The Original Guilt-Free SUV
Americans love crossover sport utilities, and when it comes to luxury brands they have a huge fondness for those with a big L on a spindle grille. The Lexus RX is not only the company’s biggest seller it has run roughshod over rivals such as Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz
Part of the RX’s success is the hybrid model. Even though the luxury hybrid sport utility was somewhat of a novelty when Lexus introduced the RX400h in 2005 as a 2006 model, it quickly followed in its gasoline counterpart’s tire tracks and became a top-selling model.
At the time it was the closest thing to a guilt-free sport-utility vehicle we’d ever seen: luxurious with an impressive assemblage of features and technologies, powerful and more fuel-efficient than the conventional RX 300.
A decade ago Lexus rolled out an all-new RX hybrid, the RX 450h. It not only featured a new exterior and interior design, it offered more power and significantly improved fuel economy.
For 2016, Lexus sent the fourth generation RX to the style salon for an extensive makeover. When it rolled out the door it was a longer, wider, taller, roomier and more powerful crossover SUV.
The 2016 RX 450h is available in a front-wheel drive (FWD) model with a base price of $52,235 before a $950 fee, and an all-wheel drive (AWD) version is a relative deal at $53,635. New is the AWD-only F-Sport starting at $57,045.
With an EPA combined fuel economy of 30 mpg—31 city/30 highway—the RX hybrid FWD model is the most fuel-efficient sport utility on the road. And the second best? The all-wheel drive version with a rating of 30 city/28 highway/30 combined.
Aggressive New Look But Still an RX
Since its introduction, Lexus designers have used their metaphoric pencils in a nip-and-tuck manner resulting in an RX that was conservatively upgraded from a sheetmetal standpoint. Apparently the design studio received new pencils for the 2016 restyle. Yet, the new 2016 Lexus RX 450h continues to look like an RX.
Dominating the front is a massive “spindle” grille filled with horizontal bars on the RX 450h, compared to the mesh used on its RX 350 sibling. Sharp new creases and curves on the sides are striking and daring, to say the least. The rear has a sharper look, also, with wrap-around taillights that attempt to increase the look of wideness.
The RX has grown in size with a wheelbase that is almost two inches longer than the previous generation. The overall length is 4.7 inches longer. Width also increased 0.4 inches, while ground clearance went up from 6.9 inches last year to 8.2 inches this year.
Luxury Validated Inside
It only takes a quick glance inside to know that the Lexus reputation for luxury is valid. From the stitching on the leather to the tactile feel of knobs and the clarity of dials, this is a very well-realized art of design.
Similarly, the optional 12.3-inch infotainment screen has an incredibly sharp display, and for the most part uses logical menus. Lexus’ Enform system has a plethora of functions considered de rigueur and it works well.
Front seats are shaped and cushioned for long-haul comfort. Abundant seat and steering-wheel adjustments make it easy to tailor a comfortable driving position. Rear seats mimic the fronts’ comfort, they slide fore and aft as well as recline.
Cargo capacity is respectable with 18 cubic feet or 55.9 cubic feet with 60/40 split seats folded. A unique addition to the electric rear hatch is one may place a hand over the “L” and the door opens.
High-Tech Standard & More Optional
While the 2016 Lexus RX 450h does offer all the high-tech gizmos that have become synonymous with luxury class vehicles, many are an extra cost. Yes, the hybrid does include standard features
such as a power liftgate, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 10-way power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, a 12-speaker sound system, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and an iPod/USB audio interface.
If you want the full-meal-deal luxury experience, you’ll pay extra. Leather seating is optional as are roof rails that are part of option packages
The RX hybrid offers a long list of option packages; some require the purchase of one to acquire another. Granted, there are some very nifty options: a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled leather seats, a navigation system, dual-screen rear entertainment and the superb 15-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. But it all adds up. Our all-wheel drive test vehicle was equipped with an array of options (but not all) and had a sticker price of $60,370.
Under The Hood
Pop the hood open and an expansive silver engine beauty cover is revealed, embellished with the words, Lexus Hybrid Drive.
Both the conventional and hybrid RX models get a direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6, but in the RX 450h, the engine is modified to run on the more efficient Atkinson cycle, while blending in electric power. The hybrid’s 259 horsepower is lower than the 295 in the non-hybrid RX, but this is more than made up for with electric assist.
Specifically, front-wheel-drive models get two motors, with the primary drive motor generator rated for up to 165 horsepower.
All-wheel drive models add to this a 67-horsepower rear motor generator as the defining feature of Toyota’s E-Four electric AWD system. This setup adds more torque automatically to the rear wheels if wheel spin is detected. It’s entirely independent from the front powertrain with no driveshaft connection as with conventional RX AWD models.
In all, system output is rated at 308 horsepower. Note the “system total” power is not the sum of the electric motor horsepower added to the engine’s, as these two merged sources peak at different operation ranges.
An electronically controlled planetary-type continuously variable transmission (CVT) and nickel-metal hydride battery pack complete the system.
Like other Lexus hybrids, the RX 450h can operate in electric-only or gas-engine-only modes as well as a combination of both. The hybrid system can shut off the engine when the car is stopped, then turn it on again when the brake pedal is released.
On The Road
The hybrid powertrain is seamless in operation, and the engine stop-start function is imperceptible. Overall, the RX 450h delivers a very quiet and a comfortable near car-like feel. The all-
independent suspension’s tuning is firm but absorbent and controlled. The vehicle is stable on the road, regardless of pavement imperfections.
Most hybrids trade power performance for fuel economy; the RX 450h bucks that trend. The quicker AWD version powers to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, and the quarter mile passes in 14.9 seconds. That translates into a secure feeling when merging into fast traffic or passing.
When it comes to handling, however, the RX hybrid is no corner carver. It is a tall, heavy vehicle with noticeable body roll, even on gentle curves. In other words, exciting performance is absent.
But the “fun factor” isn’t the whole story when it comes to the 2016 Lexus RX 450h. Sure, it’s what gets people who test drive cars for a living out of bed every morning, but most drivers are looking for something smooth, safe and fuel efficient—qualities the RX 450h has in spades.
As for fuel efficiency, we have always found that Lexus hybrids meet and usually exceed the EPA’s estimated fuel economy mpg number. Our 2016 RX hybrid continued that tradition with a combined 30.3 mpg after driving 192 miles, about two thirds of which were highway miles.
In The Marketplace
Lexus pioneered the luxury hybrid crossover sport utility segment, but other luxury makers are joining the fray. If three-row, seven-passenger seating is a must, the Infiniti QX60 Hybrid hits the mark. It has a classy interior that in every way pampers with well-appointed features with a price starting at $53,050. The fusion of gasoline and electrons nets a combined 26 mpg for either front- or all-wheel drive models, a few mpgs shy of the Lexus.
Audi’s 2016 Q5 Hybrid is a tad smaller inside than the RX and its 30-mpg highway fuel economy equals the Lexus. However, city driving in town can only muster 24-mpg. The starting price of $52,825 is $4,280 more than the RX but it comes standard with all-wheel drive, leather interior, navigation and a sunroof—and it’s a hoot to drive.
For those who want off-road prowess and better than average fuel economy, the larger Jeep Grand Cherokee with the EcoDiesel is an excellent choice. It has an EPA 30 mpg highway rating and a starting price of around $40,000. For another $10,000, higher trim levels offer a lavish interior.
Bottom Line: There are more powerful, entertaining and attractive means to transport five people and their gear, but that’s not what the RX hybrid is about.
In general, the 2016 Lexus RX 450h is the perfect all-purpose vehicle as an everyday hauler of full-size adults, kids of all sizes and their stuff. It’s at its best around town, picking up and dropping folks off and doing so in all kinds of weather. Plus, as a highway cruiser, it’s hard to beat.
And then there’s the fuel economy—the best fuel mileage of any crossover sport utility.
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