oh you get the picture.
Doesn’t sound like much progress, right? Not so fast – this is a much better car.
Introduced in 2015 (and due for replacement next year sometime, bargain hunters), the RX is longer, wider, more powerful and quicker than before. Clever, angular design hides the added girth well, but behind the wheel the car feels very high and long. It took me a while to get to grips with the sheer size of it, and I didn’t dare try slotting it into a parking space.
Needless to say, the parking sensors and cameras are brilliant, as is all the technology on a high-end Lexus. It would take several pages to list the gadgets that come as standard on the RX. This list limits your choice when buying new, but gladdens your heart when buying used.
The interior is one of three areas where this car really excels. It is incredibly comfortable, faultlessly built out of high-quality materials and does a commendable job of being different to the competition. Space in the front is terrific, with a wide padded armrest. In the back, passengers can really stretch out, with their own screens built into the headrest. Rear seats are heated, cooled, can move backwards and forwards as well as recline. The boot is big enough, but not huge – a battery lives under the floor, raising its height slightly.
The second area of excellence is the ride. The two-ton weight helps to smooth out bumps, and the suspension does the rest. You barely notice tarmac imperfections. The trade-off is a degree of vagueness in the steering, but I’m nit-picking. This isn’t a sports car, and I shouldn’t expect super-fast, direct steering.
The third area is performance. I’ve written before about CVT gearboxes, and how in smaller cars (including the Prius) they ruin the process of acceleration. Harsh, monotone engine revving puts me off thrashing a CVT-driven car. I relegated these gearboxes to electric cars, where they work better. Lexus, however, have found the solution, and it is to pair the CVT gearbox with 300hp of V6. When you push the RX, it makes a lovely growl, subdued and never intrusive but definitely audible. I rather liked it, and it gets off the mark quietly and with real pace.
So, should you give the RX a chance? If you want a Lexus SUV, the answer has to be yes. The RX is top of the range. Moving down to save a bit of space on the road and money, you could opt for the NX, but it has a tiny boot and you might as well go with the cheaper Toyota RAV4 sister car.
An equivalent Mercedes GLE will cost you 20% more, and you’ll pay even more for the rare hybrid model. BMW, Audi and Jaguar were all behind Lexus on introducing hybrid technology, and they all also come at a premium. In addition, Lexus trumps every single brand for reliability and customer service.
So, if the RX is this good, why hasn’t everyone bought one? Badge snobbery, for sure. The styling is deliberately different - better in the metal than in photos. The handling lacks some of the finesse of European SUVs, but come on! If you want firm suspension and rapid steering, don’t buy a two-ton four-by-four. The RX is really what all large SUVs should be – a bit soft and all the better for it. It is also beautifully built - and nearly a bargain.
What to pay: Lexus RX450h, £27k for a 2015 model with 40k miles