Lexus' RX 450h is quite an intriguing package. Is aggressive and sporty styling draped over an apt-for-India SUV-like form sitting on cutting-edge hybrid tech justification enough? The Rs 1.07 crore price tag might cause some to balk. But, just how sporty, luxurious and cool is this Lexus?
Sizing it up
Let’s set it out straight and simple. The RX 450h is a two-row, five-seat SUV. The RX doesn’t fit neatly into any one category, but its size, attitude and price in the Indian market pegs it close to the BMW X6, Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Cayenne. Its 4890mm length and 1685mm height is considerable, but the raked-out rear windscreen masks the size quite well. Would you believe it is larger than the Jaguar F-Pace on those fronts? For your reference, the RX is about as long as BMW’s X6 but it is narrower. It is considerably smaller than an Audi Q7 or Volvo XC90. However, the XC90 is the only other SUV to offer a hybrid powertrain, that too a plug-in hybrid.
Origami in metal
One thing is for sure: the Lexus is a very distinctive looking machine. The product presentation said something about strength and sharpness - and with good reason, because that is the impression the RX leaves. If its design energy was a physical object and you happened to bump into it, you'd better be well-padded for the event. The tri-LED headlamps stuck in L-shaped metal plates, the jagged LED daytime running lights and the arrowhead-shaped housing for the LED foglamps look like they have been shaped by a very fine razor. Then, of course, there is the spindle-shaped grille with 13 blades running across it. One interesting aspect about the stance is that the front overhang is quite prominent, just like with its platform sibling, the ES.
Viewed from the side, the chiselled effect is evident in the squared-off wheel arches, waistline and the light-catcher crease at the bottom. The floating roof effect created by the glass section on the C-Pillar is a brilliant highlight and directs your attention to the rear. The raked windscreen at the rear rests on a sharply squared boot. The lines there flow to suggest the spindle grille theme here as well. The tail lamps that pinch those lines in boast of Lexus' distinctive L-shaped LED light guides.
The Lexus badge on the boot hides a sensor, that when tapped and waved at, even with the key in the pocket, lets you pop open the boot. It’s cool, but not very practical, as you’d have to have a hand free; if not, you’ll have to rub your shoulder or elbow to access the 453-litre boot. The RX is available with a full-size spare wheel which sits under the somewhat high-set boot floor.
When you step inside, there’s a distinct sense of quality and class. A cabin should be a treat for the senses and the RX 450h’s cabin is. The genuine leather is sumptuous to touch; the dark wood trim looks rich. There is an abundance of lines that draw an L, like the satin-finish line that wraps around the door handles or the centre console. The centre console has a graphite colour with some sparkle added into it. The metal dials for the music system are machine-finished and feel special every time you use them.
Like a rectangular slate that has been propped up on its long edge, the 12.3-inch screen sits on the dash top. While the screen layout looks good and can be split to display two functions, the graphics don’t look quite as slick and sharp as expected. Also, the screen isn’t a touchscreen unit and is controlled by a mouse-like device, which happens to be a bit tricky to get the hang of. Details such as the leather-wrapped pad to rest your arm on, the LED-lit analogue clock and the leather- and wood-wrapped steering wheel add to the ambience.
In terms of equipment the RX has a lot to offer. A highlight is the superb 15-speaker Mark Levinson music system. This tailormade audio setup delivers a truly crisp and immersive experience. There’s a colour heads-up display unit as well. The front seats are fully powered, offer memory functionality, and are heated and cooled too. There is a two-zone climate control system and a panoramic sunroof, too. The rear bench gets their own AC vents and the seats are heated.
The RX 450h is available in two trims: Luxury and F-Sport. The F-Sport gets some additional kit to add to the excitement - drilled aluminium pedals, snug sports seats, a perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel and paddle shifters, and F-Sport meters. The most notable change here is thar the analogue electricity dial in the instrument cluster is replaced with a digital display that can show information such as a G-forces.
The F-Sport’s seats hold you better, and it’s something you quickly get used to. We spent most of our time behind the wheel and found no reason to complain. In terms of overall space the RX is adequate but it isn’t cavernous. A quick look at the specification sheet shows that the wheelbase is actually smaller than the Jaguar F-Pace, and that’s despite being longer overall!
If you were looking for an exciting and young at heart offering from Lexus, the RX 450h is it. The RX has a transversely mounted 3.5-litre V6 that combines with two electric drive motors, one for each set of wheels. The combined power and torque output is a healthy 313PS and 335Nm, respectively. So, while this Lexus has all-wheel-drive capability, the engine isn’t mechanically connected to the rear wheels. Power is sent from the battery to the electric motor at the rear to either aid stability or to enhance grip. So, when it is driven calmly, power is sent only to the front wheels.
The V6 engine provides enough punch to make scrambling uphill more satisfying and has the reserves to let you overtake quickly. Paddle shifters on the F-Sport gives you more control over the virtual gears of the E-CVT gearbox. Bear in mind that this system uses planetary gears and doesn’t use belts and pulleys at all. Nonetheless, when flat-footing it will remind you of CVTs as it splits power for different functions while trying to attain optimal efficiency. And so, it seems to lack the initial urgency when you step on it. But once you get going, it is quick.
Perched nice and high, we picked the line through the corners. As it sprinted into one tightly wound corner and out to the next, the RX felt light on its feet and willing. While the steering lacked feel it was light and precise; the adaptive suspension ensured that body control was tight, and this made the RX feel quite willing. Even lighter taps of the brake pedal, despite the regenerative functionality, felt crisp and predictable. But if you pushed too hard, grip seemed to run out a bit earlier than expected and send the RX into understeer. The small wheelbase, the healthy overhangs and the 2.1 tonne kerb weight won’t help matters. Overall, the Lexus is willing, but it doesn’t promise to engage the driver as richly and deeply as the competition.
Four drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ quicken or calm the drive experience. The suspension also adjusts, and seemed to tackle bumps fairly well and the 195mm of ground clearance made the going easier still. However, we found the setup to be a bit stiff when tackling potholes or broken roads. Driven at leisure, the RX is very enjoyable. As we wandered up and down the hill sides in near silence, the charm of electric propulsion felt impossible to dismiss.
The RX 450h’s position in the Lexus lineup is crystal clear. It is the brash, young and fun package. The fact that it is delivered in a SUV-like package that is apt for Indian roads makes it very appealing. Lexus’ three-year, 1 lakh km overall warranty, the 1.5 lakh km or five-year warranty on the electric drivetrain components and the promise of substantially lower maintenance costs than other luxury vehicles sets the RX 450hapart.
However, the lack of a third row of seats and the heavy price tag are possible stumbling blocks. But, if someone is looking for a distinctive, sufficiently sporty and green SUV, for now, the Lexus RX 450hsits in a class of one.
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