2013 Lexus RX 450h Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Nobody builds luxury cars like Lexus. I'm not going to simply say they're better. What's better after all? We can quantify better by counting awards, but in the case of Japan's premier premium brand those are way too many to list, and besides Lexus has them all itemized on their website with links for third party verification so there's no need for me to write them out here. And that said, just because the most respected analytical firms show Lexus at the top of the luxury car heap for quality and dependability study after study doesn't mean you should buy one. Something as personal as a luxury car should achieve your own personal stamp of approval for more reasons than simply having an overstuffed trophy case.

Just the same, you should carefully consider the Lexus RX if you're in the market for a premium crossover. If you already a crossover in this class, and there are plenty of competitors to choose from, then the odds are in favour of it being an RX as they've simply sold more of them than any other premium builder, after being one of the first players in the game. Now, if you factor hybrid into the equation, there really hasn't been a single rival until recently. And the upstarts don't really compete, at least not directly. The new Audi Q5 Hybrid is a segment smaller than the RX 450h, with a lot less cargo space, and the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid, while similarly sized, costs about $20,000 more. Yes, the RX 450h continues its solo effort of delivering all the green goods in the more mainstream premium midsize class, albeit with fresh new styling for 2013.

I don't know about you, but I like what Lexus has done with its corporate front end. The "spindle" grille design is at once distinctive, with an assertive edge that adds an element of excitement to the brand, yet not so aggressive as to make more conservative Lexus buyers uncomfortable. Lexus has made RX styling upgrades from front to back, although rearward of the new grille, bumper, and "arrowhead" LED enhanced headlights, the changes are less obvious. New LED taillights continue the L-shaped arrowhead theme, while new wheels finish off the exterior update.

Likewise, the interior has been given a nice makeover with a revised steering wheel, updated air conditioning switchgear, a larger centre console bin, and the list goes on. Specific to the RX 450h I tested, new gauges join a better audio system accessible via Lexus' second-generation Remote Touch haptic controller that deletes the side button, now requiring a simple push on top of its computer mouse-like controller. It may have been a while since you've used a desktop computer, but you'll likely remember what a mouse feels like. Remote Touch offers a similar albeit much more advanced sensation, moving the experience up a few notches with video game joystick-like feedback as it "locks in" to links while the curser courses across the large, full-colour display screen. You've really got to try it for yourself to be thoroughly impressed, and I'm willing to bet you'll love it, as the award-winning system is easily the best in-car infotainment interface you'll have had the pleasure of using.

The graphics themselves are easy on the eyes, mirroring the rest of the cabin. Rich woods, leathers, and metals combine with pampering details like velvet lined storage bins to make you feel like no one could possibly be more important than you, at least to Lexus. That much is true, of course. It's an ideal place to shut off the world. In one word: quiet. All of the soft-touch surfaces really help in this respect, as did the extent to which Lexus insulated everything that could possibly transmit noise. Certainly the V6 makes pleasant tones as it moves through its rev range, but it's subdued in a purposely "unsporting" manner.

That's not to say it won't play ball fairly. The RX 450h's 3.5-litre Atkinson-cycle V6-electric powertrain, combining for 295-horsepower and something similar in combined torque (although Lexus won't say) will leave a lot of V6-powered competitors feeling sheepish when it comes to performance. Of course, performance is measured in many ways. It moves off the mark well for the class, hitting 100 km/h from standstill in just over seven and a half seconds thanks in part to its efficient continuously variable transmission, but it really shines when you measure performance in L/100km, where it ekes out a particularly pleasing 6.7 city, 7.2 highway, and 6.9 combined. That's a claimed rating, mind you, good for comparative purposes only. My stop, go, up, down and around town reality check equaled about 8 L/100km combined city/highway, which is still extremely good for a 2,110-kilo SUV.

It manages such superhero figures by all of its aforementioned gasoline-hybrid goodness, of course, along with regenerative braking, near imperceptible idle stop-start, and the ability to run for a few kilometers at a time in slow traffic on full electric power. This came in handy during crowded commutes, where the RX crept along in completely silent EV mode while emitting zero emissions and using no gas at all; it's a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) incidentally.

At the other end of the spectrum it handles corners with skillful ease too. Flick the shift lever to Sport mode and steering effort increases slightly, throttle response heightens and the transmission shifts higher in the rev range while providing quicker response to driver input. The RX 450h uses a third motor-generator in back (there are actually two up front) for driving the rear wheels, aiding agility and foul-weather traction. I'm not going to say it'll make you forget your BMW X5, but it'll keep up to all but the most aggressive Bimmer drivers on a curvy road while its ride quality will be comparatively sublime. And really, that's where it lives up to its brand identity. Where the X5 is firm in that typically Teutonic way, the RX delivers a taut yet completely comfortable ride that will leave you feeling ready for a night of family fun even after a full day's drive.

Where the RX generally falls short is in seating capacity. It can only carry five, so if your lifestyle dictates a need for six- or seven-passenger capacity, you'll need to forgo any hybrid-electric benefits and opt for a GX or an LX. Both are classic V8-powered, 4x4-capable truck-based SUVs, however, with Lexus oddly offering nothing for seven-occupant crossover buyers. With new seven-seat premium CUV competitors arriving every year, I'm guessing Lexus will eventually want to address this problem. For the time being, the RX delivers better rear seat legroom than most seven-passenger rivals, while cargo space is voluminous at 1,132 litres behind the second row and 2,273 litres available when those 60/40-split seatbacks are tumbled forward.

Priced at $58,745 including destination, this much better 2013 RX 450h is actually $2,850 less than last year's model. Go figure? My tester came equipped with the top-line Ultra Premium Package 2, a $14,650 upgrade that added a superb Mark Levinson 7.1-channel surround sound audio system with an in-dash DVD player plus 15 speakers including a sub, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with twin screens embedded into the backs of the front headrests, a navigation system with the aforementioned Remote Touch controller and XM Real-time Traffic notifications, head-up display, a heated wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel, premium leather upholstery, front seat powered thigh support for great leg comfort, LED headlights, dynamic radar cruise control, Intuitive Parking Assist, Lexus' Pre Collision System, and 19-inch rolling stock.

All of these goodies (and many items left unsaid due to compromised space) made for an opulent ride, but you don't have to surpass the $70k mark to get a nicely equipped RX 450h. The Ultra Premium Package 1 deletes the rear entertainment unit, head-up display and a couple of other items for a price of just $10,300 overtop base, and the Touring Package, at $4,100, ups audio with a 12-speaker system, keeps navigation and a few convenience features while forgoing some of the hedonistic niceties of the other two packages. Or you can just stay base, where its standard features menu is way too long to list. On that note the gasoline-only RX 350 starts at only $46,945 including freight.

Is the RX the end all to be all of luxury crossovers? No. Like I said in the beginning, only you can tell what's best for you. The RX 450h delivers luxury and performance in a way that is totally unique to Lexus, though, and that it continues to be so popular amongst premium buyers is a sign that you should probably find out why for yourself. That it now costs less than last year's version and looks arguably better is just a bonus.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Lexus, 2013, RX 450h, $40,000 - $49,999, $50,000 - $74,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Lexus

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