Lexus RX450h F Sport offers abundant power, genuine luxury and exceptional quality
What is it?
The Lexus RX450h is the petrol/electric version of Lexus’ mid-size SUV, the Lexus RX, which is designed to compete with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X5 and Volvo XC90.
However, where the BMW and Volvo offer seven seats, the Lexus only offers five, but a seven seat version is on its way.
What’s it cost?
The Lexus RX range opens with the turbo four-cylinder front-wheel drive only Lexus RX200t Luxury from $74,251 and stems all the way to the hybrid Lexus RX450h Sports Luxury from $108,610.
We sampled the Lexus RX450h F Sport, which is priced from $102,460 plus on road costs. Standard equipment levels are generous. You get heated and cooled seats, a 360 degree camera system, satellite navigation, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, an excellent Mark Levinson hi-fi system, a sunroof and a power tailgate just to name a few of the features.
What’s it go like?
In a straight line? Rather well. The 3.5 litre V6 and electric engine/hybrid combo produces 230kW (petrol engine alone 193kW @ 6000rpm), and the petrol engine produces 335Nm of torque @4600rpm.
On paper, these figures are impressive. But then you learn that power is sent to all four wheels by way of a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and the CVT part isn’t so good.
The petrol and electric engines feel like they have so much to give, and the V6 even sounds decent, but that CVT just feels like it is holding the whole ensemble back. Then there’s the issue of noise – the CVT whirs, and you can almost hear that engine scream “give me a gear!”
The rival Volvo XC90 T8 is fitted with an eight-speed automatic, and is a much better drive.
Drivers can select from a number of drive models namely: Economy, Sport, Sport + or they can tailor settings to suit their own needs under “Customize.” There was a noticeable difference between Economy and Sport, with Economy dulling down performance to cut fuel consumption. The RX450h can be driven at speeds below 25km/h or so in pure electric mode too, ideal for city commuting.
Flick the dial into Sport or Sport + (we were splitting hairs trying to tell the difference between the two) and everything becomes more lively. Lexus claims an official 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.7 seconds, and we believe them.
Lexus claims that the RX450h will average 5.7 litres of premium fuel on a combined cycle. We averaged around 8.5 litres, per 100 kilometres, way over the official figure, but nonetheless respectable for a full-size luxury SUV.
Ride quality is fine, if a little on the firm side, but reasonable for an SUV with sporty pretensions. Handling was acceptable, but the RX450h felt a little heavy and cumbersome at times. The steering was light enough, but at times the whole felt a little too ponderous for something wearing “F Sport” badging. In corners, the stability control light frantically flickered, even though we weren’t trying to bend the laws of physics. Should do fine meandering around posh suburbs, though.
What we like:
- Unquestionable luxury and stunning fit and finish, along with ample space for five occupants
- Clever 360 degree parking system that generates a virtual three-dimensional model of the car and its surrounds making it to negotiate car parks were visibility is restricted
- Powerful hybrid drivetrain
- Thrifty fuel economy
- Awesome Mark Levinson stereo, the power and sound equality emitted from that thing is sensational – definitely one of the better sound system brands on the market
What we don’t:
- That CVT ruins an otherwise competent drivetrain
- Clumsy handling
- Annoying infotainment system. The software and the screen itself are fine, as all the menus are logically laid out and the onscreen graphics are crisp and clear, but Lexus has decided to ditch touchscreen functionality and swap it for a mouse style device atop the transmission tunnel. The mouse is fiddly and difficult to use on the move, and although the driver has access to voice control, it has difficulty actioning basic commands. Switch to touchscreen Lexus, everyone else is doing it, even Toyota…
- Lack of third row seats may discount a number of buyers
- Pure electric range limited to a few kilometres, and the driver must tread very carefully with the throttle if they want to avoid starting the petrol engine.
Sale or no sale?
Sale. Sort of. The Lexus RX450h F Sport is luxurious, powerful and generally a very capable SUV. But the transmission and the mouse thing are annoying. For us, the Volvo XC90 T8 is still our hybrid SUV of choice. But if you, dear reader, were swayed by the Lexus, we wouldn’t stop you buying one.