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Test drive: Lexus RX 450h Hybrid luxury SUV

LLM motoring editor Lisa Curtiss reviews the fourth generation of this luxury SUV from Lexus.

By Lisa Curtiss  |  October 19, 2021
Lexus RX 450h Hybrid Luxury SUV

Lexus continues to set the benchmark for elegant, wonderfully built, eco-conscious, great to drive luxury cars. Its raft of stylish, new, fully electric and hybrid models are receiving extensive acclaim worldwide. The brand’s excellent large SUV, the RX 450h, recently won the title of Best Premium Hybrid Car in the DrivingElectric Awards and experiencing this car on test, it’s easy to see why.

The RX was actually the world’s first luxury hybrid vehicle. Now in its fourth generation, the model has constantly evolved to deliver higher levels of comfort, refinement and hand-crafted luxury, together with greater efficiency and higher driving rewards from its self-charging hybrid electric system. The range has also grown to include a purpose-designed seven-seat model, the RX-L – perfect for those with larger families needing extra space.

The RX also served as the foundation for Lexus’s development of an extensive SUV range which includes the also excellent mid-size NX and the compact UX, introduced in 2019. The UX is leading Lexus’s entry into the battery electric vehicle market with UX 300e launched earlier this year.

Stylish and elegant design inside and out

Lexus RX 450h Hybrid luxury SUV interior

Viewed close up, it’s one of the most stylish large SUV’s around. Our flagship Takumi model on test is an example of how even a substantial car can still be elegant, thanks to finely sculpted lines and well proportioned curves. Newly designed twinspoke 20” alloy wheels with a hyper-chrome coating, a panoramic glass sunroof, jewel-like rear lights that project the Lexus ‘L’ motif and the signature Lexus grille all add to the appeal.

The visual delights continue into the light and spacious cabin, with butter-soft leather seats and artfully placed chrome touches. Practical as well as stylish, the RX’s ergonomic dashboard is designed to keep all distractions to a minimum and features innovations like Head-Up Display (HUD). Positioned unobtrusively, it projects key data and warnings onto the windscreen in crisp and sharp colour, making it easy to read, even in bright sunlight.

Driver and front seat passengers can interact seamlessly with the RX, using either the central 12.3” multimedia touchscreen, Touch Pad on the centre console or voice commands. Synchronise your smartphone with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, or use the new Lexus Link app for mobility tasks like tracking your journey and driving statistics.

A feature we thought particularly impressive and useful was the panoramic view monitor which uses multiple cameras to provide a near- 360° view around the entire car. It also creates a virtual 3D picture of your RX, showing the vehicle as if seen from above, with onscreen guides to assist close-quarter manoeuvring.

For music lovers, the 15-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system is a treat. Equipped with GreenEdge technology, it has been tailored to the acoustic properties of the RX cabin during many thousands of hours of laboratory tests. For incredible sound fidelity, it delivers a peerless 7.1-channel digital home-theatre experience enhanced by Clari-FiTM, which rebuilds sound lost in MP3 digital compression.

Safety features galore

Lexus RX 450h Hybrid luxury SUV front view

The state-of-the-art tech continues with a plethora of other comfort and safety features. A great example is the RX’s climate concierge air conditioning, which uses nanoe technology to purify the cabin air and deodorise seats as well as moisturising skin and hair. Another is the ground-breaking BladeScan Type Adaptive High-beam System (AHS) which dramatically enhances visibility of the road ahead – hugely useful for the darker mornings and evenings to come. This works by projecting light from 12 LEDs onto the blades of two semi-circular mirrors rotating at 6,000rpm, and then through a lens to help drivers recognise pedestrians and road signs more clearly and at a greater distance, without dazzling oncoming cars.

The RX is actually one of the safest cars ever built and comes with the latest Lexus Safety System plus, comprising advanced technologies that help prevent three of the most common accident types: rear-end collisions, lane departures and collisions involving pedestrians or bikes.

Driving on crowded motorways, or when commuting to and from work, the main dangers are drifting into another lane or failing to notice that the traffic ahead has slowed down. For this reason, when you start to change lane, the RX instantly monitors vehicles behind using Blind Spot Monitor (BSM) or slows down using Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC) if the vehicle ahead brakes.

The RX also features Road Sign Assist (RSA), which gathers information from the road signage ahead; BladeScanTM Type AHS, which illuminates pedestrians, animals and other vehicles at night; and Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), which is particularly helpful when driving on motorways or cornering.

Useful for driving through busy urban areas, the Pre-Collision System (PCS) uses millimetre-wave radar combined with a stereo camera to detects pedestrians at night or bicycles appearing suddenly in front during daytime. When it senses danger, you receive a visible warning in the Head-Up Display (HUD) so you can take appropriate measures to avoid an impact. And if you still don’t take action, the RX will increase brake pressure to help prevent a collision.

On the road

Lexus RX 450h Hybrid luxury SUV rear view

To drive, despite its size, the RX 450h is agile, responsive, swift and balanced. Powered by the company’s pioneering hybrid technology, the RX Self-Charging Hybrid intelligently combines a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with two electric motors, delivering seamless power to all four wheels.

Thanks to the instantaneous torque of the electric motors, you can accelerate to 62 mph in as little as 7.7 seconds. And, at lower speeds, the RX will often switch to Electric Vehicle mode to drive in near silence, using no petrol and producing zero CO2 or NOx. The car’s hybrid battery never needs charging and is compact, resulting in generous luggage space.

Even on twisty B roads the RX performs incredibly well – pin sharp steering and excellent balance means tackling tight corners is a breeze. Of course out on the motorway the RX takes some beating as a super cruiser – the perfect combination of being a rewarding drive, and spacious, bright and airy for passengers.

We’ve yet to drive a poor car from this highly acclaimed brand – and certainly don’t ever expect to. It’s a mystery why more Mercedes-Benz and BMW owners don’t immediately swap allegiance and opt for one of Lexus’s excellent models. They wouldn’t be disappointed.