Crossing Over the Earth More Lightly
Hard to believe, but the Lexus RX has been around since 1988. Back then, it looked futuristic, and was already heading the direction the entire vehicle industry has gone since—car-based crossovers that look a bit like a sport-utility vehicles (SUVs).
For 2016, the RX received a whole new look and feel. Lexus vehicles originally were smooth, pleasant and kind of vanilla. It wasn’t until the spindle grille appeared that the cars began to take on a more personality.
The new model features a “floating” roof treatment—a first for Lexus, but not the first ever. This trend appears on cars as diverse as the Nissan Murano and the brand-new Chevrolet Bolt EV.
The first RX was the RX 300; today’s gasoline version is the RX 350, with the growth of its V6 engine to 3.5 liters. It cranks out 295 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque.
the Hybrid Boost
Now, you can opt for a hybrid version. The 2016 Lexus RX 450h hybrid uses a variant of the 3.5-liter engine, mated to an electric motor, which together send out 308 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft. of torque. The RX 350 comes as front- or all-wheel drive (AWD), but the hybrid moves to AWD only in 2017.
What do you get with the hybrid model? Well, fuel efficiency for one thing. The EPA numbers say 31 city/30 highway/30 combined, an AWD 30 MPG Club member for sure. Compare that to the RX 350 AWD’s 19 city/26 highway/22 combined. I averaged 28.9 mpg, which is gratifyingly close to the EPA Combined score.
The hybrid gets an 8 for Smog and 7 for Greenhouse Gas, giving it EPA Certified SmartWay status. The RX 350 makes do with a 7 for Smog and 5 for Greenhouse Gas–and no SmartWay. Significantly, while the 450h puts out 299 grams of CO2 per mile, the 350 emits 405. So, stepping into the 450h does make a difference.
This is a Lexus, so you expect—and receive—lots of comfort, style, and features. My test vehicle, arrived in a new shade called Autumn Shimmer. Walking up to it, I’d ask two things. What color is Autumn Shimmer? What were the designers thinking?
The Lexus folks were tired of dull, so they have now become the opposite. There are lots of slices and creases flowing along the sides from that maw up front and onto the tail. The RX joins its brethren on the showroom floor looking ready to pounce and eat you. Nobody will mistake your ride for a Mercedes-Benz, who are heading the opposite direction, featuring soft sensuous shapes. You won’t be confused with a BMW, either. They are returning to post Chris Bangle conservatism and “sausage” styling. The latter term means the 3, 5, and 7 series sedans, for example, look very similar, just in different lengths.
Inside the 2016 Lexus RX 450h AWD, along with the carefully assembled, high quality plastics, are wood trim with meandering silver accents. Stitching on the doors runs parallel and then crosses over itself at one point. The seats are sublimely comfortable, and it’s nearly silent in there when you have the premium 12-speaker audio system turned off.
Not an EV, But Heading the Right Direction
This car isn’t an all-electric vehicle, but it has a gauge to show how the motor is doing. There an industry-standard Charge/Eco/Power meter, so you can measure how hard you’re working the drivetrain. Charge means you’re generating power and Power means, well, you’re using some of it. The Eco setting is where you want the needle to sit.
I drove one day in EV mode on a 43-mph cruise through town. But realistically, both engine and motor trade off. There’s no plug to charge up the battery—it’s all regenerated from braking or charged from the engine—so driving gently does put the electric motor a little more in the spotlight.
So, what’s the price difference? The all-wheel-drive RX 350 starts at $45,460, while the 450h begins at $53,975. These prices include the “delivery, processing and handling fee.” You can save $1,400 on an RX 350 by declining all-wheel drive.
My test 450h had some extras, including the safety benefit of blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert ($800). The Lexus Safety System ($2,250) brings in more, with triple-beam LED headlamps too. The touch-free power rear door ($200) is an industry trend.
The Luxury Package ($3,125) adds upgraded leather seats, a wood-and-leather steering wheel, a bump to 20-inch rims, and a bunch of other stuff that should probably be standard. The navigation system seems cheap at $430. Bottom line–my car retailed at $61,420.
As with all luxury cars, there’s much too much to list here. If you want the stone honest reliability of a Toyota, some real distinction when you park in front of Restoration Hardware, and some seriously high-tech safety equipment built in, you can’t really go wrong with the 2016 Lexus RX 450h hybrid, the best-selling hybrid crossover.
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